Friday, September 20, 2013

Go kayaking among the clouds at Silver Lake

A late summer paddle at an elevation of 7,200 feet

We paddled among bone-dry granite boulders and gazed up at millions of gallons of water. The Sierra is always beautiful, but as fall approaches, there’s no moisture on the peaks, and precious little water left in some high country lakes. Mostly, it’s in the sky.

What spectacular clouds they are, billowing overhead in an ever-changing, aerial mosaic of tiny droplets so small that they flaunt the law of gravity. Magic to my eyes and to heck what science says. But let’s come down to earth, even though we’re paddling at more than 7,000 feet. On a late summer day, Silver Lake in El Dorado County is simply a gorgeous place to paddle. 

Lower water level reveals "claw marks" in granite

Not too hard to figure out how this lake got its name. When the water is still, it’s a mirror-image of the sky. And even in the dry season, almost too beautiful for words. Even though we could only paddle about 1.5 miles before deep blue water abruptly turned into muddy shallows, emphasis on the mud. A rustic “waterfront” lodge sat on the far shore, but we had to stop paddling about half a mile away.
Leaving plenty of time for cloud-gazing – look, there’s a shaggy dog on the run. And over there, an alligator extending its snout.  Or is that a duck? The shapes shifted constantly, a never-ending Rorschach test, and no failing grades.
Low water also exposed chunks of granite with interesting patterns etched by nature, including long, deep gouges that could have been claw marks made by a mythical monster. Spectacular ridge tops above us were shaped into odd, jagged figures that might have done battle with the claw-beast. In the distance rose Thunder Mountain, a pyramid-like peak.

A record of waterlines etched in rock
One precaution if you go paddling on Silver Lake this fall – keep an eye out for fishing lines in the water. Several anglers were working the shoreline on the day we visited. No wonder, since a small, handwritten sign announced that state Fish and Wildlife had planted more than 2,000 pounds of trout earlier this month, mostly fish in the 12-inch range. 
First, a tip of the NorCal Yak cap to Jan and Bob, the boat launch custodians for El Dorado Irrigation District. Not only are they friendly and helpful, but they keep the picnic area and the two pit toilets in the parking lot spotlessly clean. 
There are two campgrounds: The irrigation district offers drop-in campsites and the U.S. Forest Service has a lakeside area that takes reservations and is run by a concessionaire. (According to a NorCal Yak source, its toilets were pretty stinky.) There’s also the Kit Carson Lodge with cabins, hotel rooms and a restaurant.  

Day parking at Silver Lake costs $5 with no extra fee for kayaks. There’s easy access with a concrete boat launch and a rocky beach adjacent to the paved parking lot. Silver Lake is one of three recreational lakes operated by the El Dorado Irrigation District(Jenkinson and Caples are the other two.) 
Lake levels are controlled, so paddling is possible well into the fall. However, the district advises that the lake usually freezes over by December and doesn’t thaw until May.
© 2013 Glenn Brank