I have been going to Lake Chelan since I was pint-sized.
Annual family trips originally led to Holden Village, a remote company mining town converted to a retreat center run by alternative Lutherans.
That annual event evolved into hiking the Stehekin area from one of the many National Forest trail heads. Stehekin – the rear entrance to North Cascades National Park – is nestled at the bottom of the mountains where the Stehekin River meets Lake Chelan in what looks like a Swiss Alps scene.
While living in Brazil, I picked up a serious love for paragliding. My Brazilian state, Ceará, is known for world gliding events and many long distance paragliding records.
But Chelan, too, is an international hot spot for paragliding. So I brought my glider along with my hiking boots last year to join in the 2010 Paragliding World Championships held at Chelan Butte. Pilots from as far as Columbia, Spain, France and Korea filled the skies with colorful gliders. I was right at home.
Chelan’s landscape invites draft winds, known as thermals, created by the cool air from the river, lake and high Cascade Mountains, traveling towards the hot desert and rocks of the east-side farms near Mansfield.
These thermals allow gliders to fly high and far.
The sight of Lake Chelan after
a sunset launch, gliding with no sound but the wind, was followed by a night of sleepless reliving – Post Euphoric Bliss Syndrome, we call it.
I’d found another way to revel in Lake Chelan, but when I started thinking about it that way I realized the lake is choice for another angle.
I returned this year with a sea kayak looking for a new perspective.
A friend I and met a lone traveler on an Enduro motorcycle at Snowberry Campground, just a few miles past 25 Mile State Park on a vintage cascade creek.
He gave a classic speech, as good as Nicholson in Easy Rider, on how we must never wait for our freedom. Born to be wild!
We parked our cars at Fields Point, 22 miles up lake. It’s a boat landing for the Lady of the Lake, which provides ferry service for tourists, hikers and the residents of Holden and Stehekin.
Near the docks, I met a couple and their black Lab preparing to paddle up the lake and back. Ten years ago, while teaching at the Holden Village public school, they paddled back and forth to Stehekin all the time.
They told me to camp at Big Creek for my first night as they paddled away with the lab on his special pontoon perch.
As it was Saturday, the first six miles were filled with all forms of watercraft. As we went around the first big bend, most of the boats disappeared. In late afternoon, we reached Big Creek’s busted old dock that makes it a kayak and canoe but not a big boat campsite.
A rough 200-yard scramble up the creek revealed a couple of nice waterfalls, one that looked like a white bear standing up. Colorful green blue water where the creek meets the lake looked somehow Mediterranean.
Paddling was slower the next day into a headwind and choppy water. The towering mountains were getting higher and their tops filled with snow and ice as the bald eagles and ospreys flew overhead.
Near the end of the afternoon we were getting splashed with every other wave we hit.
We found the last available campsite at Domke Falls boat campground just as our blood sugar was running out.We recovered under a spectacular full moon over the lake.
The next morning, we reached Holden, where my friend departed on the ferry while I continued the trip, first with a visit to years of old memories. I boarded the bus for the 12-mile ride up switchbacks to Holden Village.
I made friends with several Japanese students. I taught them about Frisbee, and they taught me about their baseball players.
Groups of Japanese have been coming up to Holden as volunteers for many years. Their equivalent of Time magazine once declared Holden Village as one of 10 Shangri-La’s on earth.
Complete with an old-time ice cream parlor, hand-set bowling alley, showers, hot tub and sauna, Holden is heaven to a dirty outdoor traveler .
I saw several old friends, made some new ones, and serviced a mini solar energy system I donated to the village years before.
A cook friend at Holden gave me a paper bag full of chocolate ginger cookies for my return trip.
On the way out, I overheard some biologists talking about “spirit bear” (a white-colored black bear) sighting near Hart Lake, 4 miles from the Village.
I returned to Lucerne that afternoon and began my solo return paddle with a tailwind, following the waves. The first time I rode one I was a afraid I was going to get tumbled, and was surprised when I rode it about 50 yards.
The next one was even bigger and went farther. I was surfing – yet another way to relish Lake Chelan.
But the waves had taken me captive. I couldn’t land the boat, so I just kept going. My applesauce cup and sponge became a urinal, and those cookies became breakfast lunch and dinner.
I was having such a good time, I forgot my body had some limits. My arms were beginning to cramp. I had to time the waves, with little pauses, so I could massage one arm at a time, eat cookies and drink water to keep going.
After eight hours, I passed 25 Mile Creek. I raced the sun to reach Field’s Point before they locked the gate for the night. I made it with 10 minutes to spare.
I was beyond al dente. My arms were limp. I passed out in Manson, and woke the next morning with a cookie and wave hangover.
I’d stretched my legs and ridden the waves on this return to Lake Chelan. Now it was time to soar the thermals. I looked up and saw The Butte taunting me.
By late afternoon, friends from Manson were driving me up the dusty rocky road, to the famous Para and Hang glider launch.
Startled by a rattlesnake on my hike to the site, I stopped a little longer than normal at the edge, composed myself, and finally I let it fly.
Perfect breezes took me up hundreds of feet. As I rode the wind back and forth over the mountain, I had a Zen moment— taking in the view of the river the lake and the setting sun.
I looked down at my friends and did my best goofy bird call. After about an hour, just as the day ended, I landed in a field, by a lone pine tree on the lakeside base of the butte. I did not sleep much that night.