Maxed Out 

Word from the north: winter’s comin’

By G.D. Maxwell

Winter’s come to Smilin’ Dog Manor. Like so many of British Columbia’s weather-related phenomena this year, it announced itself with a bang, a drunken, slobbering brute of a guest barging in unannounced and unexpected. Another in a string of Stupid Weather Tricks pulled on a population grown tired of bearing their brunt.

Monday was one more of what’s become a whole tribe of Indian Summer days – +10°, sunny, laundry-hangin’ weather. The greatly reduced but still refreshingly clear waters of Sulphuric Lake placidly mirrored the last deciduous red-yellow leaves punctuating an upside-down forest of stickbare aspen and bushy evergreen and reflected a sky so blue and clear if you looked at the lake long enough you lost up-down perspective.

Tuesday was threatening to be a rerun day but with bruise-coloured clouds scudding by for entertainment. Then all hell broke loose.

At Bowron Lakes Provincial Park near Barkerville, B.C., one of the lakes that form the oddly-shaped, quadrilateral canoe circuit runs for miles roughly northwest to southeast. If you’re not in a rush to see how quickly you can paddle the 115 km chain of lakes – and let’s admit it, it takes a special kind of fool to turn a trip like that into a race – you might be on Issac Lake for two days or more.

What Issac has in length, it lacks in width, being long and narrow with a 90° dogleg right thrown in for good measure. The high peaks rising from both sides of its shoreline hold the promise of deviling winds, a promise Issac generally delivers on if you stay on it long enough. That’s why, even though its width doesn’t seem like much, paddling near a shore is prudent.

Being short on prudence but long on luck, my Perfect Partner and I were near enough the shore when Issac turned from glassy to ghastly in about the time it took to say "Weather’s coming." A microburst seemingly slammed wind vertically down onto the lake, wild whirlwinds kicked up, whitecaps appeared and grew into standing waves. Surf was up.

We clung to rocks and branches at the shoreline while the canoe bucked under us like an asthmatic mechanical bull in a down-and-dirty redneck bar. Having started the day’s paddle in sunshine, we were soaked to the bone as quickly as if we’d stepped into the lake itself.

And as quickly as foul weather came, it departed. Issac went back to being calm, we bailed the canoe, the sun was consumed and never appeared again for the rest of the trip and I gained new insight into those hapless fishermen who drown each summer on B.C. lakes during sudden storms. It was impressive.

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