Prime paddling

Early summer conditions are great at Little Lava Lake

By David Jasper, The Bulletin

If you go

Getting there: From Bend, take Cascades Lakes Highway approximately 38 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 500 and follow signs to boat ramp.

Difficulty: Easy

Cost: Northwest Forest Pass or $5 day use fee

Contact: 541-383-5300

One of these days, I’m going to do a photo essay of a canoe outing with Map Guy.

It won’t be pretty. Or at least it won’t be as pretty as when we just publish a few of the best photos a wannabe shutterbug can take, like the ones that accompany this story about our trek last Thursday, when we paddled Little Lava Lake, from which the Deschutes River flows.

It won’t be as pretty because said photo essay will be balanced with unflattering images of us struggling to load and unload and reload and again unload the canoe.

But it’s going to start with me picking up the, um, solid dog waste that often litters the ground around the homemade canoe rack in my backyard. Then it’ll show me trying to pick and scrape off the aluminum canoe loose chips of latex paint from when my dad hastily painted it 20 years ago — two coats! (*shakes fist at sky*)

Alas, you’re stuck (this time) with prose and photos of a day so solidly perfect: sunny, just shy of hot, with but a hint of a breeze. The kind of day that sets a new standard, making you forget all those lesser days you previously defined as perfect.

After loading up and getting coffee, we made our way along the Cascade Lakes Highway about 38 miles to the lake, situated just below neighboring Lava Lake. We followed the sign for the boat ramp, which takes you through the campground, which was sparsely populated on this weekday.

Upon arrival at the boat ramp, we climbed out and gawked at our surroundings, a large lake rimmed by pine forest, above which towered South Sister, Broken Top and Mount Bachelor. I felt something along the lines of pity for people stuck inside offices (or would have had I not been so grateful for the solitude).

The 130-acre lake was all but empty, too. In the distance, a man and woman were fishing from a small boat, and a man in a pontoon raft near the boat ramp seemed to flee farther across the lake once we showed up to spoil his solitude.

We attempted to launch from the boat ramp. I took the bow and was armed with a new, somewhat pricey wooden paddle from REI, the replacement for a 20-year-old wood paddle that snapped in two last summer when Map Guy and I were paddling the Deschutes River between Sunriver and Benham Falls. (Fortunately, we had another, and only needed to get back downstream. Broken paddles make OK rudders.)

Ever the style cat, Map Guy was wearing his trademark jeans, which he refuses to get even a little damp. This means the stern of the boat was still sitting in just a few inches of water after he pushed off and sat down. I won’t re-create the horrendous aluminum scraping sound that followed as we scooted our way toward deeper water.

Once dislodged, I said, “Let’s go toward the headwaters, huh? I assume they’re this way.”

Somehow, we managed to glide right by them without seeing them, a fortunate miscalculation, in a sense, because we went up every false channel expecting to see a river only to find reeds, rock formations or downed branches and logs that serve as fit housing for the lake’s fish.

According to Deschutes National Forest, the state record brook trout, a 9 pound, 6 ounce whopper of a fish, was caught in the river just below the lake 34 years ago.

Our search for the headwaters turned into a running joke. “I bet this is the river,” I’d say as we approached each new dent in the shoreline. We ended up paddling around the entire lake in about an hour’s time.

With the water so clear, it was easy to see fish darting among the rock formations and submerged logs. I can envision returning later this summer, when the waters will presumably be warmer, with a snorkel and mask. I’m not saying I will, just that I can envision doing so.

Nevertheless, I thought the water looked inviting enough to attempt a swim. I made the attempt once we were back at the boat ramp, but I chickened out once I got about knee deep and my feet started going numb.

From the boat ramp, we saw the headwaters just to the south, near the campground, and walked along the shoreline trail a little ways to check them out. We wouldn’t have been able to paddle very far downstream due to logs and rocks, but still: If this had been a photo essay, you’d have seen a photo of us standing there staring at the cool, clear waters as we wondered how we had missed something so obvious.

— Reporter: 541-383-0349, djasper@bendbulletin.com