A Paddling Weekend!

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Saturday and Sunday were spent on the water paddling Shadow Mountain Lake, Grand Lake and Willow Creek Reservoir. Between the two days on the water we paddled over 6 hours and 16.5 miles.

We began our adventure Saturday at the kayak launch on Shadow Mountain Lake just south of the channel leading into Grand Lake. The launch area was quite busy today with several kayaks either entering or exiting the water, our goal was to paddle the entirety of Shadow Mountain Lake and Grand Lake. Entering the water we clear the channel heading South and paddle along the eastern shore. We are constantly on the lookout for wildlife as the shoreline borders Rocky Mountain National Park, which is prime habitat to the Osprey with their nests scattered about the lakeshore and islands within Shadow Mountain Lake. Osprey, a medium-sized raptor, are constantly hunting for fish to feed their young nesting high above the shoreline waiting for their day to take flight. Paddling towards a series of islands dotting the southern end of the lake we continue to Shadow Mountain Dam. The dam holds back what I would assume to have been the natural flow of the Colorado River. Rounding the southern end of the lake, the shoreline is speckled with those fishing, each seeking to land the elusive rainbow or brown trout. We paddle on passing by the boat launch dodging, in this case, a canoe and another kayak. We are now along the western shore, paddling towards a peninsula jutting out into the lake, the peninsula along with the series of islands pose as natural barriers protecting the southern shoreline. This portion of the lake is protected from powerboats as it becomes rather shallow. Looking straight ahead I happen notice a large brown object hiding along the shore behind a blue sun bleached catamaran. A large bull moose has taken refuge at the water’s edge cooling itself from the warm mountain sun. We paddle inside the catamaran and the shoreline to position ourselves for better observation allowing me to snap a few pictures. Not satisfied with my National Geographic photographic moment we move in a bit closer but not to close to disturb the moose or pose as a threat, no need to tempt fate. Moving on we make our way to the end of the peninsula and back through the islands. On the northern side of the islands we find ourselves near Pine Beach, where the Colorado River empties itself into Shadow Mountain Lake. To shallow to paddle, we are able to view a gaggle of American White Pelicans patrolling the waters in a coordinated effort to gather fish. Continuing North we admire the variety of homes along the western shore, a bit different from what you would find on Grand Lake, from your basic shack to palatial log homes. We exit Shadow Mountain Lake and navigate the channel into Grand Lake. Previously I have written about the majestic beauty of Grand Lake, surrounded by Shadow Mountain to the south and Mount Baldy looking stately over the lake from the East, it will never get old. Today would have been very similar to any of our other paddles around Grand Lake except for the wind. After circumnavigating the lake in our usual manner, suddenly and with no warning, the winds began blowing hard and steadily from East to West. Making our way back to the channel from the western end of the lake has become far more adventurous than we anticipated. After taking the full brunt of a wave that breached our kayak, we quickly  and decidedly turned our kayak back into the waves to prevent us from taking on more water. After battling the wind and the waves for what seemed to be hours on end, we were able to make one last turn and head back into the safety of the channel.

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Sunday we find ourselves traveling south to the Willow Creek Reservoir. Initially we were going to hike to Lake Verna from the East Inlet Trailhead but the late start coupled with warm temperatures beckoned us to jump into the “Big Mango” and head out onto the water. Slipping the kayak into the reservoir we paddle west with an ambition to paddle further into Willow Creek than our prior attempt. The creek itself it about 34 miles in length and I have no knowledge of how much of the creek would be navigable this time of the year. However, we have a bit of paddling ahead of us before making the West end of the reservoir and after Saturday’s adventurous 11.5 miles of padding coupled with the extra effort needed due to the wind this may take a bit longer than anticipated. After a slow but steady pace we come upon the entrance to the creek, gradually making our way into the mouth of the creek and navigating around a few obstacles below the surface of the water, curious as to how far our journey into the unknown will take us. The creek begins to bend North and we find the depth of the water beneath the kayak dwindling, we proceed slowly, once again we have to abandon our attempt to go any further. Staring in our direction and what I would deem somewhat surprised we run head on into the 3 people fly fishing in the creek. Deciding that we did not want to disturb their efforts we turn the kayak about and reverse course back into the reservoir. Paddling along the western shore Stella decides that she needs exit the kayak and explore the sandy bottom of the reservoir. The water is knee-deep and crystal clear. After dragging me about in the “Big Mango” for a spell she manages to slip back into the front of the kayak so we may paddle on our way to the northern shoreline and onto the eastern end of the reservoir. Slowly we paddle towards the eastern shore, and then deja-vu sets in, just as if it were Saturday afternoon on Grand Lake, the winds start blowing from West to East. In unison we both are thinking you have got to be kidding, right, here we go again, Though not quite as bad as Saturday but enough to be irritating we repeat our tactics from our experience on Grand Lake. Paddling into the waves and then  switching course so that the wind is at our back. However instead of several short paddles we make a final turn into the waves and paddle towards a small point jutting out into the water. If we can make the point it should provide enough relief to make the return paddle back to the launch area far more pleasurable. Slipping back onshore another adventurous day on the water comes to an end.

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