Waldo Lake, Oregon Cruise Report

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Waldo Lake, Oregon Cruise Report

Postby jeffd » Sun Aug 26, 2012 12:08 am

I first read about Waldo lake in the Sept/Oct 2012 issue of "Small Craft Advisor" (http://smallcraftadvisor.com - check them out. Not sure why it took me this many years to find this great magazine), a magazine dedicated to small sailboats and big adventures (e.g. cruisers like me, many with a lot fewer amenities). There is a great article about a family that cruised Waldo Lake for a few days in a 19 ft Celebrity sailboat. A couple of things really caught my eye - Waldo lake currently has a ban on gas engines, which means … no powerboats! The article also highlighted the remote feeling of the area - the land is national forest, with very little development. And, being an alpine lake at 4100 feet, it gets some good wind. Sounds great to me - sign me up! I felt a bit of urgency, because the gas engine ban is being reconsidered, and there are groups trying to overturn the ruling. I read that things have already changed some, and seaplanes are now allowed to land on Waldo Lake. So, with some urgency, I quickly got to work figuring out a way to get myself down there for a few days.

My first task was to figure out how to comply with the gas engine ban. Electric motors are allowed. So I did a bit of research and decided to buy myself a Minn Kota Traxxis 45 lb thrust electric trolling motor. To make it even better, Dick's sporting goods had a sale on them, so I picked one up for $200. I already have an 80 amp hour group 24 deep cycle marine battery (which is a real overkill for my kind of cruising), so after purchasing the motor and running the wiring, I was all set. I did spend an afternoon testing the new trolling motor on Lake Washington, and managed to get 3 to 3.5 knots of speed out of it, even agains a slight breeze.

The other hurdle was I found out that the most direct route to Waldo Lake, south on I-5 to Eugene, then east on Highway 58, has nightly road closures (except on the weekend) for road construction at the Salt Creek Tunnel, which is about 2 miles before the turnoff to Waldo Lake. So that meant I had to get through the tunnel before the 8pm closure, or I had to wait till 6am the following morning, when the tunnel reopens.

So I threw together a hasty trip plan. I'd leave on Thursday (8/16/12) about noon, drive like mad to beat the road closure, launch the boat and anchor out Thursday night, sail all day Friday, find a nice place to anchor out on Friday night, sail a bit more on Saturday (8/18/12), before heading back to the boat ramp, pulling out, and heading home. I'd love to stay longer, but that was the best I could do, this summer.

Waldo Lake is one of the cleanest and purest alpine lakes around. You can see to depths of 100 feet on a calm day. There is little soil erosion entering the lake, so there is not much algae growth.

So I leave home on Thursday afternoon, a bit late, and drive south on I-5. Pretty uneventful, except I hit the Portland OR traffic at 3:30pm. It was a lot worse than tripcheck.com indicated, but as I looked across to the northbound lanes, I counted my blessings - it was a whole lot worse over there. After struggling through the Portland Metro traffic, things cleared up, and I was able to make good time till the turnoff onto Highway 58. Good ole Murphy's law - I got caught behind a slow moving vehicle heading up to Oakridge OR. But luckily, he turned off at Oakridge, and so I got to make some good time past Oakridge, driving like a madman (towing a boat!) to try to make sure I'd make it to the Salt Creek Tunnel by 8pm. I was following a motorhome, who seemed to have the same mission. What a nice drive. It has been a long time since I'd done this drive. I'll have to do it again, when I have time to enjoy it. I manage to make it to the tunnel by 7:30, where they have a pilot car leading groups through the Salt Creek Tunnel, which is under repair, and only has one lane open. After making it through the tunnel, I take the turnoff onto National Forest Road 5897. The road climbs up and around. I pass the south campground (I read the south end is wetter, which means more mosquitos!) and continue onto FS Road 5898, FS Road 5895 and on to the North Waldo Campground. I get there about 8pm. The Forest Service roads were in pretty good shape, and I was doing 35-45 most of the way. There were a few bumps and dips, but not bad. I take a quick survey of the boat ramp - it has a dock and is pretty wide. Its getting dark, so I put the mast up, get the trolling motor in place and connected, and launch.

The Waldo Lake area is managed by the National Forest Service, so parking there requires a parking pass. They do have a fee box on site ($5/nite). Before leaving home, I purchased a Northwest Forest Pass for $30/year, figuring I can also use it for Lake Keechelus, and other National Forest launches.

By the time I parked, hit the land head, and departed the dock, it was getting pretty dark. But it was sure pretty and peaceful. Here is a shot of the lake, as I quietly motored out, at about 2 knots with the electric trolling motor.

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The campground and boat launch is located in a nice, secluded cove, so one option was to anchor out in the cove near the campground. But I came here for the seclusion, and the campground was a bit noisy, so I decided to motor out into the lake, and follow the north shore a bit, to a nice little cove, protected by an island, about 1/2 mile from the campground. It was very calm, and quiet. I put out my "lunch" anchor (8 lb) with about 40 ft of line and backed down with the trolling motor to set the anchor in about 12 ft of water. It was very clear, and looking up, I could see lots of stars, and the milky way. What a treat. It has been a while since I've been up in the mountains overnight. I made a quick supper - heated up a can of ravioli. Then, after rearranging and cleaning up a bit, I turned in for the night. It was a bit cool, but no bugs. I did put the mosquito netting in the companionway, just in case. And bonus! There is even cell phone coverage here, so I can check my email.

The next morning, I woke up to the beautiful views of the lake. Here is the view of the Island that I tucked myself behind last night. As you can see, the water is very clear, and it is easy to see the anchor rode, and a lot of the bottom.

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After breakfast, I finished rigging the boat. The winds were pretty calm, but just enough breeze that I thought I'd sail across the north end of the lake, and explore a deep little cove on the northwest side of the lake. Here is a view, looking south, toward the other end of the lake.

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I was using National Forest Topographical Maps for navigation, but they don't have any depths. My Navionics Marine App for iPhone has depths on Waldo lake, but they are kind of rough. There's a 50 foot deep contour line, a ways from shore, and that's it. So I am gunk holing and on my own. The winds are very light and from the south, so I reach across to the west side of the lake, then turn north into the little cove, running at 3 kts.

As I sail in, I noticed a canoe and some campers making camp on the west shore. The depths were getting a bit shallow, so I pulled out the keel pin, in case of a grounding. The wind began to pick up too, kind of funneling into the cove. As I am getting close to their camp, I notice the depth sounder is indicating 5 ft. Hmm, prepare to run aground! Sure enough, I gently hit the bottom. It doesn't look like it gets any deeper further in, and the wind is picking up, so its time to head back out and go sailing! After ungrounding, I come about and sail back into the main part of the lake. Maybe if I have time, I will return and explore by kayak. Here is a map, showing the track that I sailed:

Waldo Lake Sailing Track:

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As you can see, I did a lot of sailing! North to South, the lake is about 5 nautical miles, and about 2 miles wide, at its widest point. But as you can see by the map, there are a whole lot of interesting places to explore. At 10:30am wind comes up! Good ripples on the main lake So I head back out . Close hauled 5.2 kts! This is what I came here for !
Wind seems to be out of the southeast, kind of gusty and shifty. Keeps you on your toes! Then, the wind died. I had lunch, 12 noon, then, a decent tailwind so up goes the spinnaker, heading for the slot - hit 5 kts on a beam reach, wind out of the east. Now, the wind was coming from the northeast - going my way, so up goes the spinnaker, as I sail toward the south end of the lake.

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Here's a view to the north, from about mid-lake. I sail through the narrow part of the lake, and on to the south end. On the way, I check out Rhododendron Island, on the east side of the lake, near the narrow part. The FS Topo Map indicates there is a campground on the island. As I sail by, I don't see any signs of life. The island is pretty wooded - looks like a nice place to explore later. I sail to the south end, and check out the boat ramp at the south campground, at Shadow Bay. Looks like another sailboat getting ready to launch. Good. So far, its only been kayaks and canoes. But then again, there are NO POWERBOATS!!! How wonderful, and quiet. Yes, this is why I came this far. It is so quiet, that I can hear the two kayakers taking to each other a mile away! By early afternoon, the wind is coming up, maybe 10-15 knots. And what a surprise - the wind is from the south east, which is across the lake. That means I can sail up and down the lake doing a reach both ways - no beating required! Pretty cool. Seems like most alpine lakes have prevailing winds going up and down the lake, so you get a run, then have to beat. As you can see by my track, I sailed up and down the lake several times, on reaches, using the 130% genoa. At first, I used the spinnaker to reach, with the pole all the way forward, which worked OK. Then, I got lazy and just sailed on the Genoa. As you can see, beautiful views all around, good wind, warm weather, sunshine, and peace and quiet. It doesn't get much better than this. OK, the water was quite cold - not quite as cold as Lake Chelan, but lets say I didn't stay in for very long when I took a swim to cool off from the heat.

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Here's a shot looking north, toward the "cut" - the narrow part of the lake. I reach using the spinnaker, which works for a while. I see several groups of kayakers and canoes leave from the campground at the south end - looks like they are headed for Rhotodendron Island. There is a trail that cycles the lake. I see several groups of hikers making the trek around the lake, and I've noticed a few camps here and there, around the lake. If you're into backpacking, this looks like a great place to explore.

OK, I've been sailing up and down the lake a few times, and I'm ready to go exploring. Here's a view of Rhododendron Island, on the right. Does it look light there is enough depth to sail through? The prudent sailor would sail all the way around the island on the deep end, but what fun is that? I decide to try to sail through the "shallows". Yes, it does look a bit iffy - the lay of the land doesn't indicate a lot of slope to the water. But here goes nothing - and the wind is going my way. I keep an eye on the depth sounder, and have the keel pin out, in case I run aground . . . . again. As I get close to the line joining the land to the island, I notice the depth sounder reads 4 ft, then bump. I crank the keel up a bit, and proceed, but looking beyond, it looks too shallow, so time to turn around. I sail around the Island on the deep side (like any sensible sailor would do) and notice the depths on the other side of the island are in the 40-50 ft range. The Island has a very nice, protected cove facing west - very nice for landing canoes and kayaks. I see one group of kayakers take to the water.

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Here's a view from the inside, of that shallow spot, between Rhotodendron Island and the mainland. It doesn't look too bad from this angle either, but I know it gets pretty shallow off the rocks. Maybe I'll explore the area by kayak later, if there's time. But the wind is coming back up, so its time to go sailing again.

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Here's another view of Rhododendron Island, from the inside. Looks like a nice place to camp. This cove is pretty nice too - this would make a nice anchorage for an overnight stay.

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I sail up and down the lake a few times, including sailing to the far south end, where it gets quite shallow. I tried to sail into Shadow Bay, where the south campground is, but it got very shallow really quick, and yes, I ran aground . . . again. Kind of embarrassing! Lots of people at the dock and the beach inside the bay. I ungrounded and sailed back around and headed back north. Still more good wind. By now, I'm getting lazy and just sailing with the 130% Genoa. The spinnaker is too much work, and the wind is getting a bit strong.

As the afternoon wears on, I decide to spend the night in the north end of the lake. I'd like to be reasonably close to the north campground's boat ramp, because I don't have a lot of range with the electric trolling motor, and I don't want to get stuck. So I decided to see if the deep bay in the northwest corner of the lake is still occupied. I sailed about halfway in and noticed the canoe I saw in the mooring was still there, so decided to respect their privacy and turn around. They were kind of noisy anyway. So I headed east and found a nice bay in the middle of a burned out part of the shore. Looking west, I get a glimpse of the sun, setting behind the trees:

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By now, the wind has died down and it looks to be a nice, calm evening. I set my little lunch anchor (because I am lazy and don't feel like digging out my big bruce anchor and chain). I cook dinner (canned stew) and relax, and enjoy the evening. I thought about inflating the kayak and exploring the deep bay around the corner, but then, I get lazy and decide that's too much work. It must be getting close to fall, because after the sun sets, it gets dark pretty fast. And there is that fall chill in the air too. Looking east, I am treated with some great sunset colors in the clouds and some good reflections off the lake:

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I turn in, and read for a while, then hit the sack. During the night, I hear a bit of rain, and even thunder! Hmm, I am sleeping right next to a great 25' lighting rod. Maybe I should have invested in some lighting protection. It rains a couple of times, and the wind blew a bit. Hmm, I probably should have put out the bigger bruce anchor and chain. A quick check on the depth sounder and I am ok.

The next morning, I am treated to a spectacular sunrise:

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The weather is changing. Between rain squalls, I make and eat my breakfast - pretty simple. I heat water on a white gas camp stove, make coffee, and instant oatmeal, a banana, and applesauce. Easy to prepare, easy to make, and easy to clean up.

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After cleaning up, I noticed the wind was beginning to blow pretty good. A quick check on the depth sounder: 8 ft, then 7 ft, then 6 ft - hmm, looks like I am dragging anchor. An the rain is coming. I quickly duck inside and don my foul weather gear and boots as quick as I can, just as I can see the rudder hitting the sand. I go on deck as the rain hits, and pull the boat to deeper water, and then pull up the anchor. Oh well, I guess I should have dug out the big bruce anchor and chain last night. But I'm lucky that I drug anchor in the morning, and not late at night or when it was dark. So I quickly put up the sails and sail in the rain. Winds are pretty good, enough to make 3 knots, but I decided that I had a really great full day of sailing yesterday, and sailing in the rain doesn't have much appeal to me. So I decide it's time to head home. Maybe I'll even make it home early. I sail back to the North campground's boat ramp. Looks like t here is a lot of activity there, but it is Saturday morning.

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I sailed most of the way to the dock. There is a shallow spot, so I decide its time to crank up the keel, and proceed on electric trolling motor. The rain has stopped, but it is still cloudy and overcast. I pull out, unrig, stow everything, drop the mast, and secure for towing. Bummer, with the rain, everything is wet, so I put things away as best I can. So by 11am, I'm packed up and ready to go. I take a walk down to the boat ramp. Here is a view from the boat ramp, of the mountains to the south:

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Looks like it is clearing up. But, I am on my way home. As I drive back toward highway 58, the sun breaks through. I put on my sunglasses, and I am very thankful for a great full day of sailing yesterday. I get to the construction zone, and follow the caravan and the pilot car through the Salt Creek Tunnel

The GPS shows I sailed 25.6 nautical miles on Friday, and 2.1 nautical Miles on Saturday. There were good winds, and great scenery. I'm sure glad I came this summer, and I sure would like to return again, hopefully for a longer stay. I did not get to explore any of the little coves by kayak, and I did not get to go hiking, but maybe next time. Hopefully, they will keep the gas engine ban and keep the lake clean and pure.
Last edited by jeffd on Thu Nov 05, 2015 7:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Waldo Lake, Oregon Cruise Report

Postby jaltice » Sun Aug 26, 2012 10:47 am

Above 5000' ft this time. All the stunted, sturdy evergreens; what an experience. Looks like you were also one of the few on the lake that weekend. Thanks for the link to SCA. Nice to have a local publication that has the right cruising focus.
Ballard, WA
Parveen, Hull No. 366
"There is no cannibalism in the British Navy; absolutely none. And when we say "none" we mean there is a certain amount."
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Re: Waldo Lake, Oregon Cruise Report

Postby kuriti » Thu Sep 20, 2012 4:44 am

Great write up, thanks!
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