By Steve Hubrecht
For much of last week Mother Nature transformed Taynton Bay into a jagged, crystalline work of art. Her icy canvas stretched out from the shores of Kinsmen Beach for at least 300 metres, leaving row upon heaving row of razor-sharp chunks of ice sticking straight up like so many frozen stegosaurus spines crammed together. They marched, cut and twisted in bold geometric patterns of their own making; then whorled and swirled with wild abandon. Think of Mexico’s fabled Cave of Crystals, but right here on Lake Windermere.
Shades of alabaster and ivory, pearl and light charcoal, chalky grey-green and the immaculate gleam of colourlessly opaque ice all mixed together in a riot of natural monochrome arresting enough to make you forget about primary colours altogether. Under the mid-day sun, the spiky ice glittered and made eyes squint. When the sun began to set, it glowed a stony cerulean hue. Walking on it was an exercise in caution: step here, carefully, then step there, carefully, step here — oops, crunch. But not crunch, really. That’s what normal ice does underfoot. No, these rime-dusted plates twinkle and ping like wind chimes when stepped on. Imagine treading across a field of glass figurines.
Wow. Really: wow. Mother Nature must have been inspired when she whipped it up. Or gloriously drunk. Maybe both at the same time.
The dazzling natural phenomenon is still out there now, of course, and will be for some time, but curious Invermere residents were out on they all last weekend and the ridges of frigid crystals became somewhat trampled, and then warmer temperatures earlier this week melted away some of the magic. It’s still certainly worth your while to head down and check out. While you’re there, spare a thought for the Toby Creek Nordic Club members, you may well see furiously chipping and flooding a path through the fractured ice to the smooth expanses beyond Taynton Bay. It will soon be Whiteway time, and while the serrated, rumpled bay is beautiful to behold, it is utterly unskate-able or skiable. As such, it is a monumental pain in the keister
for the club, which really would like skiers, skaters, fat bikers, dog walkers and everybody else to be able to access the Whiteway from Kinsmen Beach without having to hobble across the sawtooth ice as though ginger-footing across hot coals.
Several club members have been out on the bay since last Friday, Dec. 4, doing their level best to get some sort of track, from Kinsmen to smooth part of the lake, to its level best. To that end, they are chiselling and chopping a trail several hundred metres long, as well as using pumps and hoses to flood this little avenue with lake water, then letting that water freeze into what will hopefully become a smooth lane.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before. It’s really wild and completely unprecedented,” Whiteway maintainer and resident Columbia Valley lake ice expert Brad Kitching told the Pioneer.
Kitching, speaking on Friday, Dec. 4, outlined that the phenomenon had begun more than a week prior, on the night of Thursday, Nov. 26, when super high winds hammered the valley.
“It was really blowing, it literally shook my house that night. There was about one inch of ice on most of the lake at that point, but the wind made whitecaps, which broke up all the ice, into bits of ice debris kind of like pizza pies,” said Kitching. “It was a south wind, so it pushed all that ice debris north. Half of it went down the Columbia River, the other half rammed into Kinsmen. That’s why it’s piled in there so high.
It’s like plate tectonics forming mountain ridges in the earth’s crust. Then it got cold and froze that way. It’s surreal.”
The crazily crumpled ice near Kinsmen is about 10 inches thick. The rest of Lake Windermere is almost uniformly four inches thick, said Kitching, adding the nordic club’s new smaller grooming machine can be used when the ice is eight inches thick, and the larger grooming Kubota can be used when it’s 12 inches thick. Kitching pointed out that two inches of ice are more than enough to hold a person, and added that the lake beyond Taynton Bay is currently in superb shape for skating.
“Anybody who is out skating on Lake Windermere is winning the skating lottery. It’s dreamy creamy smooth all the way up and down the lake except for one chunk between Windermere and Indian Beach. With the cold clear nights we’ve had and no snow, the ice is like black gold. You can’t ask for better,” said Kitching.
“But snooze, you lose. It’s only a matter of time before the lake gets snow on it, and then it’ll never be the same.”
Kitching cautioned that there is one hole on the lake by Timber Ridge, where there is a weak spot in the lake ice every year. He outlined that the weak spot comes because Lake Windermere is not really a lake, but instead a widening of the Columbia River. The lake (or river) is relatively wide before hitting Timer Ridge (which Kitching explained “sticks out into the lake like a spike, and kind of jabs the ice”) and narrowing fairly abruptly.
“So any time you get a river and suddenly chop its width in half, the river current speeds up twice as much.. That’s exactly what happens in Lake Windermere. The current is going much faster into James Chabot than it is in the bigger, wider parts of the lake,” said Kitching. “In the winter, that puts stress on the ice at the pinch point (where the lake narrows, by Timber Ridge).”
With lake ice likely to grow thick enough to start the Whiteway on Lake Windermere in the near future, the club now hopes to set up the start of the Whiteway, which is normally right off Kinsmen Beach, out just beyond the jumbled ice in Taynton Bay, with a small smooth (or at least smoother) path to get skaters and skiers from the beach to the Whiteway, said Kitching.
“So we’ve been scarping away chunks, trying to knock down the high spots, then flooding it with water, trying to flood it enough to bring the low spots as close to the top of the high spots as we can,” he said. “We’re doing the best we can. We may never get it good enough to skate on, but if that’s the case, maybe we’ll make a footpath out of snow.”
When the Pioneer checked back with Kitching on Monday, Dec. 7, after four straight days of chipping, hacking and flooding, he expressed optimism that the path would turn out alright.
“I would say it’s going well. If we can just keep people off of it. Somebody unfortunately almost destroyed it the other day, but we’ve got some signs up now, asking people to stay off, so hopefully, that helps,” he said.
In the meantime, the nordic club is also gearing up to set up the Lake Lillian Whiteway.
“We’re actually pretty close to being able to sweep on Lake Lillian,” said Kitching, adding that Lake Lilian typically freezes earlier than Lake Windermere in part because of its somewhat higher elevation and in part because it sits in a cold sink.
“It’s in a bit of a geographic trough, I guess you could say, and the cold air just sits there. You can be at the top of Peter’s Hill, and it will be +2 degrees. You go down to Lake Lillian, and it’s -2 degrees. Then further along the road to Panorama, it’s +2 degrees again,” said Kitching. “It’s a weird little spot that really seems to hold the cold.”
Kitching said on Friday, Dec. 4, that skating on Lake Lillian was pretty good and that club wants to make both a skate path and a nordic ski track there this year.