Last year, clients of mine picked up their newly canvased Chestnut Pal and headed off to Buttle Lake in Strathcona Park for a long weekend. Ever since then I’ve been wanting to try it and this last week (Aug 15-17) I did.
I arrived at the Buttle Lake boat launch at the north end of the lake just after noon on the Tuesday. There was a moderate wind out of the North, which was perfect, as I planned to paddle South down the lake. BC parks provides envelopes and a drop box at the boat launch where you can pay your $10/night BC Parks marine site camping fee which includes parking at the boat launch. Off site camping is not allowed on either Buttle or Upper Campbell Lakes.
After loading my canoe I set off down the West shore of the lake. There is a paved road which follows the Eastern shore but the West shore is a wilderness accessible only by water. The lake is long and narrow embraced by rugged hills and exposed rock faces. It’s Vancouver Island’s version of Bamff’s famous Lake Louise. Buttle Lake is part of the Strathcona reservoir and water levels were low, leaving lots of exposed gravel bars along the shore where one could pull out stretch ones legs or take a swim. There are also lots of old stumps along the shoreline which one needs to keep an eye out for when canoeing along the shore.
That first afternoon I made it about two thirds of the way down the the lake to Phillips Creek, stopping along the way to explore various gravel beaches and swim in the lovely turquoise water. In August, at least, the water was surprisingly warm, even my four legged friend was tempted. Sun set comes early to the West shore, but one can watch the shadows slowly rising up Eastern hills as the evening progresses and the lake stills. Occasionally a Pacific loon calls. It seemed strange not having a camp fire but the lake and the canyon held much of the warmth of the day.
The next morning I dawdled a bit over breakfast, getting out on the water around eight AM. I encountered and interesting fellow fishing the mouth of Phillips Creek who explained to me that Buttle Lake, like most high mountain lakes, is prone to high winds due convection created by the sun heating the canyon walls. He’d been fishing the lake for more then twenty years and suggested I be off the lake by eleven. He also told me he’d rescued more then one canoeist caught out on the lake when the wind came up. As it turns out, he knew what he was talking about and by 10:30 I was battling twelve inch waves and a strong wind out of the South. By eleven I was on the shore as recommended.
Realizing I wasn’t going to to be able to reach the Southern end of the lake against the wind, I turned around and sought the shelter of the bay at Shepherd Creek. From there I followed the Eastern shore back North down the lake. The water was rough but manageable. I took my time, stopping to explore beaches and swimming frequently as I enjoy swimming as much as I enjoy paddling. The water was as close to perfect as can be imagined. Eventually I crossed back over to the Western shore only to have the wind change direction leaving me battling a steady wind out of the North. With little light left to spare I made the Titus Campsite. The wind changed direction again around 7:30 in the evening but the lake didn’t totally calm till after dusk.
On my final day I decided to get up and out early in the hopes of avoiding the worst of the winds and was on the water by 6:30 AM. There was a fair amount of overcast and perhaps because of this the lake actually remained calm until early in the afternoon. While paddling North up the lake I encountered our Olympic rowing team out for their morning work out. It’s quite something to see these amazing athletes rowing their sleek white rowing shells down this gorgeous lake in the early morning. They certainly move a lot faster then an old man solo paddling a antique canoe.
At the North end of the lake there are quite a few places where the cliffs drop directly into the lake and along one one stretch I spied what I at first took for petroglyphs. On closer examination I realized they were naturally occurring metamorphic intrusions in the rock. The patterns were varied and interesting and unlike anything I had seen before.
All in all Buttle Lake is a truly amazing place to paddle. My pictures really don’t do the natural beauty of gorgeous lake justice. If however you’re a novice paddler, not comfortable with wind and waves, it’s probably a lake best explored from one of the drive-in sites. Early morning is the best time to explore this wild and wild and beautiful lake.