Camping without campfires

It’s Leave-No-Trace Tuesday and it seems appropriate to talk about campfires since they are banned across BC right now.

I’m firmly of the opinion that camping does not need a campfire. I prefer it because I get to see the night sky, and there are no concerns about anything catching fire or melting from stray sparks, or finding firewood, plus there’s no messy, stinky fire ring which in turn means no scar on the landscape. Also with a campfire, everyone huddles around it looking inwards. Why not sit and look out at the landscape?

So here’s our tent, lit by a headlamp inside and the full moon outside. What you can’t see in this photo is that we had to dodge two (!) fire rings to pitch our tent, despite the fact that campfires are forbidden here.

Strangely, most of the articles and posts I’ve seen about the current campfire ban use pictures of roaring campfires to make the point. I think the various news organizations and public bodies should invest in some alternative stock photos that either show campfires being extinguished or have campers enjoying a campfire-free life! It is possible!

And I’ve finally found a hashtag that no one has used yet: #campingwithoutcampfires Try it 🙂

It's #LeaveNoTraceTuesday and it seems appropriate to talk about campfires since they are banned across BC right now. I'm firmly of the opinion that camping does not need a campfire. I prefer it because I get to see the night sky, and there are no concerns about anything catching fire or melting from stray sparks, or finding firewood, plus there's no messy, stinky fire ring which in turn means no scar on the landscape. Also with a campfire, everyone huddles around it looking inwards. Why not sit and look out at the landscape? So here's our tent, lit by a headlamp inside and the full moon outside. What you can't see in this photo is that we had to dodge two (!) fire rings to pitch our tent, despite the fact that campfires are forbidden here. Strangely, most of the articles and posts I've seen about the current campfire ban use pictures of roaring campfires to make the point. I think the various news organizations and public bodies should invest in some alternative stock photos that either show campfires being extinguished or have campers enjoying a campfire-free life! It is possible! And I've finally found a hashtag that no one has used yet: #campingwithoutcampfires Try it 🙂 #leavenotrace #lnt #ge_rlparks #goldenears #goldenearsprovincialpark #nocampfires #bcparks #explorebc #backpacking #hiking #hikebc #bchiking #beautifulbc #bigagnes #beautifulbritishcolumbia #ifttt

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The obsession with campfires remains one of my biggest pet peeves when in the backcountry. Here in Canada (and probably elsewhere too), camping is intimately linked to having a campfire, be it for cooking, warmth, or as a TV substitute. They’re in all manner of adverts for camping and spending time in the great outdoors. And so it perhaps no great surprise that when people raised on this message venture into the backcountry to camp, they immediately feel some primal need for a campfire.

The thing is that they are completely unnecessary, borderline useless for cooking (I’ve tried), and damage the fragile backcountry environment to an extent that takes decades to restore. A portable gas stove is so much more efficient, and modern setups weigh very little. It’s the damage and mess that bugs me the most, especially when people don’t reuse an existing scar. As I mention above, there were two fire scars right next to where we pitched our tent, barely 2 metres apart. And when a place looks trashed, people are less inclined to take care and not trash it some more.

And so I do my best to leave places as I find them – or better. If I can walk away from a campsite and see no evidence I was there, I’m happy. That includes campfires. In many places we hike, they’re forbidden anyway (although that doesn’t stop people since enforcement is sadly minimal). And despite my fascination with fire as a youth, I never developed the camping-campfire association.

I’ll admit, then, that I find it easy to not bother with campfires. But I look at what I gain from not having one: no mess, no damage, no smell, no risks, and a clear view. A crackling fire is fine in a log cabin; in the backcountry, I want to hear the sounds around me. A fire draws my eye to its flames: without it, I have the entire landscape to admire. A bright fire accentuates the difference between light and dark: the night is rarely as dark as you think. In the backcountry, I accept there may be mosquitoes, and it may be chilly. I have warm clothing, plus bug wipes and a net if necessary.

I am quite happy to camp without a campfire.

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Real sunshine

Dreaming of sunnier Saturdays in today’s liquid sunshine…

Looks like we’re back into the rainy season here in Vancouver. Time to look back at those glorious sunny days of summer to remind us that it’s not always grey! This photo was taken as we stirred on the second morning of our Cape Scott backpacking trip. The night before had been misty and drizzly, and after we’d come round in the morning, we were kept in the tent a little longer by a passing shower. But it wasn’t too long later that the clouds began to clear and we saw hints of blue sky that gradually turned into glorious sunshine. We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast and by lunchtime decided that we wanted to explore further, so we packed up our gear and hiked on to Guise Bay where we spent two lovely nights.

The joys of camping…

Another photo from the weekend’s beautiful sunrise on Golden Ears. A spectacular place to camp but some people really need to learn that their voices carry way beyond their tent, and that yelling to your buds at 5 am is just not cool. Check out this week’s Leave No Trace Tuesday tip from @happiestoutdoors about being considerate of others in the backcountry.

I love spending time in the backcountry, and one of the things that appeals to me is the peace and quiet. It seems natural that leaving the city behind means leaving city attitudes behind as well (though I must admit, I’d like it if city folk could be a little more courteous of their fellow city-dwellers).

Historically, most of the people venturing into the backcountry were people who really wanted to be there for its own sake. My impression – and this could just be the curmudgeonly view of someone getting older! – is that there is now a significant number of (young) people going into the backcountry because it’s cool to do so. They don’t really love it, they’re not there to leave behind the busyness of life, they’re ticking a box, trying to impress their friends and get that ultimate sick Instagram shot.

I suspect most of them will grow out of hiking, taking up alternative pursuits in the process, and of course it’s not my place to say they shouldn’t be allowed in the backcountry. After all, the more people who get out and hike, the more people there will be who think there is value in protecting those areas. But I do feel that people venturing into an environment should go in with a view of adopting the existing traditions and attitudes, kind of like seeing how things are done before making your mark. Is it too much to ask for a little more respect and humility?

Tent by moonlight

We’re just back from two weeks on Vancouver Island and have some catching up to do 🙂 We took over 2000 photos and filled 3 16GB memory cards… In the meantime, here’s a shot of our tent lit by moonlight at Baby Bedwell Lake from last Friday after the mosquitoes had finally gone to bed. I was hoping to catch a Perseid or two but caught a satellite instead. You may be able to make out the Andromeda galaxy, M31, if you look closely enough…

This night we’d retired to the tent before it got dark as the mosquitoes were getting way too annoying. Which meant we had to get up again before settling down to sleep to attend the call of nature. By then the moon had risen and was illuminating the landscape around us perfectly well for me to see without my headlamp. And the bugs had gone, so I was able to lie on the rocks for a while and just enjoy the warm night air. By now everyone else had crawled into their tents and the campground was still and quiet. Perfect conditions for a few night photographs.

I remember being captivated by a long exposure photograph taken under full moonlight that showed a landscape and stars. Since then – which was back in 1990 or thereabouts – I’ve wanted to recreate something similar. This is a 30-second exposure – not long enough really to capture the light properly, but it’s always hard to tell at the time since the camera screen is so bright relative to the surroundings. Next time I know to try for a minute or so. And now that it’s later in the year, the moon will be higher in the sky and thus a little brighter too. OK – roll on some nice September and October weekends!

Room with a view

Room with a view – it was nice to celebrate National Trails Day by meeting the folks who’d built the trail we hiked to get here. Thank you!

We weren’t really expecting to get out on a backpacking trip so early in the season, but I was inspired by a recent visit to this area by a friend (whose photos showed the snow disappearing fast) and by my glacier lily sightings from earlier in the week. More on the glacier lilies we saw here in future posts, but after a long drive it almost felt like cheating to spend so little time hiking to reach the alpine and set up our tent in a nice dry snow-free patch of meadow.

The order of the day was definitely relaxation, and so rather than try and bag any peaks, we just hung out. The sun was warm (almost too warm!), the nearby creek was the perfect volume, the flowers were blooming all over the place, and there were no bugs to bite us! We couldn’t believe our luck. Of course, camping so high (we were at 2150 m or 7050 ft) it got pretty chilly after the sun went down but we were cosy enough in our tent.

I was almost tempted to claim a summit, but I just couldn’t be bothered to move as the following day dawned. A fantastic leisurely and relaxing weekend 🙂

A (not-so) great campsite?

A great-looking camping spot isn’t necessarily a good camping spot. This site was a good lesson in what happens when you violate principle 2… We pitched our tent far too close to the creek, the ground was damp, and cold moist air made for a chilly night plus a wet tent the next morning. This site was adequate for two for one night, but would have been trashed by a longer stay or a larger group. We should have picked a more durable surface at least 60 m away from the creek. Next time we’ll camp higher up in the meadows.

Brandywine is one of those areas that’s being loved to death – the meadows are wet for much of the summer and too many people seek a drier route which just creates a maze of muddy paths. Hopefully the new trail will bed in nicely and the mud pits can begin to heal. And don’t camp here 🙂

A great-looking camping spot isn't necessarily a good camping spot. Following @happiestoutdoors in this week's #LeaveNoTraceTuesday, this site was a good lesson in what happens when you violate principle 2… We put our tent far too close to the creek, the ground was damp, and cold moist air made for a chilly night plus a wet tent the next morning. This site was adequate for two for one night, but would have been trashed by a longer stay or a larger group. We should have picked a more durable surface at least 60 m away from the creek. Next time we'll camp higher up in the meadows. Brandywine is one of those areas that's being loved to death – the meadows are wet for much of the summer and too many people seek a drier route which just creates a maze of muddy paths. Hopefully the new trail will bed in nicely and the mud pits can begin to heal. And don't camp here 🙂 #BrandywineMeadows #hiking #backpacking #explorebc #explorecanada #mecnation #mec #bigagnes #blacktusk #alpine #meadows #wilderness #camping #leavenotrace #lnt

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One of the people I follow on Instagram is a certified Leave No Trace (LNT) instructor, and a few weeks back she started a new hashtag to raise awareness of the principles. Each “LeaveNoTraceTuesday” is aimed at highlighting one or more of the ideas behind LNT. This week was about principle number two, travelling and camping on durable surfaces.

Having spent a few years exploring the BC backcountry, I feel very strongly about LNT and wish more people were aware of it and followed its principles. Personally I derive a great deal of satisfaction from being able to look back at a place I’ve visited or camped, and see no evidence that I was there. I’ve also read some crazily intense disagreements about how prescriptive LNT is (or appears to be), but in my view these were caused exclusively by the objectors over-interpreting (even being insulted by) the principles.

To my thinking, the main point behind LNT is that the alpine backcountry is fragile and simply cannot deal with hundreds (or thousands) of humans tramping all over it – the growing season is simply too short for plants to recover. (Actually the same is true even at sea-level – look at any field after a festival.) If you’re in an area where almost no one visits, then you can get away with disregarding one or more of the principles. The problem is that if everyone did that, the alpine would be destroyed. And then the broken-window theory kicks in – if people come to an area that doesn’t look cared-for then they too will not be inspired to care for it.

So in the end my advice is to learn about LNT, seek to understand the thinking behind the concepts. At the end of the day it boils down to a simple message: just do your best to affect an area as little as possible.