Tarn – 11′ 15lb SOF Canoe


This canoe had its start in a sentence I read on Parks Canada’s website: Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, sailboats, and other non-motorized boats are allowed on all lakes in the park. In practice though, only a small number of lakes are accessible.. I took that as a challenge and came up with this boat as a result.

The hull shape is my own design. My criteria were to build a boat that could withstand and be controllable in extremely high winds (katabatic gusts in the mountains can hit 70km/h+). It also had to be light and short enough to carry over rough trails. To meet these criteria, I chose a shallow V hull shape, as it draws more water, reducing side slip in high winds. This shape also makes the canoe tippy so it can be edged into waves to avoid capsize (stable boats don’t do well when the water is sitting at a 45 degree angle). The length is a compromise between paddling efficiency and maneuverability on the trail. I also cut the lower stringer short on the bow and stern, allowing the flexible skin to form a hollow which acts like a skeg to improve tracking. About the only thing I would do differently next time is either raise the ends slightly, or add in short decks on the bow and stern to shed water when the waves get big.

I did investigate making the canoe fold, but the weight and durability penalty, plus the increased complexity caused me to reject it in favor of a fixed design.

The canoe is constructed of red and yellow cedar, ash, and nylon fabric coated with polyurethane. These materials allowed me to keep the weight down to 15lbs (6.8kg), extremely light for an 11′ canoe. Combined with a drysuit, paddle, and safety gear my total pack weight is under 30lbs, allowing me to carry this boat into the most improbable lakes.

For more information on the construction of this boat, please refer to my blog.


Trip Photos and Reports

tarn4Consolation Lakes
6km return, 65m gain
I picked an easy hike for a first back country canoeing trip. The trail starts out at Moraine Lake, and winds through the woods before ending up at a large boulder field. This last bit requires a bit of careful footwork, especially with a canoe on ones head. Watch for submerged hazards such as boulders and tree trunks which often lie just below the surface. Both times I have been out to this lake it has been extremely windy.

tarn2tarn5tarn6Arnica Lake
10.2km return, ~850m gain
Parks says this trail has 580 meters gain from the parking lot. This is correct. What they don’t say is you have to drop 150 meters to Vista Lake, regain it up Storm Mountain, then finally climb back up to your car at the end of the day. Be prepared. The lake itself is lovely, nice easy spots to launch, surrounded by larches and fields of arnica flowers which give the lake its name. There is also a nice view across the valley to Castle Mountain. Theoretically you could hit four lakes in one day on this trail by stopping at Vista, continuing to Arnica, then over to nearby Twin Lakes. Personally I am not that fit.

tarn7tarn8Lillian and Galatea Lakes
16km return, ~680m gain
Nice wide trail on a steady mild grade to Lillian Lake. The last kilometer up to Galatea is quite steep and narrow. I had to do a few 16 point turns with my canoe on the switch backs. Lillian is situated in the trees with lovely views and lots of trout.. Lower Galatea is far higher than Lillian and surrounded by rocks and scree slopes, with stunning views of the peaks. I didn’t make it to Upper Galatea due to a foot injury, but it looks like it would be a nice one as well. Launching on Lillian is easy, the drop-offs are shallow, Galatea is harder, with steep drop-offs and rocky shores. Watch for wind on the exposed scree slopes up to Galatea, had my canoe go kiting a few times.

tarn9tarn10Chephren Lake
7km return, ~80m gain
Trail starts at Waterfowl Lakes Campground on the Icefields Parkway. The trail winds up a hill for about 1.3kms before splitting at a junction, left is the trail to Cirque Lake, right is Chephren. Taking a right the trail winds downhill through wet swampy trees with little view until you get to the lake proper. The lake is quite large, about 3kms from end to end, and the scenery gets better towards the far end. Think towering peaks with glaciers cascading into waterfalls. Lot of wind on the lake, and a long fetch so the waves can be large. Though I haven’t canoed it, I have hiked to Cirque Lake before, its a very wet rooty trail that can be steep, the lake is smaller than Chephren, but arguably more impressive. You can do both in a day, it would be about 12.4km total to do so.

tarn11tarn12Rawson Lake
6.2km return, 280m gain
Short popular hike starting at Upper Kananaskis Lake. The trail winds along the lake shore for about a kilometer before climbing up switchbacks to the south. It is possible to canoe to the trail branch (I did it on the way back because wet gear is heavier than dry), just paddle along the south shore to the large waterfall and then take to the trail from there. The rest of the trail is in the trees. The lake itself is quite pretty, it was fogged in when I got there, but the mountains slowly revealed themselves in a rather dramatic manner as I lay down in my canoe. Launch is easyish, watch for all the sharp woody debris, and as a hint, that mud between the logs is totally not solid, you will sink at least a foot if you step on it. I did see a fly fisherman with a belly boat on the lake, so its an easy carry in.

tarn13tarn14Taylor Lake
12.6km return, 585m gain
Long haul through the trees to get to the lake, but totally worth it. The far end of the lake has a 100 foot high water fall that would be hard to approach except by water. The east side has sheer vertical cliffs with water up to the base allowing you to paddle close (watch for falling rocks), and look way up at the peaks towering thousands of feet above you. Lovely dose of humility here. Very pretty spot. Launching was easy, shallow drop-offs with solid gravel under foot.