I’ve been camping my whole life – as a kid with my parents, with my girl guide troop, with my friends, with my coworkers, with my husband, and reflecting on all of those trips I can’t remember a time I camped by myself. I feel like I have. But have I?
Since I’m on a sabbatical, I decided I should go camping by myself.
But not just camping at a local campground, I decided to drive about 200km up the Dempster Highway, really far away from both people, and cell signals.
I watched the weather forecast for few days while I got my gear together, and then decided Thursday/Friday was my target!
My gear list:
- sleeping pad for inside my truck – I’m way too bearnoid to sleep in grizzly country in a tent by myself
- cooler with drinks and snacks
- kettle for heating water on the fire
- set of utensils and dishes
- sleeping bag and blankets and pillows
- mosquito coils
- In Reach satellite communication device (just in case)
- bug spray
- first aid kit.
- spare tire & tools
- book, magazines, phone full of downloaded podcasts, and iPad full of downloaded Netflix shows incase camping takes a weird turn
- jerry can with an extra 20 gallons of gas, just so I wouldn’t fret about getting too low
- lawn chair
- pail of kindling and fire starting paper and cardboard (and the pail for water for near the fire)
- pocket knife
- bear spray
- fire extinguisher (I keep one packed in my truck)
Road trips always need good snacks, like this. The only thing better than Ketchup chips are Ketchup Doritos!
I was packed up and gassed up and headed the 40 km south of town to the Dempster Highway by 11am. My truck was so nice and clean and white when I started out on Thursday morning.
The sky was cloudy, but I had checked three different forecasts that promised better weather further north so I turned left onto the Dempster and started my way north. Remember, the Dempster is a “highway” but it is gravel and very remote. It goes all the way to the Arctic Ocean.
I was only a couple dozen kilometres in when the skies opened up. And wow did I have to pee. I pulled off the road onto this path and ran through the teeming rain to squat quick in the woods.
And then it started to hail.
I thought just briefly that maybe I should turn around. But no, I’m sure the forecasts showed it would be better so I waited for the hail and downpour to end and then I turned back on the road and pressed on.
I made the right choice!
Now, fair warning, this post is going to be heavy on photos, because I had a terrific time and the scenery is absolutely breathtaking in every direction.
I’m also deeply in love with my new truck, which suits my every need as if it was designed specifically for me. I ❤️ it! So you’re going to see a few photos of it.
Still some snow on the Tombstone range! Must be why the Klondike River is so high and swift right now!
Up at Two Moose Lake there were fresh entrails. Obviously from a human hunter, because an animal would have eaten them. Much larger than a bird, but no feathers or fur around. From a mammal, not sure what. Way too big for a bird. Too small though for a sheep? Beats me.
Hey look, a swan!
The Dempster is full of green leaves now, changing drastically from my last visit a couple of weeks previously.
The Dempster Highway actually just opened towards the north this week. There are two ferry crossings further north than where I was going, for the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers, and the ferries are just now back in the water for the season.
There was a sign warning there was border control on the Northwest Territories border (for COVID-19) though. With the highway open, there was more traffic than I’ve seen so far this year, but by more I mean a truck every hour or two, hauling freight or fuel up to Fort MacPherson or Inuvik. Without the summer vacation traffic this year (due to the restrictions on who can enter the Yukon during the pandemic), you’re mostly alone on the road. I could stop anywhere to squat right beside my truck (and did), I could go just 50 km/hr (and mostly did) to watch for animals to photograph, and I could stop anyway on the road and get out and just be in peace. There can’t be fresher air on the planet. No noises, planes, traffic, nothing. Just the breeze, the amazing song birds, and in the buzz of mosquitos.
My goal was to get up to the Engineer Creek campground. I had scouted places I could camp in my truck, really anywhere I could get off the road. But the territorial campground I knew would have free firewood and a fire grate to set a kettle on.
I made it to the campground around 4pm. There are only about 15 sites and no one was there. The campgrounds along the Dempster are self-serve, so you fill out your registration and pop the $12 fee in the envelope they provide, and stick it in their lock box.
The campgrounds just opened in the last week. This one had obviously been partially underwater until really recently. The road in was hard packed mud with huge holes. I drove around the loop a couple times and picked a spot between the outhouses and the river. No one else was in the campground.
Sapper Hill is across the river, behind the campground. I think there is supposed to be a hike up its steep cliff, but I was content to just set up camp.
It was about 21C and beautiful. Sunny and warm. Which meant there were more mosquitos than you could imagine. I dug out the mosquito coils and got one going first, then started a fire to get more smoke going to keep back the swarm. It wasn’t enough and I had to use bug spray all over my legs and arms and neck and face.
Hot tip: a little meat pie type tinfoil plate is perfect to contain a mosquito repellant coil and ashes. Even better if you have a lid to extinguish it later.
Then I wrestled with the In Reach to send a message and my coordinates to Jeff so he knew I made it. If you haven’t seen one, it is a Garmin handheld GPS that has message sending capabilities. It connects to your phone with Bluetooth. You can type a text message and it sends the message via satellite. It took a few minutes to get a good connection for the message to go out. We pay a monthly subscription for the service. It is a really important safety tool when living and recreating where there are no other ways to call for help.
I emptied the jerry can I brought into the truck’s tank, so I could get it out of the way. I may not have needed the extra gas, but it sure is nicer to have a topped up tank rather than worry about it.
Then I looked around a bit. The campground had a screened in picnic shelter with a big wood stove. There were also two lockers beside the building for keeping your food away from bears and a place to hang food up and out of the way of bears.
Free firewood is a huge perk when camping in the Yukon. Since there are no communities anywhere around here to sell wood to visitors, or even to staff such a quiet remote campground, providing firewood also keeps people from cutting down the trees in the campground too.
I then set up the inside of the truck for sleeping.
Then I got the kettle on the fire to heat some water for dinner.
When I was buying a few things for the trip at the Trading Post here in Dawson City, I decided to try a Mountain House dehydrated meal. I’ve never had one! I went for the Chili Macaroni with Beef. Just $13.95! And such lovely happy people pictured on the pouch.
When I opened it, my expectations were pretty low. What is this, meat? Looks gross.
The directions said to add boiling water, stir, zip it back up, and let it sit for 8-9 minutes.
Presto! Dinner served! And it was good! But whoa way too much food. This easily could be dinner for two people. I tried my best, but I couldn’t finish it.
My attempt at a camping selfie to prove I didn’t just buy these pics off the net or something. I really was there.
After driving for a few hours, constantly scanning everywhere for wildlife, my eyes were tired. Then, sitting here in this campground, I felt like prey. Here I was, sitting here all alone, what was that!?! A stick break! I was always on guard, looking around, bear spray close by. I’m way too uptight about a bear. Maybe that is why I wanted to prove to myself I could do this.
I kept a podcast playing on my phone, and sat by the fire. The spruce logs were not dry so the fire was real smokey, which was fine, I wasn’t wanting the fire for heat, but rather smoke at this point, to keep the mosquitos away.
By 7pm I was so tired, I decided to pack it in, and go to bed. 7 o’clock!
It’s been a long time since I’ve slept in a car or truck. I bought a nice piece of foam to sleep on, and my seats fold flat. I was surprised by all the space! I brought the mosquito coil in for a bit to smoke out the strays.
But oh my goodness it was hot in the truck. I bought a little keychain thermometer when I was at the Trading Post, and it showed 30C in my truck.
What am I going to do. Ten gazillion mosquitos outside. Open a window and sacrifice myself to the mosquitos? Burn a coil all night?
No, I didn’t want to breath insect repellent all night, and no way did I want to get eaten alive, because just doing the math, with ten gazillion mosquitos, and just so many litres of blood in me. I feel like sacrificing myself to the mosquitos would have been fatal. So I kept the windows shut.
Eventually when there is nothing to snack on, the mosquitos kinda go away. So I’d crack open the door. And get a good 30 seconds of fresh air before they came back and I’d slam the door shut.
I was so tired, but couldn’t sleep. My eyes were too tired to read or watch Netflix. So I listened to more podcasts I had downloaded. And jumped out to pee every hour or so, grabbing my bear spray for each trip to the outhouse, just in case.
I was almost asleep at 10:30pm, when a truck and trailer came into the park! I had really mixed feelings about it. There is a comfort to being alone. But also a comfort to having other people nearby. Both for different reasons.
They backed their rig into a spot and jumped out, getting settled in. I heard people and vehicle doors slamming and I started to drift away again. And then they pulled out and left!
What on earth?! I was so perplexed as to why they left, that I was wide awake again. Did they see something? Did they want to be alone? Where were they going to go instead!? Why would they back their trailer into a space and then leave?!!?
But good news, the truck was only 26C inside now.
Don’t forget, it’s June near the Arctic Circle. It doesn’t get dark. The picture above was at 11pm on the way back from the outhouse.
I didn’t finally fall asleep until after midnight.
I was first up at 5:30, went to the outhouse again, and then tried to see if I could sleep more and I did! It was only 12C in the truck now and so much more comfortable.
By 7:30 I decided to get up and start the day. It was 10C outside and the mosquitos were not hibernating. They seemed almost angry that I hid in the truck all night. They wanted revenge.
I washed up and got dressed, pulling out breakfast from the truck while packing my other gear up.
I had the entire day ahead of me, with no plans, but I didn’t really want to start a fire to boil water. Despite it being spring, the forests dry so fast, I didn’t want to leave a smoldering fire behind knowing I was soon going to leave. But good thing, Jeff let me take his new Jetboil. Yay!
Ever use one of these? It all folds up into itself, into the cup on top with the blue sleeve. It has its own built in starter, so you don’t need matches, and it boils the water in the cup in a couple of minutes.
Within 15 seconds of starting the Jetboil, 4 Grey Jays flew in and sat in the trees around me, like they knew it was meal time and they were ready to dine!
They didn’t seem impressed I was only having oatmeal. I hadn’t seen a jay the entire time I was in the campground until I started that Jetboil!
The Jetboil cools so fast, by the time I was finished breakfast, it was ready to pack up!
By 8:15am I was packed up and headed south. Here’s a look back north at the campground sign and Sapper Hill from a distance.
I kept the truck in third gear, just cruised along around 50 km/hr. No one was around anywhere. I was likely dozens and dozens of miles from anyone.
I kept my camera and binoculars on the seat beside me, and watched for wildlife. After all, I had drove all day yesterday and saw only a couple squirrels! I was overdue for some larger mammals!
Boom! There’s a sheep! Just a solo sheep, wandering near the road. I stopped the truck and he stepped behind a bush and didn’t move a muscle for a few minutes, thinking he was hidden. Actually now that I’m looking at the photo, I think based on the horn that this is likely a female Dall Sheep.
We often see sheep in this area, but this time, just one! Look at the scenery though! Lots of rocks everywhere. The spring run off is finished here and the spring gravel runoff rivers are dry again.
I noticed so many wildflowers here that didn’t stand out the afternoon before. Maybe they were facing the sun and not the road? They couldn’t have just all bloomed overnight, right? This yellow one is Arnica:
And this one is an Avens.
These were growing in this dry gravelly area along the roadside.
Here are a bigger patch of Arnica. So pretty!
I kept heading south, stopping every few minutes to take pictures, or just look around.
A moose! Finally! She was shy though, and quickly ran off the road. I was lucky to get her butt in the picture.
A few places on the Dempster you’ll find an air strip, that is basically just a straight area where the road is wider so planes can land if needed. This area has a few outfitter camps, so you can spot a metal roof top off the road nestled back in the trees in a couple places. One even has its own air strip near by this government one.
I stopped at Chapman Lake and made lunch. Everyone tells me this is gross, but this is my camping, bush work, away from town, favourite lunch food. Crunchy peanut butter and a Kraft cheese slice. I’ve eaten this all my life. Years ago, when I worked in the woods, I’d just pack a loaf of bread, a jar of crunchy peanut butter, and a stack of cheese slices. Add a pocket knife for spreading, and you’ve got the best easy lunch. Filling, protein, and delicious. Don’t knock it until you try it!
Looks like a little quick rain shower moving across the peaks in the south!
At Two Moose Lake I stopped again and watched all the ducks. My zoom lens doesn’t capture them well, so I won’t share, but the Yukon has so many amazing looking ducks. I need to learn how to identify them.
Remember the gut pile that was here yesterday? Almost all gone now!
Heading south, it was a total fluke that I spotted the head of this ptarmigan on the tundra. Look at this cute fella!!
Speaking of ducks, this one looks like a Harlequin. This was just south of the Tombstone campground. It looks like a duck decoy sitting on a log!
As I headed further and further south, I drove through a few quick rain showers.
Then, another moose!
Also shy, I managed to get a few pictures before it ducked into the woods again.
By 2pm I was back home, tired and smelling of campfire smoke. I’ve rejuvenated with a cod burger with my handsome husband at the opening night of Sourdough Joe’s restaurant for dinner tonight.
Then I washed my truck, because whew was she dirty!
So now I’ve camped solo, and blogged about it so I don’t forget.
I really wanted to see and photograph a bear on this trip, but not at my campsite! Didn’t see any though – I can live with that. Beats waking up to seeing one peeking into my truck window!