I headed north on the Dempster this week for a couple nights solo. Something unexpected, work related, was really bothering me, something I could do nothing about, so I decided a couple days off-grid, away from work, my laptop, the Internet, could maybe help set my head straight.
I headed out on Tuesday morning, around 10am. My last minute packing included:
- wood scraps to start a fire
- pail to dip in a creek to put out said fire
- Kindle loaded with some books, iPhone loaded with podcasts, iPad loaded with movies
- foam mattress for the back of my truck, with fleece sheets, pillow, and -40 sleeping bag
- few groceries, a bunch of dehydrated meals, water
- a couple changes of clothes, a few jackets, rain coat, toques, mittens, gloves, rain boots
- a 20 gallon jerry can of gasoline
- In Reach satellite communication device to send Jeff a check-in text message morning and night.
Here I am filling up the gas tank at the base of the Dempster.
The weather was cool with some clouds.
I met double grader teams in a few places, Yukon highway workers trying to keep on top of the potholes, leaving big wind rows of soft dark mud and gravel. Some of the Dempster was in super rough shape, with hundreds of small potholes. My truck doesn’t do great with that kind of rough road, and the back end tries to kick out a lot, so I just kept it slow and steady.
I was surprised to see the Visitors Centre still open in Tombstone park. I assumed it would be closed for the season, but there are still tourists around – tourists that either came for the fall colours, or got a cheaper RV rental for the shoulder season, or just tourists who had no idea that there was snow already on the Tombstone peaks! Many of the tourists only go north on the Dempster to the park, but there are still several others than head all the way up to the Arctic Ocean before turning around and driving all the way back.
I decided to stop at the Visitors Centre and walk in, just for a double check recommendation that Yukon Parks was still filling the firewood bunks in the parks. Unless something else came up, I was planning on going back to the Engineer Creek campground I’ve camped in solo a couple times before. It’s a good distance to see the highlights, at just shy of 200 kilometres up the road, but not far enough away that I was going to have to make a monumental effort to get there. The girls staffing the counter seemed to think they still were, but didn’t have anything other than a Tombstone map for me. I took one so I could keep in my truck since the hikes in the park are marked on it.
The lookout north of the Interpretive Centre was its beautiful self, showing the snow on the peaks. The reds are gone now, being a week or so past the peak of the fall colours, but the browns and rusts and yellows were gorgeous.
I pulled off the road at kilometre 100 to a spot we’ve camped at many times. I was surprised to see a work camp just off the highway here, with 4 Atco like trailers of accommodations and a generator running. I went past and the area around the river was empty.
It was just about 1pm so I dug into my cooler and had some berry cream cheese on a bagel for lunch.
Up at Two Moose Lake there were many ducks and one solo swan.
I stayed here for awhile with my binoculars, trying to identify the ducks. They all seemed to be female American Wigeon ducks, and the swan was a Trumpeter swan.
There is a nice little observation deck here along side the Dempster highway.
Not too far up the road is Chapman Lake.
I ran into graders north of here again, working where a runway is along side the road. I bet the people who travel up here in small cars don’t like crossing these windrows of dirt.
By 3:45pm I was in the Engineer Creek campground, all by myself, again. I drove around wondering if I should try something new, and pick a different site, but then said, why, I liked that site I stayed on before, back to site #7 I go!
I got a fire started and started organizing my “camp”. First up, I emptied the jerry can into my truck’s tank (ok, I did that before the fire), then got the foam roll out and put it on the picnic table to air out a bit (it’s been stored in the garage a couple years and had a garage smell). I was pleased to see the park still had lots of wood in the firewood bins, and someone even left a bunch of split pieces. Score!!
Soon the sky started to clear! Beautiful! And it started to get warm enough for short sleeves (about 16 C) and there were NO mosquitos! Perfect!!
The leaves were falling from the trees. What a beautiful fall afternoon!
The river behind my site was higher than last time (remember when I camped here and totally wiped out sliding down the bank?)
Then suddenly I wasn’t alone! Some grey jays came to visit!
A truck and trailer pulled into the park and set up camp on the other side of the park shelter from me. Could it be? The first time ever I’ll have company here? So often people pull in here and leave, but these ones stayed!
I prepped some dinner and they came over with a “Hi neighbour!!”. They were super friendly and said they were going to get the fire going in the shelter, make some dinner, and then would I like to join them for some cards or a game?
I did have an inkling of – wait – I’m not going to be solo? Should I go hang out with strangers? I feel like many people these days wouldn’t.
“Yes!!” I said, I’d love to join you. After all, strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet!
I tidied up my campsite getting it ready for sleeping and let the fire burn itself down.
Then I joined Chris and Heather from lower British Columbia for several games of Rummy-O!
They were great people, real adventure loving, outdoor people, who shared tales from their lives. Chris had the stove stoked up until I thought my back, which was close to the stove, was going to ignite. It felt awesome actually!
I didn’t manage to win a round, but I did have a great time! I’d never heard of this game, but I’d play again!
When it got too dim to see the colours on my tiles, we wrapped up the game and chatted a bit more, then headed to bed.
I had a pretty decent sleep. A few other campers had pulled in. I think I sleep better knowing there are other people around. I didn’t jump up for every noise. In fact, without a window open, I was impressed just how quiet it was inside the back of my truck. I covered myself with my -40 sleeping bag spread open, and had a good night.
For breakfast, I tried one of our new dehydrated meals that we picked up on our Alaskan travels. This one was a one serving size (so often they are 2 servings in one, and much too large unless you are starving).
My Jetboil makes it so easy to eat these type of meals. It takes less than a minute to boil the 300ml of water needed. I actually keep the Jetboil, fuel, and a bunch of dehydrated meals in my truck, should I ever get stuck somewhere.
This one was a bit watery at first, but was decent. I could see reusing this bag and just making your own oats and raisins with hot water. They have a zip seal so the oats sit and cook with the boiling water.
I took my breakfast back to the shelter where Chris and Heather were finishing breakfast. We chatted for awhile while they packed up, and then they were on their way south.
I really looked forward to this full day offline. I had paper and pen to journal some thoughts and ideas that were bouncing around my head. But first I grabbed some of the mountain of wood that Chris had split and started a fire on my campsite.
It was chilly and started to drizzle. I was pretty sure the fog was going to burn off and the rain was going to stop, so I stuck it out. From 8:30am until 1pm, I kept waiting for that rain to stop.
The leaves started to fall even harder. I got the kettle on the fire and switched to my rain boots and rain coat.
I keep a container of tea bags in my truck too, so I drank cup after cup of raisin cookie flavoured tea, trying to keep warm.
I remember thinking it was crazy to pack rain pants, because I’d just not stay outside. So I didn’t pack rain pants. My track pants were getting really wet. I had a foam cushion to sit on that was keeping me off the wet lawn chair, but as the hours went by, my butt was getting wet too. Then the sides of my thighs. And just how much rain could this toque soak up?
By 1pm, I was alone again in the park, and that stove in the shelter was calling my name. See that shelter calling me over? Come get warm Lisa. Wet clothes are dumb Lisa.
You win camp shelter! You win! Let me in!
There was still a mountain of split wood that Chris had stacked up the night before, and some half burned pieces still in the stove, so I got it going quite quickly.
After I had the fire going, I went back to my site to get some lunch, my wet lawn chair, my Kindle, bear spray in case any visit me, and I put on dry clothes and a different jacket.
See the smoke from the chimney. Yes!!!
Now this shelter building has windows on all sides with only screens, so I wasn’t going to make this place a sauna. But I could hang out inside, yet sort of outside, and be dry and warmer. I sat my lawn chair right beside the stove and watched it steam as it dried.
I spent the afternoon here, listening to podcasts on my phone, and did none of the journaling or life plotting that I thought I would. I just kept rotating stuff to get it dried, and kept the stove fed.
It rained until 7pm. By then, another camper set up in the park, but who kept to himself. I let the fire die down, gathered my stuff, swept the floor, and headed back to my site to read a book in my “bed”. Another couple campers rolled in, with 3 dogs between them all, so I felt safe and comfortable, and was asleep by 9.
This morning I was glad to hear no rain on the roof of the truck. Everything was still and quiet, but I had enough of this scene and was ready to roll. As quietly as I could (those outhouse doors squeak so loud!), I got changed, and loaded up the truck with the stuff I had stored under it (pail of wood scraps, jerry can, water jug, and lawn chair), and tried to separate the muddy wet stuff from my bedding.
The moon was still out when I rolled out of the park at 7:15am.
Look at the temperature! -1 C ! (30F).
This sky seems promising!
The morning is chilly, but I have a seat warmer. 😄 The inside of my windows are all wet from condensation, but I’m glad I didn’t waste anymore time sleeping. Look at the views! I wiped more of the inside of the window and then headed back south.
I still hadn’t seen any mammals (except tourists and their dogs). No bears, no moose, no caribou, not even a bunny. But the spruce grouse were out everywhere along the road this morning! I saw dozens of them!
How many photos do you want to see of the sun rising on the Dempster?
What a beautiful morning!!
There was thick frost on the Two Moose Lake observation deck this morning!
By the time I got south to the look out, the clouds were low and the beautiful sunny morning was over for me. There were even a few rain drops from the low clouds on my windshield.
I kept switching between my Nikon camera and my iPhone.
Some shots are better on one, and then later on the other. No clear winner.
And look, some lonesome, dirty, left behind little muffin here on a rock.
I was back in town by 1pm and emptied out my truck and started the washing machine. I stole 3 loonies off Jeff’s side of the dresser and took my truck to the car wash to get the Dempster dirt off her.
So my solo trip concludes! Did I leave behind what was troubling me? No, probably not. But I did have enough solo thinking time that I gained a new perspective that will help me going forward. Now, to get the smell of campfire off my hair!