Peninsula Daily News
Port Angeles, Washington
Copyright 2000 Eric Rush
Sudden breezes often blow up the steep canyon the lake lies in, and the east shore is mostly cliff face and steep slope, a difficult place to go ashore when wind and waves become hazardous.
Plan A was to take the canoe and our young grandsons to Lake Ozette in the West End. There we’d have the option of canoeing to a campsite or camping at the end of the road and using the canoe for fun and fishing.
Plan B was to drive the much shorter distance to Lake Mills, put in at the boat launch near the dam, and paddle south a couple of miles to the inlets of Cat Creek and the river.
By the time I finally got all our gear ready to go, Plan B was the only practical option.
I put one boy in the bow seat and the other just behind the heaviest part of the load amidships, each with a canoe paddle. I took the stern seat with a double-ended kayak paddle.
There was no wind as we paddled out to the boat gap in the log boom that keeps driftwood away from the dam. The breeze that kicked up from the north a few minutes later was dead astern, and, with the lightly loaded bow riding high, the wind helped us track straight.
The breeze stiffened and the waves grew. I was glad we were not coming out against it. Tim and Trevor were impressed with our speed.
We made such good time that we paddled the length of the lake and a short distance up the main river channel and camped on a large, alder-covered gravel island in a small clearing. The boys fished while I set up tents.
Dinner was easy–cooked food we’d picked up at a grocery store deli. We read by flashlight from a Harry Potter book and went to bed.
The wind died in the night, so we launched the canoe to explore and to go fishing. Almost immediately, a breeze began to blow, again from the north. By the time we returned to camp for lunch, the wind was as strong as it had been the night before, and from the same direction.
We had options, of course. We could have stayed another night and left early the following morning before the wind arose, but we had no way of letting anyone know. We could have loaded the canoe, paddled across the river and hiked the short, steep trail to the Whiskey Bend road, leaving the canoe and gear at the river.
Or we could paddle out against the wind.
The canoe had tracked so well with the light end downwind, it would probably track as well if I took the bow seat going back. If we hugged the east shore, we’d have occasional shelter behind headlands along the way, and, if continuing became dangerous, we’d be only a few paddle strokes from shore.
I explained all this to my grandsons. They weren’t interested in walking several miles, so we loaded the canoe and launched.
The water was roughest where the river current met the lake, and a couple of waves came over the bow.
The ride was stable, and, after those two waves, dry. But it was hard work. Tim thought we should turn back, although turning in that wind was not possible, and we could not track downwind the way the canoe was loaded.
When we stopped to rest, out of the wind next to a cliff, I pointed out that we were halfway to the truck and that, the farther we went, the smaller the waves were. Courage restored to the crew, we continued.
The wind and waves diminished as we approached the damn and died away about the time we reached the log boom. We paddled through the gap into glass-smooth water.
We couldn’t make the canoe track without wind to force the high-floating stern to trail like the fletched end of an arrow, so we paddled the last few yards to the dock backwards.
As we transferred the canoe and gear from water to truck, we looked out across Lake Mills, by then only lightly rippled in memory of the wind.
Next time, maybe we’ll start earlier and go to Lake Ozette.