Kawkawa Lake has been making quite a name for itself, starting with the Jan. 1 polar bear swim, where a small crowd of crazies had to break through fresh ice to take their plunge.
Temperatures took a deeper dip after that, making the ice more stable than it has been in perhaps 20 years.
Here are the stories of some locals — and a former Hope resident — from a memorable week on top of the water.
Outdoor enthusiast, Kelly Pearce has a keen eye for outdoor ice that might hold a human. In December, he tested Texas Lake and passed the word on that he didn’t fall through. Others followed and got a few days of fun before the snow covered it.
“I’m cautious but always eager to get out there,” said Pearce last Monday, after five days of fun on Kawkawa Lake.
“I’ve pushed the envelope in the past, mostly in shallow water. On Wednesday (Jan. 4), I walked out about 50 metres on Kawkawa — then on Thursday (Jan. 5), we came back and skated.”
Pearce and a few other members of the Hope Mountain Centre for Outdoor Learning went all over the lake on Jan. 5 and Pearce was back for more on that Friday through Sunday.
“You’ve got to be prepared to drop a few things and skate your brains out and get your chores done later,” he declared.
Pearce’s passion for open ice skating was demonstrated by his multiple loops around the circumference of Kawkawa Lake. He said he started cold but warmed up by the end when he went out skating with Mike Millar and Mark Petryk on Friday.
“Every stride is a joy,” said Pearce.
Pearce said he preferred the ice on Texas Lake because it felt smoother. Kawkawa Lake, however, provides a wider area for longer skates and strides.
“I think I’ve been having more fun on Kawkawa because of the size of it and also the scenery. I love [Mount] Ogilvie and Mount Hope on the other side.”
Last Monday was chore day — though he hoped to get down to the lake for cross-country skiing, after Sunday night’s snowfall put a stop to the skating.
“This takes the cake, as far as being totally explorable around the lake, in recent years,” said Pearce.
Quintin Hornby, 11, took the chance to explore the lake on a BMX bicycle. That was his first time.
“You don’t get as much traction on a bike than when you get skating and it’s harder to control,” said Quintin.
Despite having little traction, Quintin’s father, Chris Hornby, could not catch up to his son.
“Getting old,” said Chris. “Sooner or later, he’s got to start beating me in something.”
Josiah Tiessen, 13, also played hockey with his father, Rob, on Friday, Jan. 6. They also skated from one end to the other.
“I play for the Hope Wildcats and I’m hoping tomorrow — we have a practice — so I’m hoping that we get to use this ice space as our practice. That would be really cool.”
Josiah said that Friday marked his second time skating on Kawkawa Lake “in a long time.”
“This is the best ice Kawkawa Lake has had in about a decade,” said Josiah.
When The Standard visited Kawkawa Lake on that Friday, about 20 people went down there. However, this number swelled on that weekend.
Pearce figured there were probably 200 people on the lake over the course of the day on Saturday. Others guessed there might have been 120 at one time on Sunday, mostly skating or walking.
The last good skating at Kawkawa was in 2009 but was mostly concentrated in the First Beach swimming area.
Ferd Alcos jumped at the chance to skate on the lake for his third time since moving to Hope in 1991.
Though he hadn’t been on blades in a few years, he said, “I did one lap in about 10 to 15 minutes. I showed up alone and saw a friend there but skated the lap by myself.
“We skated around for a couple of hours, passing the puck around and hoped I wouldn’t get hurt. I walk almost everyday in the evenings at a pretty fast pace, so my legs weren’t sore. It was my shoulders and arms that I felt had a good workout.”
Alcos was a first-timer at the polar bear swim last week and he noticed quite a difference, staying on top of the ice.
“Oh yeah, definitely warmer — especially my fingers,” he said. “That was the part that really hurt for a few minutes, after the swim.”
Miranda and Jacob Cowan and their son Levi took their first skate on Friday afternoon, then mom and dad were back twice a day on Saturday and Sunday, spending a lot more time than they did at the polar bear swim.
Miranda figures they did perhaps 11 or 12 laps of the lake over the weekend. Staying close to shore would make it about 3.8 km or 2.4 miles per lap, according to a MapMyRun calculation.
“It would take us maybe half an hour to get around,” figured Miranda. “Other times it took longer because we kept running into people we knew and we stopped to talk. It seemed like the whole town was down there on Sunday.”
Sunday night’s snow put a stop to most of the skating and people switched gear to skis, snowshoes and at least one snowmobile. Last Tuesday, Miranda was organizing a moonlit snowshoe session for last Wednesday via Facebook — and was getting a lot of interest.
Hope Secondary grad of 1989, Aaron Saito drove up from Surrey on Sunday to take part in the action.
“The last time I skated on that lake had to have been in the mid ‘80s,” said Saito, a firefighter in Richmond.
“We woke up Sunday morning and I wanted to share the experience with my son Ethan, who is 14. We got our stuff together and headed to Hope for the day.
“What an experience,” said Saito. “We skated to the other side, where the cliffs are and shot pucks there. Then we skated around the whole lake, passing the puck around as we went. When we got back to First Beach, we cooked up some wieners and had some hotdogs.
“Some of the funnest days are spent in that town,” said Saito.
Hope Scouts and Venturers commissioner, Crystal Medlock leads by example, when it comes to stepping outdoors for fun and adventure.
“In our house, only Claire (daughter) and I were around on Saturday to go to the lake. We went just after 10 a.m. because it sounded like there was going to be a bunch of people down there,” said Medlock.
“We were shocked to have almost the entire lake to ourselves but were pleasantly surprised to see a couple of friends there to skate around with. I couldn’t believe how solid it was,” she enthused. “I’ve never heard of Kawkawa Lake being frozen before and we’ve lived here 14 years now. Apparently there were a couple of times over the last decade or so but everyone that mentioned it said it wasn’t for this long and it wasn’t this thick.
“All I know is: this is the lake we kayak, canoe, boat and swim at in the summers. Never in million years would I have figured we would be walking or skating on it in the winter months,” said Medlock. “We stayed there for a couple of hours and went back for at least three more hours on Saturday (Jan. 7) afternoon, where Claire skated and spun and jumped all over the ice to her heart’s content.
“I could only smile and know that these memories would last a lifetime and that many years from now, my kids would probably be sharing stories from the cold winter of 2016/2017.
“The power of social media and small town news spreading like wildfire meant the afternoon on Saturday and most of Sunday was packed full of friends, neighbours and strangers,” said Medlock.
“Everyone in town seemed to be there checking things out, smiling hugely and having a great time. Apparently when the local lake freezes, everyone becomes a kid again!”
Medlock is the secretary at Harrison Elementary and Sunday night’s snow forced a snow day for staff and students last Monday.
“Once we dug ourselves out of the driveway we planned to meet some friends at the lake for the third day in a row,” said Medlock, “but we didn’t know what to expect, so we packed sleds, snowshoes and skates in the van along with some snacks and water and just hoped for the best.
“Parking was at a premium by early afternoon but we grabbed the last parallel spot on the street by the lake. There was a large group of people clearing a skating area near the boat launch for what ended up being a hockey game and some others that just wanted to skate around.
“The sense of community and pure enjoyment of living in our beautiful community was so evident this weekend,” said Medlock. “This is exactly why we still live here, 14 years after we relocated from the city. There really is no other place we can imagine calling home.”
Meanwhile, not everyone was having fun on the lake. Normally very active, Sabine Keil broke her kneecap in the fall of 2016 and has been on the mend for the past few months. Living on the lakeside, though, she at least has had a great view.
“January 2017 will hold special memories for many people, including me,” she said. “At times, I was frustrated that I was stuck inside when all the action was just outside out of my grasp.
“But watching the activity all across the lake was better than any reality TV,” said Keil. “From dawn until deep into the night, there were people enjoying the perfect conditions of the lake that come so rarely.
“We’ve lived here for over 35 years and have skated on Kawkawa Lake three times — and only once were we able to navigate the entire surface, about 20 years ago.
“Skaters, walkers, snowshoers, skiers… snowmobiles, bicycles, sleds and head-lamped night-owls; I saw it all and felt thankful that I could live vicariously through those happy people, embracing this gift of Mother Nature.”
One of those was her husband, Glen, who has been skating and skiing on his backyard playground.
“Sometimes I ventured out onto the deck,” said Sabine. “I could hear laughter and people having conversations, making memories with their children and grandchildren.
“I appreciated all the friends who ventured by our spot on the lake to wave hello or carve it in the snow — and carve hearts in the snow — shout up, or call me on their cells to beckon me out for a quick, ‘wish you were here!’
“The winter of 2017 is off to a beautiful start,” said Sabine. “I feel blessed.”
“This is the kind of winter I like,” said Pearce. “I like snow, I like snowshoeing, skiing, skating, I like shovelling snow, honestly I love everything about winter.”