With the weather forecast looking too warm to hunt, and Jeff’s hunting buddy needing to postpone their trip a week anyway, I threw together a last minute camping trip for myself!
I wasn’t planning on any solo trips again this year, but my truck kept nagging me. I’d drive her to the post office, and she’d say, “come on, don’t you want to get a bit muddy? throw down the seats? sleep in here”.
Well, I kinda did. After a couple recent camping trips with Jeff and Hank and our trailer up the Dempster, I didn’t think I’d be heading back up there yet again, but YOLO – I had a wide open weekend and no good reason not to go.
During my lunch break on Friday, I went to the grocery store to buy my snacks and I packed up the truck after work, kissed my husband, and off I went.
I wasn’t too sure on my plans – thinking I’d at least get up to Tombstone Park that night, so I’d get a start on the morning, in case it was sunny, by already being up on the Demptser. As my Dad knows all too well after trying to time his fall trip up the Dempster a couple times, it can be tough to catch the sunlight on the Dempster as fall sets in!
The clouds were thick and it was drizzly as I got up to the campground in Tombstone Territorial Park.
And surprise surprise, not a free spot in the campground! I think at least half the plates were British Columbia, which makes sense since they are allowed to visit without a two week quarantine period, unlike most of the rest of the world.
I decided to keep driving north. I was hoping there’d be a spot at our favourite river spot, but knowing how busy it was last weekend, I was hoping the parking lot we ended up in camping in last time, by the pond, would at least be free.
I GOT SO LUCKY! Our favourite spot by the river – completely empty! I would have expected a few hunters, maybe some campers from BC. Not a soul.
I went to the far end and parked my truck along the river. I jumped into action, rearranged everything in the truck to get ready for sleeping in, and got a fire started. I had been hoping for a campground spot, because the Yukon Territory parks offer free firewood, and I had only brought kindling, but someone left several beautiful pieces of firewood behind. LUCKY me!
It was 8:30pm before I sat down to enjoy the fire.
A million scary thoughts tried to creep in. You’re all alone. There could be grizzlies behind those shrubs. What if a bad person came. What if any person came. What if a fox came. What if your truck pops out of gear and the emergency brake fails and your truck rolls off this perfectly flat ground into the river!!!!?
No. No. No. These are the thoughts that keep people from having adventure. I won’t be scared. This is fun. It’s all a mental game. I’m the most fortunate person in the world to be standing in this spot, watching this clean river rush by.
So I decided to boldly walk into the bushes to…. well poop if you must know. I put a podcast on, slipped my phone into my pocket (thinking I won’t startle a bear if Joe Rogan is talking me through this) but it was for naught. I fear I have lost my ability to poop in the woods. I used to do this daily when I treeplanted. Am I old? Not limber anymore? Is it my mind? Am I chicken? AHHHHHHH!!!!
I headed back to the fire. A man in a pickup truck pulled in a some point. I was partially relieved I wasn’t alone. But then was also bummed that I wasn’t alone. Who was this person. Were they going to want to talk? I supposed I could share this nice firewood.
But he just pulled around in a big circle and left again. It wasn’t long afterwards that I was just too tired, since I had already worked a full day and driven up here, so I kicked the logs apart for them to die out, packed everything up, and crawled into the truck to sleep. Outside I left my lawnchair under the truck, two jerry cans of fuel under the back of the truck, and my water cooler.
It took hours and hours to fall asleep. The mind is an annoying thing at times. And so is the bump right under my hip bone where the seat folds flat. Eventually I dosed off and had restless dreams all night. New noises. The sound of the river. The sound of snorting on the left side of the truck. And now the right side. If I don’t move it isn’t there. And finally got up for good around 7am and got dressed.
It was a cool and damp morning and I was really hoping for sunshine. It teased me by shining on the hills south of me while I ate a yoghurt, so I hoped for a great day of photos and headed off.
Once I was back up on the Dempster and heading north, I could see some clouds still sitting on the tundra.
I had no plan. I was thinking I could head up to the Engineer Creek campground where I camped solo last time. Or I could go all the way up to Eagle Plains and fill the gas tank at the Eagle Plains Lodge so I didn’t have to rely on the jerry cans. I was just going to ‘wing it’ and see what happened.
I tried to take a nice duck photo, but he ducked.
Up at Two Moose Lake, there were no moose. And the clouds were still hanging about. I was starting to think I should have slept in longer until the clouds burned off, but it was only Saturday morning. I still had all weekend.
Almost every wildflower is gone already and the fall colours were creeping into the hillsides and across the tundra. But here on Two Moose Lake, there were still a couple fireweed stalks!
Up at Cameron Lake, the clouds had lifted off the surface, and there was a float plane! No one was around, so I suspect they were at a hunt camp near by. It’s hunting season in the Yukon. Several outfitters had dozens of horses here and there along the Dempster, preparing for their back country trips. Beats walking I suppose. I mean, except for the horse.
Unfortunately there was no real bright sunshine to be found. I kept thinking everything was going to be so much more beautiful with sunshine! Like these fox tails for instance.
As I headed north I found a few more fireweed plants, and lots of fox tail grass.
Have you driven on the Dempster past the Red Creek? You’d remember it from the staining red colour it leaves on the rocks and the smell of strong sulphur. Not a place to stop for drinking water! Not even a place you want your windows rolled down to be honest with you.
I headed on, past the Engineer Creek campground where I stayed at last time. Then I had a good laugh. I remember boasting how brave I was to camp in the middle of nowhere with no one around back then. Well. I guess I was wrong. That campground is only about 2 kilometres away from the Ogilvie road maintenance depot, where people are stationed year round to maintain the roads. HAHAHA!
I still wasn’t sure where I was going. Would I press on? Turn around and go home on Saturday? How would I decide?
Well it turns out the road department decided. As soon as I came around a corner and saw them pouring water on the road from a big tanker truck and plowing up the gravel surface as they graded it, I said, nah…. I don’t need a black muddy truck, and I pulled off the road to have lunch in a little gravel turn around spot at the end of the avalanche zone.
Well? Now what. My eyes were tired. I decided I’d go back to that Engineer Creek campground and reevaluate.
As I started to head south, it drizzled a bit. Maybe I should go home? Sleep in my comfortable bed? But what about the snacks? I’ve got a truck full of supplies and I’m already way up here, maybe I should stay. Yeah I should stay.
A truck and trailer had just pulled out the campground, and no one was around. It was only noon, so I suppose that was normal.
I decided to pull right back in to the spot I stayed in back in June. You just can’t argue with yourself when you chose the best spot last time. As soon as I started setting up camp the damn sun came out.
I thought about heading home for some sunny pictures, but instead decided to get the fire started. The free firewood was ENORMOUS! I only had a little hatchet! So I walked around the back of the wood box, hung myself over the back wall, and dug around for some smaller pieces, and then promptly smacked my head on the low roof every time I pulled one out.
I decided to pause the fire for a moment, and dump a jerry can of gas into the truck gas tank. I figured pouring gas that close to the fire pit was smarter to do before the fire was ignited.
Ahhh yes, I’m staying the afternoon here. This is paradise.
What a gorgeous day now! Not a soul around. Just me and my campfire. I popped a podcast back on in my pocket, then decided since no one was around, I’d head back down to the Engineer Creek that was behind my campsite.
When I was there in June the water was still high, so I surprised to see how much lower it was. Now I could hike down a slope and walk out onto the rocks that were under the river last time!
Suddenly, with such violence, I was lying on my back by the river. And I was covered in mud.
YOU STUPID MORON! Scroll back up to that last picture. I was wearing those soft soled, no tread, practically slipper shoes with the pink laces. One step on the mud on the slope down and I was airborne, landing hard, and sliding through the mud.
I did what anyone in such a predicament would do. I got up, picked up my now muddy phone, and took pictures of the river.
My hands were covered in thick mud. I picked a safer route back to my campsite and grabbed a couple packs of wet wipes from the truck to start wiping off, but soon found out they had gone mostly dry. BUT, thank-you pandemic, I had a bottle of hand sanitizer. I squirted that goo all over my hands and used the dry wipes to get my hands clean. Well cleaner.
Around that time, I was starting to realize how muddy the rest of me was. I stripped down beside the truck and pulled out a change of clothes. Even my hat was muddy.
Well that was enough adventure for one day. I mean, what if I had gotten hurt?
Well turns out I had scraped my leg nicely and it was already starting to bruise. The back of my thigh. Oh well, it wasn’t even bleeding enough for first aid. I was going to live to tell the tale.
So I decided to shake things up, and switched out the podcasts for Netflix! I had predownloaded three seasons of Schitt’s Creek just in case I needed to pass some time on the trip.
Turns out this ridiculous winged thing was a big Eugene Levy fan too and kept landing on me and my iPad.
The free campfire wood turned out to be really wet. Luckily I had a bunch of lumber scraps and kindling with me to keep it going, but it was super smokey. Turns out I dried out my nose sitting in the smoke and soon had a monster of a nose bleed.
Well this is fun, I thought. Now I’m muddy and bloody.
While I was walking around getting kleenex and stuffing them up my nose, this rock caught my eye.
What on earth is this.
Is it an alien trapped inside the rock? Did someone colour it? I CAN’T DECIDE! It really isn’t obviously coloured by crayon or anything. I popped it into my pocket.
Every hour or so, someone pulled through the campground, but they ALWAYS KEPT GOING!?? What is it about this campground?
One guy stopped near where I was sitting on my lawnchair and shouted “Hello!!!” with a foreign accent, and then “Where is the water pump, is there no water pump?” “Nope!”, I said. Who expected a water pump? The sign right beside your van says to boil it for a minute. It’s talking about the river buddy. Should I tell him to watch the slippery slope?
Nope, he took off without visiting the river.
Who comes up here without bringing water? Or something to scoop it out of the river with? Should I have offered him some of mine? Whatever, he was long gone.
I continued to watch Schitt’s Creek and try to get a picture of the cute little birds flitting about in the trees, but they wouldn’t cooperate and pose. So I took a shot of myself instead. And apparently my finger. I mean, I hope it was mine.
I had another dehydrated meal of that macaroni chili mix for supper, after heating up the water with Jeff’s JetBoil, snickering at the 2050 expiry date on the package.
Then I put my campfire kettle on the fire grate and boiled water the slower way for some chai tea.
By 7pm the black flies were relentless, sitting all over my legs and sometimes on my face. I packed up for the night, and crawled into my truck. Just as I was getting settled, it started to drizzle. Maybe that is why the blackflies were intensifying!
A few more vehicles drove into the park, drove around the loop, and THEN LEFT! What is it that makes no one want to stay in a campground with me? Why would you rather stay along the road with no wood? Aww well.
Then a helicopter flew over the campground, three times! WHAT!? What is going on? I would have no idea, and no way to know if a deadly mass murderer was on a rampage, or a herd of ravenous grizzlies. I mean there just isn’t a signal. Not a cell signal. Not a wifi signal. Not even a radio station.
I decided to just assume it had a pleasant reason for circling above me, and there was nothing to be concerned about, and went back to my iPad.
I had a better sleep, learned how to rest my hips somewhere softer, but it was really NOT the weather for the -40 sleeping bag that I had open on top of me. I had better air flow this time, having bought these netting pockets that slide over the top of your doors, so you can crack the windows a few inches and have fresh air while sleeping and no bugs. I didn’t want to leave them open enough for a bear paw, so I closed off the gap to about 2 inches.
It was just really weird how sore my neck was. Did I sleep weird the night before?
When I woke up it was still drizzling, so I stayed in “bed” and watched a couple more episodes on my iPad before emerging to see the sun already poking through!
I packed up camp and headed south. Then it dawned on me. My neck was so sore from that stupid fall on the river! I must be getting whiplash or something – stupid!
Here’s a look back north towards the campground this morning. I see some blue sky!
And then it started to rain again. AHH!
Knowing I had all day, and I was only a couple hundred kilometres up the Dempster so didn’t have THAT much road to cover, I pulled off the road a couple times to just sit out the drizzle.
My plan worked, because soon I had more blue sky!
I parked along the area where I usually see sheep and got out for awhile with my binoculars. None. Two days in a row and no sheep. So far I had only seen a squirrel.
Hunting season though, so maybe the sheep were just smart and got away from the road.
A gray jay came to say hi, but didn’t feel like posing for a picture either.
Just a couple months ago, this area was full of wildflowers. And now just these funny wispy things are all that is left of the flowers.
As I got to the pass with the chain up areas, the sun was really bringing out the fall colours. Oh Dad, I wish you were here with your camera!!
The reds were just wanting to pop, but weren’t quite ready. I may be a week early for the colour peak, but you can’t time the sunshine!
After a night of rain, the road was mucky mud. (I wore my hiking boots, I learned my lesson!)
There were a few vehicles around, but really not that many. I saw a couple that I had watched drive through “my” campground the night before, but who decided to press on. I thought about stopping and ask WHYYYYY, but that would be weird.
I was only driving about 40-50 km/hr in 3rd gear, stopping every few minutes for a new angle of the beautiful terrain.
I hadn’t realized how often my left calf touches my truck as I jump out.
My truck looked like this, by the way:
And my calf looked like this:
Oh come on! Where are those dry wet wipes when you need them.
After doing this three times, I finally started leaping in and out of the truck with my camera. My truck is just a bit high to be super graceful, but whatever, I was tired of scrubbing the mud off my leg.
Apparently there really weren’t lakes and ponds here before the Dempster highway was built. The theory is the road has disturbed the frozen permafrost below which results in these little round ponds near the road, which the ducks love!
I saw the back end of a big moose head into the trees just north of here, but he didn’t come back out for his promo photo. But at least I finally saw a moose!
Then, as I was standing the road here, I heard a plane!
I was just north of where I saw the float plane sitting the day before, and I think it had just taken off. You can see it in the next picture, although it looks the same as a black fly on the lens. Trust me though, it was a float plane. I swear.
Sure enough, the plane was gone from Cameron Lake and just a few red jerry cans were left in its place.
What would you take a picture of here Dad? I was trying to channel you. Not only was the sun nice, the clouds were magnificent! Would you walk off into the tundra I wondered? Bear spray in your pocket? Or just stick to the road?
Once I was around the kilometre 100 marker, the traffic picked up. Most people who go to the Dempster only go to the Tombstone Park area. And they were in full force today. So many BC plates. Some hunters. I can’t help but feel a bit possessive of “my” Dempster after spending so much time earlier this year, during my sabbatical, exploring it when no one else was around. But then I’d think of all the people I wish could be here to see the Dempster? I often drive along thinking of this person, or that, this family member, or coworker, or old forestry school friend. I feel like I’ve always got people “with” me. No, I’m not crazy, well maybe I am, who knows. I like to take people with me on my adventures. Probably why I race home and blog them for you.
Just as I passed a truck that was pulled off to the side, I saw a small moose or caribou run off a hill into the bushes. And a disappointed guy with a camera lens longer than my femur walk around his truck. Oops, I was just that guy’s annoying traffic.
You know… I almost feel like apologizing for how often I photograph my beloved truck. But I won’t. Because I love it. And she’s so sexy. And for every photo you see here, I have 2 more on my camera I didn’t post.
Imagine if you lived here and could see this through your window every day? I stood behind the frame of my door thinking this, and snapped this framed photo for you to imagine your view. It’d be f’n cold in the winter though, just saying.
Here I am just north of the Tombstone campground, waiting for someone to drive past before I could walk across the road for pictures. So much traffic I had to close my truck door! Sheesh.
OK one more of my muddy girl.
I can’t decide which one I like the most, of the next two. Scrubby tree to the left? or more middle? With the road? Without the road? I’ll post both. Which is your favourite?
Dad, I think you have a redder pic of this next scene. Now looking at it, I should have waited for that cloud to buzz off!
Here’s the lookout I always stop at:
I took a selfie for you, or for me, whatever, here it is.
And now I’m home. And realizing my neck is super stiff and sore, like I did a 1,000 poorly formed crunches, and my lower front neck muscles ache when I yawn. My back is sore where I landed on a rock, I have a huge bruise on the back of my left thigh, sore ribs, and bug bites on my head. Oh well. YOLO!