It’s funny the reactions you get from people when you tell them you are going on a solo backcountry trip! I’m not 100% sure if it’s because I am female, or just because people don’t really understand what spending time in nature does for your soul?
From the very first time I went backcountry camping in 2001, I was hooked! On that trip I was in for 5 days and stayed on 4 different lakes. It was amazing but a bit too much. On the many trips that followed I toned it down quite a bit. It wasn’t the portaging I enjoyed, for sure, or the packing and unpacking at each site, but the total solace and peacefulness of just being alone in nature and away from the people of the world. I realized to get that, I just had to get into the backcountry, I didn’t necessarily have to go extremely far in to it, or go from site to site, I just had to be there, and so I continued on that way for the last 14 years.
The backcountry is not for everyone, and over the years, it’s been difficult finding people who not only shared my love for it, but were able and willing to do it with me. And so my trips were scattered. Some years I would be lucky to go once, and others, I would go 4 or 5 times in a summer. I learned to substitute car camping for the backcountry as I figured it was better than nothing, but people who’ve backcountry camped know, it’s not the same at all.
After all these years, I decided this year, after going on 10 camping trips, over half to parks I’d never seen, I was going to go into the backcountry alone! Not only for the solace and the peace or to prove I could do it, but to know, that whenever I wanted to experience that amazing feeling of being alone with nature, I would know that I could go and get it, without anyone else having to be talked into coming along with me. And that, is the biggest freedom I could have!
My trip would be at The Massasauga Provincial Park in Parry Sound. I had heard a lot about the park and had never been there. I contacted my friend Jamie at Outdoors Oriented and asked for some advice, and as always, I wasn’t let down. I went by, picked up my map and got a lovely surprise. A chair to test out! I will be posting a separate blog on it as I’ve already got too much to write on this post, so stay tuned for that!!
I went home and picked a site on the Ontario Parks website. I decided on Conger Lake, one portage (yuck) 405m, but I wanted to try this with my kayak as I’ve never portaged it. Plus the lake looked beautiful, with only 4 sites in total and only 1 booked so far. Enough people to be safe if there was an issue, but not too many that I would feel like I was car camping! Site 519 would be my home for my solo trip! yay! I would put in at Pete’s place, paddle a short distance to the portage and arrive in Conger Lake, then paddle to my site.
I began by packing meticulously. When you backcountry camp, you have to make sure you have absolutely everything you will need. There is no camp store, or avondale nearby to pick something up. If you forget your saw, you can’t cut wood and you won’t have a fire, for example. Packing and organizing is one of my greatest pleasures and I enjoy it immensely. I love doing it and knowing I have done it well. There is a pride about it and a great feeling of assurance when your batteries die and you have one more set in your bag, and you know, you brought enough, but not too much, although when you portage, you always feel like you brought too much! lol
My new BV500 Bearvault pictured here, just purchased for this trip! Check out the blogpost on it here.
I woke up at 3am by the sound of pouring rain on Saturday September 12th. This worried me some so I checked the forecast. 90% POP, where i lived, but only 10% in Parry Sound. Cool beans! I went back to sleep til 430, then got up, put on my raincoat and rain pants and went outside to put my kayak on my car. Not fun in the rain, but I got it done. I went back in, handled a few things and headed on my way at 530, arriving at The Massassauga at 9am. The rain had stopped about an hour and a half into my drive and I could see the blue skies where I was going. The forecast was correct, thank goodness!
The park rangers were very nice. I got a shot with one of them, registered, advised them I was alone, found out that YES, there are active bears in the area and that I would have cell service. Well one out of two wasn’t bad. I headed to the dock, took my boat down, packed it, moved my car to the lot and headed out into Blackstone Harbor!
It was warm and sunny but very windy. I would just have to paddle harder. I had so much gear on my little boat but it was perfectly balanced and not a problem. After paddling less than ten minutes I arrived at the portage. I paddled into the narrow opening, what looked like a small creek and halfway in, my boat got stuck. It was heavy and there was a big sand hump. I would have to get out. I put on my water shoes carefully without tipping the kayak, rolled up my pants and got out and pulled my boat the rest of the way. The water was knee deep but very warm. Then the fun began.
I unloaded my boat, putting everything from inside of it into specific bags I had brought to carry my gear in. This makes things easier than carrying one sleeping bag, one tent, the poles, and everything you’ve put in your kayak cubby all separately. I had my large backcountry backpack (mostly containing my new BV500 bear vault I jus got from MEC!) 3 tote bags and 2 cinch bags. I was bear proofed and ready to go, whistle in mouth, air horn around my neck and humming all the way!
I attempted to carry my kayak first with a bunch of the bags, but about 1/5 of the way in, I left the boat and took only the bags. It was too much. When I came back I got the remaining bag and picked up my boat, stopping to climb over the fallen tree en route. Eventually I made it and somehow it only took me 30 minutes to do the portage twice with all my stuff. YAHOO! Conger looked amazing, full of huge rocks and evergreens! The sun was shining and it was a gorgeous day! And it was only 1030am!
The wind was strong so I had to constantly paddle but as it wasn’t raining and the sun was out, I could complain about nothing! Where I came from it rained all day I was told so I was a happy happy camper! After about an hour or so, a little doddling to take photos and a stop at 517 to check it out, I arrived at my beautiful site, 519.
It was a gorgeous site, pretty much surrounded by water on 3 sides! There was a nice fire pit right on the water, a big log to sit on, and some wood left by the last tenant. I walked around checking things out and discovered a 2nd fire pit off to the side, which was out of the wind a bit. I could see this being used later if this wind kept up. I unpacked my kayak and got to work setting things up.
Of all the things I was worried about, setting up my tent and tarp was not one of them. But you should never underestimate things. I put my tent in the forest for the shelter. There were strong wind gusts expected and it was already windy, plus it was due to rain overnight. Everytime I tried to put one of my tent poles into a key hole, it would blow away. I honestly could not believe the challenge I had getting the tent set up. I finally used the assistance of a lovely tree nearby, pushing the pole against it to hold the tent in place until I could run around it and get the pole attached and staked into the ground. SUCCESS!! FINALLY!
After all that work I was starved so I pulled out my turkey sandwich and enjoyed my lunch. As I had a signal on my cel, I gave my mom a call as she was so worried about me being out here alone, especially after my bear encounter the weekend before last. She was so happy to hear from me and I think I made her feel a lot better. I felt better to, knowing I could contact someone if there was an emergency. There was also a site across the lake that had some tenants on it so all was good.
Wood was left but they were long limbs so I pulled out my Sven Saw and got to work making a pile of usable pieces to prepare for the cold later and for heating up my pizza dinner.
What do you do in the backcountry by yourself… pretty much the same thing you do when you are not by yourself. I went for a paddle around the site and into the bay beside me, looking for some more firewood. There were some beaver damns so I was hoping I would get to see a beaver, just not a bear. Lol. Before I left the site I set up my mini radio I’d brought and left it on. Just to ensure there was noise and any animals would therefore stay away.
When I returned from my paddle, I explored on foot and found a small beach on one side of the site. There were mussel shells everywhere with what looked like bird footprints around them? I can handle birds! No worries there. When I had my fill of exploring (for the time being) and had cut up the wood I had found on my explorations, I sat on the big rock that went out into the water (where the sun was still touching, as my site was now in the shade) and enjoyed The Massassauga Newspaper and spent some time relaxing. It was so peaceful and heavenly. There was not another soul around and I was enjoying every minute!
Eventually the time came that I was most fearing. The sun was slowly starting to go down. I couldn’t believe how early it was at this time of year and I was dreading the dark more than I can say. You see, I am afraid of the dark as it is one of my biggest fears. This is where my biggest challenge would lie. I got my fire going fairly easily considering the wind, and sat by it enjoying my time in nature. I set up the rocks so that I could put the grill I’d brought on top to heat up my pizza as this site did not have a grill or grate, I was happy I’d brought mine, just in case. You never know what you will have, or need when you arrive, hence the importance of proper packing! When the fire was nice and hot I put my pizza on the grill and waited for it to warm up. I had just brought a frozen pizza I’d cooked the night before to heat up. No need to bring extra pots and pans to cook a full meal. Normally I would, but I wanted this trip to be as easy as possible considering I was alone and it was nice to just relax and not worry about cooking, doing dishes, etc, etc.
The pizza turned out beautifully. It was brown on the bottom with a little crunch to it and I put some foil over it to heat the cheese up nicely. I sat and enjoyed the quiet and kept my eye on the setting sun.
After dinner, I got out all my flashlights, lantern, and the packages of glow sticks I’d brought. YES, I said packageS. Glow sticks are one of my backcountry camping hacks and I love bringing them in to help light up the site and add a bit of festivity to the darkness. I cracked them all open, shook them and spread them around the site in specific places to avoid tripping on ropes, stakes, tree roots, etc. Then I got into my kayak and headed into the bay to take some photos of the last light. It was almost as if the sky was showing off to me, saying, look at all my amazing colours, before it would plunge me into pure darkness. There wouldn’t even be a moon tonight, according to my research, the slightest sliver, but due to the rain coming, even that little bit would most likely be clouded over. But, back to the amazing light show first!!!!
It was simply spectacular. Oranges, pinks, reds, so many hues and shades, even a little bit of purple. I did my best to capture the beauty that nature was giving me. I hope you enjoy them!
And then, the darkness came! And it was dark DARK, not just sort of dark. The last few times I’ve camped, there has been a huge moon, full of light, even a super moon a few weeks ago. I turned on one of my audiobooks I’d brought, and put some water on the fire to make a cup of hot chocolate with some baileys in it. I would definitely need help to sleep tonight.
Between 9 and 10 there were a lot of lovely stars in the sky, then I looked up again a bit later and they were all gone. The sky was clouded over and you could not see anything past a few feet in front of your eyes. Usually, you can make out where the land ends and the water starts, where the sky starts, etc, but nothing for me tonight!
After my hot chocolate, I looked at my tent, well, tried to. It was pretty far into the forest and I was having serious regrets about going way back in there to go to sleep. I contemplated moving it and after about 20 minutes, decided to go for it. I could use the second side fire pit, have a nice fire closeby and not be so far into the woods. I grabbed my lantern and got to work, first dragging the tent over about 40 feet or so, then cutting down the tarp that was over it and rehanging it over the relocated tent. It took me about an hour and it was actually a fabulous idea. It kept my mind occupied and kept me busy and warm and by the time I was done, it was almost 12 and I was so tired, I was ready for sleep. I crawled into my tent and before I knew it, I was out like a light. I only woke up once and managed to sleep until 615am. Happy happy girl!
At 615am, the sky looked like this. It was still sort of dark, but the light was trying to come through. There were lots of clouds but it had not rained. I checked the forecast to see they had revised, now showing rain this morning and possibly again later in the afternoon. There would also be wind gusts after 11am but the wind would be pushing me this time, not against me, which would actually be nice! I gathered the glow sticks while they were still super visible to ensure I wouldn’t leave any behind and put them in my trash bag in my backpack. This is just some of them. lol.
It started to slowly brighten up. I contemplated returning back to sleep but knew it would never happen. I got changed into my rain gear and jumped in my kayak and went for a morning paddle to see if I could find any wildlife, making sure to first turn on the radio so there was once again, noise on the site. It was funny, i was looking for them in my kayak, but didn’t want to see them on land! hahaha!
After paddling around for a bit, I got a little bored. I recalled my favourite #woodsexplorer Melba a while back making a fishing rod from scratch and actually catching a fish with it. I figured, I had nothing else to do, why not give it a go. I will be writing a post about the creation but here’s a shot of me hoping to catch a fishy with my homemade rod. I did not, but it was fun to try and gave me something to do.
Some colours were starting to change which was pretty to see, but made me sad to see that summer was actually getting closer to ending. I headed back to my site and made a fire in the second pit, then relocated the tarp again, to over the pit as it was starting to rain a little. I needed practice with hanging my tarps so I figured this was a good a time as any to hang and rehang them and get better at it. Practice makes perfect right? Eventually i made myself some breakfast, a nice cheese omelette and an english muffin with strawberry jam, accompanied by an x-large hot chocolate. It was perfectly soothing for the dreary day, although the weather could always be worse and I appreciated what I had!
It only slightly rained a bit on and off for a few hours and then it cleared up some. It was still overcast but the sun peaked out just a tiny bit at one point which made me happy. I spent my time alternating packing up things here and there and relaxing in between.
Eventually, I was packed up and ready to go. Just before leaving I noticed a feather on the ground and took a photo of it. I tweeted it and found out it was a feather from an owl. I wish I would’ve seen it. He was probably watching me all along and I didn’t even notice him. I hope he wasn’t too upset I had my radio on the whole time I was here, except when I was asleep. 😦
I did a few laps around the site, making sure I hadn’t left anything behind and also picked up any garbage that was left from the previous occupants. I do my best to always leave my site better than I found it. I was really sad to go, but also happy to complete my journey. I was not looking forward to the portage, so I figured it was time to get that over with!
I took my time paddling through the lake. It wasn’t raining and it was pleasant out. I paddling into a cove and discovered the heron I’d seen the day before. He let me watch him for a few moments and then flew across the lake to another peaceful part of the lake.
I could see people at the portage so I took my time, giving them a chance to get their gear to the other side. When they came to get their canoe I paddled up to shore and got out of my boat, once again, unpacking everything I’d just packed into bags so they could be carried across. On my return to get my boat, empty handed I counted 600 steps back to Conger Lake. When I had my kayak in hand, I counted 700 steps. Funny how that worked? hahaha.
You may notice the cool new sticker on my boat that says Live Your Adventure! This is my new addition from my last trip to Algonquin Provincial Park, purchased at Algonquin Outfitters and I love it!
I repacked my boat and pulled it back through the narrow opening that went into Blackstone Harbor.
I got in my kayak and paddled back to the put in at Pete’s Place and noticed some more fall colours popping to my left. The sky was clouding over and there was only a patch of blue in the distance. It looked just like when I was en route here, but the blue patch was my destination.
I parked my boat at the dock and chatted with some other campers that were all heading out. Funnily, every one of them had coolers and the six boats I saw come in also had coolers. How do you hang a cooler? or bear proof it? After I got my boat up on my car and put all my gear away, I went to the desk to ask. The ranger showed me an example of how to hang a cooler and pointed upwards. There was one hanging from the ceiling. I am somewhat doubtful that people do this and it greatly concerns me. Hanging a heavy bear barrel is hard enough, but a huge cooler that weighs?? I don’t even know??? To hang that, I believe would be close to impossible. No wonder bears are getting more and more used to visiting humans to find food. People are not being as safe as they should in the backcountry and it really scares me. I’m curious if others have also seen this behaviour going on where you backcountry camp? This is not not the first place or time I’ve seen this happening either, which scares me even more. Whoops, sorry, end of babbling on portion of post.. continue on to victorious ending!!!
Well, I made it out! I finished my mission, completed my goal and survived to tell about it. It was an awesome trip and I loved pretty much every minute of it, and yes, I would do it again, and now that I know I can, it will definitely happen! I purchased a sticker, or as I call it ‘my badge’ at the desk, put it up on my boat, stopped at the sign to take a few pics, and headed home for a nice hot bath and a good meal!
If you have been thinking of doing a solo trip, I highly recommend you give it a go. What do you have to loose? A few fears maybe? but you will know, one way or the other and regardless, you will get something from the experience. I felt amazing on my drove home. I’d spent a night in the forest alone and I could do it whenever I wanted. Nature was there for me with it’s arms open and I just had to jump in, no more waiting for someone else to want to jump with me, not that I need to be alone, but it’s just nice to know I can, if I want to! 🙂 You should never let anyone stop you from doing what you love, even if that someone is you!
I really hope you liked my post. I apologize for the length of it, and for any grammatical errors, but this is a story for me, as well, and I want it all there, for when I go back one day to refresh my mind and recall my great experience of conquering some of my biggest fears!
If you have any comments, questions, issues, etc, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me! I am always happy to hear from people!
Now start planning that solo trip of yours!!!