Day 1: Forest Fire

Date: Saturday, August 1, 2015

Weather: 23 degrees Celsius, gusty

Distance: ~2 kms

Wow, was the Bell Lake access parking lot ever FULL. I had to park on the side of the road. Joys of launching a trip at 10am on the Saturday of a long weekend.

I didn’t see another soul on my eight-kilometer, gravel washboard drive into the access point so my heart sank when I arrived. I hoped the sheer number of people in the park didn’t discourage our women and girls (aged 8 to 12) from enjoying a wilderness experience.

I did laps of the parking lot in my black Wild Women Expeditions t-shirt, gathering moms and daughters as their eyes lit up with recognition upon seeing my shirt. Jenny unloaded barrels of groceries and canoe packs of gear from her car as we waited for everyone to arrive.

As soon as we were eight we made introductions, ate a little trail mix to fuel ourselves for paddling and seeking the perfect [unoccupied] campsite, repacked personal gear into packs, and loaded everything into four canoes to try to beat the afternoon winds on Bell Lake.

Jenny provided a little canoe refresher on the water, walking everyone through forward strokes, backpaddling, j’s, draws, and pries. As we reached the middle of the lake, we marvelled at the spectacularly blue skies, the gentle tailwind that kept us from overheating, the little island that looked like the perfect swimming spot. We noticed that many of the marked campsites looked occupied and made our way towards the northwest shore to where it looked quieter.

The beach location we thought might be a site turned out to be part of an occupied camp so we paddled a bit further down the shore and landed on a rocky outcrop. I hopped out of the canoe and scrambled up the hill to scope the possibility of enough tent pads for our group. Success! It looked to be a lovely spot with soft pine needle beds to lay our heads at night, a proper fire ring, and even a thunderbox. Perfect for any of our first-time backcountry campers.

One boat at a time, we pulled gear out of canoes and laid it out on our granite dock. Then we pulled the canoes out and flipped them over on the terrace above our dock. No further camp set-up would occur without a little lunch.

As Jenny and I sliced avocado, cheese, salami and laid out wraps, olives, and artichokes, I looked up. I looked at Jenny. In unison we scrambled for our inReach devices. About a mile in the distance a significant plume of smoke wafted up from the evergreens. We reached out to our respective partners, asking them to check in with the park office (no cell service where we were) and message us back. While neither could reach the office, mine caught the folks who had outfitted our canoes and they had been in touch with the park. The park had people on the ground working on it.

They also had people in the air working on it. For the next hour and a half we watched the bomber dive our lake and drop water on the fire while a helicopter flew circles and checked out the fire from all angles. We finished lunch. We swam. We took photos and videos of all the commotion. They continued to bomb the fire.

When it appeared that they had finished and that the wind had stopped blowing smoke, ash and the heavy smell of burnt wood in our direction, we told the girls that it was okay to set up camp. We also sent an update to our office. Thrilled to have something productive to do, the girls helped their moms set up tents while Jenny and I sorted out the group gear, the kitchen and started dinner prep. Over a delicious supper of Thai noodles with broccoli and tofu – which everyone thoroughly enjoyed (amazing eaters!) – we explained to the girls that this night wouldn’t be the best night for a campfire and they were only mildly disappointed. Everyone seemed to understand the gravity of the forest fire.

After dinner the girls wanted to help with dishes (seriously – these were the best helpers we could have asked for) making our clean-up and animal-proofing easy and smooth.

We all retreated to our tents as darkness fell, domes lit orange and green as we read and journaled about our day by headlamps.

For the rest of the trip report, click here.

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