Just after dawn the waters of Lake Chelan are still enough to reflect the snow-capped peaks of the Cascades surrounding the lake, some rising to altitudes of more than 8,000 feet. As I paddle past the shore near town, heading uplake toward wilder reaches farther north, the perspective gives me new respect for the sheer scale of the landscape. This is the place ancient Salish peoples called Tsi-Laan, meaning deep water, an apt moniker. The bottom off the lake is some 1,500 feet below my kayak, making it the third deepest in North America. This, the biggest lake in Washington, stretches for 55-miles, from the town of Chelan up into the heart of the North Cascades at Stehekin. But it’s only a mile wide, so the impression is one of a mighty fjord slicing into the mountains.
Chelan is unique in that it is both a destination, replete with multi-sport outdoor activities, and the jumping off place for hard core adventures. I’ve been here before over the past decade, but mostly as the starting point for mountaineering trips into the wild North Cascades. From the town of Chelan, regular boat service by the Lady of the Lake takes sightseerers and hikers up lake as far north as Stehekin, the gateway to North Cascades National Park. (Or, for the impatient, Chelan Airways can whisk you up in a matter of minutes in one of their classic DeHaviland Beavers, turning the journey into a sightseeing extravaganza). But this time, I’m making a point of staying put in Chelan, of enjoying the outdoor fun closer to town, and combining it with a search for extraordinary food and wine.