You never forget your first time-first time backcountry camping, that is. The anticipation, preparation, last minute planning and the hope that you’ll have a successful trip. In other words, no one gets eaten by a bear or falls off a cliff.
Let’s face it, like most of the events in our lives nothing ever goes according to plan. You can plan and prepare to your heart’s content but something will happen that you did not expect. This accurately sums up my first experience camping in the backcountry of Banff National Park. It was, to put it plainly, a happy disaster.
Hailing from Saskatchewan I didn’t have much experience in a mountainous environment. It’s true what they say; you really can watch your dog run away for days in Saskatchewan. Moving to Jasper for a summer job was a bit of a geological shock, however, I quickly acclimated and it became my home away from home for four months of the year. I took up hiking, biking, paddling, a little climbing, and learned the alpine lingo. There was just one thing I had not tried: backcountry camping.
My second season in, we wasted no time planning our first hike on my bucket list; Berg Lake in Mount Robson Provincial Park. After some researching, I decided that we should do a shorter, easier practice run to Glacier Lake, Banff. I bought our backcountry camping permit two days before and, together, my brother and I laid out all our supplies on the living room floor so we could properly pack. I did not mention to my brother what the man at the information desk had told me – that there had been a grizzly sighting at our campground but that we would probably be fine. Ignorance is bliss, I thought.
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The next day, we reached the campground which was situated right on the shores of Glacier Lake and set up our tent. Not ten seconds after we finished the sky opened up on us. We huddled inside as the wind and rain hit us like a hurricane. Before settling in for the night we put our food into a waterproof bag and tied it to the bear pole. Alright, we thought, we’ve made it this far so it should be easy from here on out.
We didn’t sleep a wink that night.
The first disturbance that occurred was an unfamiliar creature running up and down our tent. We could see its outline on the tent but couldn’t tell what it was. The second was the temperature; it dropped so quickly and the cold air bit at our exposed noses.
At two-thirty in the morning I became aware of the unfamiliar creature. I sat up and slowly shone my headlamp towards the noise at our feet. I saw it the moment it saw me. A small field mouse was halfway inside a plastic bag of corn nuts, its big eyes staring into mine as I let out a huge gasp. Behind it, a dime-sized hole showed itself in the mesh wall of the tent. Keeping my flashlight pointed at the perpetrator I nudged my brother and told him not to panic.
He sat up instantly. The mouse was munching on a corn nut like this was normal and he always ate dinner at such inhumane hours of the night. We stared at it wondering what to do while also berating each other for leaving a bag of food inside the tent. It’s no small task catching a mouse in a cramped space in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere with only a headlamp to show the way, but we finally did it. We lured it with corn nuts to an object that we could quickly toss out the tent, mouse and all.
I don’t know how long we were there trying to get rid of the mouse but I’m sure it would have been a comical sight to see the two of us shrieking like little girls, trapped inside a tent with a tiny, harmless mouse running around us.
The moral of this story is to plan, prepare, and expect that something is not going to go as you expect. Our trip to Glacier Lake made us much more aware of the realities of being in the outdoors and our trip to Berg Lake the next week went off without a hitch. Well maybe just one, but that’s another story.