Splendid isolation is available to anyone who can get up early enough for a dawn kayak on Lake Tahoe, as I found out when I set off from the Eastern shore one misty morning…
But what paddling skills do you really need to venture out onto this 22-mile mirror? And how easy is it to access the Lake? Read on to find out…
Early Bird Catches The Rays
When we rock up at the Common’s Beach, Tahoe city, the sky is just beginning to lighten, picking out a layer of winter frost on ridges in the sand. The lake lies silent and still as a mirror, which our line of kayaks seem to be embedded in, like stones welded to the metallic sheet of water.
I’ve had to get up super-early for this experience, but it’s a magical time to be on the edges of this Lake. In quiet moments like these the scale of Lake Tahoe hits home – there’s enough water contained in it to cover the entire LA basin in two feet of water, according to our guide and kayaking mentor, Bart Peterson.
For Bart, paddling into the dawn on Lake Tahoe is mindful and inspiring. ‘At 22 miles long and 12 miles wide, the sheer scale of it, the magnitude of the Lake, just touches the soul.’
As we launch and take our first paddle strokes, our activity breaks the calm, bringing home just how peaceful the Lake is, with zero boat traffic before dawn. We have the whole place to ourselves, and when was the last time you could say that about a hyper-popular tourist destination?
‘I like getting out here first thing in the morning, before the boat traffic picks up, when you can hear all of the birds starting to wake up around the shoreline – it’s a unique way to connect with the area,’ says Bart.
‘Your arms should never get tired when kayaking – it’s more of a pivot from the core’
Don’t Sweat The Technique
Lake Tahoe is often quite choppy, but there’s not a breath of wind this morning, so it’s a perfect time to work on paddling technique. The stillness of the scene soon makes me very aware of a hideous splashing about, caused by my rusty water skills, and despite the chill I’m getting a sweat on, which indicates that I’m working too hard for too little gain.
So, I ask Bart for some quick tips:
‘Proper paddling starts with your arms – so if you put your paddle above your head then you want your arms to be bent at a 90° angle, which shows you where you ought to be holding the paddle,’ he says.
2. ‘When you put the paddle into the water you are putting it in at your toes and pulling it out at your hips.’
- ‘As you rotate to make the paddle stroke, rotate more with your core than with your arms – your arms should never get tired when kayaking, rather it’s a pivot from the core.’
As soon as I put these tips into practice, I can feel my paddle strokes evening out, becoming smoother but more powerful too – now I have half a chance of keeping up with Bart as he seems to effortlessly motor on towards the snow-capped mountains rising above the Southern shore, the best part of 15 miles away.
‘Mist swirls off the water as the sun suddenly bursts over a mountain ridge, casting a brilliant, golden light over us’
There’s something very calming about being out on water, especially when things are this still. The sounds of water moving along the hull of my kayak, and tinkling splashes from my paddles are soothing and the rhythm of paddling soon puts you into a mindful state. My senses are heightened, but my mind is still.
Our group of three kayaks moves slowly out into the lake and we pause, looking out to the lightening sky. Mist swirls off the water as the sun suddenly bursts over a mountain ridge, casting a brilliant, golden light over us. The light feels alive in a way that you don’t feel on land, as it cascades off the ripples in the water and sparkles in the drops falling from our paddles.
We’ve only been in the kayaks for fifteen minutes, but already I feel transported to an entirely different universe from the asphalt-bound world we’ve left behind us.
Planning Is Everything
It’s no coincidence that today’s conditions are so good – Bart had looked at the week’s forecast and seen that this morning had the perfect combination of high pressures and low winds, even in a week with a lot of sunshine.
‘You should look for good conditions, with calm waters like we had today. When that exists you can rent a boat from Tahoe City Kayak or Tahoe Adventure Company, and they have guides who will go on the water with you,’ recommends Bart, who adds that you will need a kayak and paddle that fits you properly.
‘The Lake Tahoe Water Trail shows you all of the different launch points around the Lake shore.’ Launching points like Commons Beach are ideal because of the gently shelving shoreline and easy access for vehicles.
Something to bear in mind is that Lake Tahoe’s water, while it’s too deep to ever freeze over, is also always cold. So, lifejackets or PPDs are essential and you need to be aware of cold water shock, which can make breathing difficult if you capsize, leading to panic. Don’t panic!
Stop For Breakfast
One of the benefits of Lake Tahoe’s size is that you can paddle along the coastline without feeling crowded by it, which means that our turning around sport is going to double up as our breakfast stop.
We paddle past some immaculate lakeshore properties, and past a long boat jetty, into Hurricane Bay, where we beach the kayaks by paddling hard into the rounded pebbles of the shore, where Bart assists by dragging them up onto dry land – we don’t even have to get our feet wet!
There’s something about working for your breakfast that really makes you appreciate it, and the muffins and fresh coffee at the West Shore Market & Deli are exactly what I’m craving right now.
If we had more time we could have paddled further down the shore to the famous lakeside house used when filming The Godfather – but we decide to head back after brekkie. On the return leg I find myself marvelling at the Lake’s clarity, which reveals an emerald underwater realm of rocks and sand formed into makerelled ripples, by the waves.
Lake Tahoe is an enchanting place, so do yourself a favour – get up early and grab a paddle to have it all to yourself…
WHAT NEXT? For more adventures on water read the RSNG interview with the band of brothers who became the fastest ever to row across the Atlantic Ocean, here.
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