Friday, February 22, 2008

Canoe camping

When I backpack, I travel very light. It's just not fun if I'm a human mule, struggling with balance and too exhausted to enjoy the scenery. My last trip was a four-day hike through mountains, and my pack weighed 27 pounds. I've gotten so I'm not completely miserable when I settle in for the night with minimal gear, but it's... well, minimal. 

Backpacking campsites tend to be less than ideal. Sometimes they're overused with hard-packed ground and picked clean of firewood. There's almost always litter. It's often difficult to find level ground. Sometimes there's not enough water to wash up well with. And even if there is, all I carry to heat it in is a one-liter titanium pot. (One of my pet peeves is crawling into a sleeping bag sweaty and dirty. I don't care how grimy I get during the day, but I like to go to sleep clean.) 

Canoes are my favorite way to travel. You can carry enough gear to be truly comfortable in any season, and still get into places larger boats never see. My favorite camping sites are on gravel bars and beaches. There's usually plenty of driftwood for fires, and of course unlimited water. We have a 17' kevlar canoe that paddles very easily and quietly. For longer trips, we have a Grumman square-stern canoe with a 2 h.p. Honda outboard. Aluminum is relatively heavy and noisy, but it's saving grace is that it's almost indestructible. Kevlar or aluminum or whatever, modern canoes are the best of old and new. A design refined over millennia, built of space-age materials.

An upside-down canoe makes an instant shelter. With a campfire reflecting in front of it, it's downright cozy. With a tarp stretched over it, there's plenty of room for at least three people, without the usual drudgery of pitching and striking a tent.

Long spruce poles go in the bottom of our canoe. They keep our duffles up out of any sloshing water, and they'll be the frame of our tent or tarp shelter if we put one up. Weight and volume aren't a factor unless portages are involved. The three of us could each bring a hundred pounds of gear, double sleeping pads and even pillows without coming close to the limits.

The bottom of a canoe is a huge cooler for food. The constant gentle movement will get your sourdough perking like it never does at home. You can often troll for a fish dinner. We've seen otters playing, an eagle catch a fish, a bull moose swimming, mink patrolling the shore, fishers hunting for squirrels, snapping turtles cruising along the bottom. We've salvaged life jackets, paddles, anchors, and all kinds of interesting gear washed up on windward shores. Our five-year-old feels good about picking up trash along our way.

The first thing I'd like to do when I retire is to take a month-long canoe trip.

1 comment:

Centuryhouse said...

I've got to point my dad to this one. He loves canoeing & canoe camping and often took us along as kids & teens. Again, well written & informative.