It’s a sunset that beats all the others with cotton ball clouds, a fireball sun, and a slanting tree straight out of a Group of Seven painting.
In the background I hear the haunting sounds of a loon echoing across the bay, dividing the calm and marking the end of the day. The only other sound is the gentle slap of my paddle as it gently strokes the water.
It’s a stunning scene and so distinctly Canadian that I’m overcome with patriotic pride. The beautiful sunset was one of many highlights of my three day trip to Georgian Bay where I was introduced to the world of wilderness camping.
For the past two years I had been kayaking in local waters like Bayfront Park and Jordan Harbor and while I loved it, I was itching for bigger adventures. My dream was to kayak into Georgian Bay, a vast body of water and a wilderness camper’s paradise. To reach it I would have to go into the bush and camp in the wilderness, which I had never done before. Basically it’s just you and your sea kayak and everything you can stuff in including tent, sleeping bag, food, clothes, bug spray, headlamp and toiletries.
Could I really trade my pillow top mattress for a sand filled tent and a lumpy air mattress?
Thanks to the experienced instructors at Halton Outdoor Club, I made my way to Massassauga Provincial Park at the southeast end of Georgian Bay.
Massassauga has 135 backcountry campgrounds, 48 of which are on inland lakes and the others are on the shores of Georgian Bay between Parry Sound and the Moon River and its many islands.
All are only accessible by water and some sites are isolated in wilderness-like environments. One of the many positive aspects is that, unlike car camping, you are guaranteed not to experience loud partygoers.
There were four women in our group and only one had wilderness camping experience. However, our fearless leaders, Dorothy Rideough and Lise Sorensen, taught us the tricks of the trade and made it a trip to remember. In the world of kayaking, Dorothy Rideough is a legend. She has been kayaking for 20 years and leading wilderness trips for more than 10 years. She has taught hundreds of people how to kayak safely and survive in the wilderness.
Her expertise combined with that of Lise, who is an experienced kayaker herself, transformed us into seasoned campers by the end of the weekend.
Our journey began on a Saturday morning at Pete’s Place Access Point in Ridgeway, about a two-hour drive north of Toronto. It took about an hour to stuff everything into our kayaks. There is a surprising amount of room in sea kayaks that have three hatches and my three person tent fits in along with my sleeping bag, LL Bean airbed and all the extras.
Dorothy was adamant that everything needed to be downsized, and even a small bottle of Coffee Mate was downsized to a few tablespoons in a ziplock bag, as were the dried fruit, nuts and tea bags.
It was a glorious four hour paddle to our campsite, passing through Wood Lake and the gorges before reaching Georgian Bay. Everything slows down in the wild and I experienced a kind of serenity that can only be found in wide open spaces surrounded by miles of forest and rocks. Sometimes it was downright spiritual.
Our island campsite was tucked away behind a small rocky island and had a cove perfect for a late afternoon swim. We quickly learned the two secrets of wilderness camping: teamwork and the right gear.
Dorothy and Lise each had their own compact propane stoves and managed to balance large pots on them to make scrambled eggs, rice and pasta and boil water for our all important morning coffee and tea.
Lise taught us how to draw water from the lake, connect the bag to a filter and then hang it on a tree – the outdoor version of a kitchen faucet. Then there was the Donnerkiste, a wooden box in the forest that also doubles as a toilet. When I first met it, it was shone with an ominous late afternoon light and looked like something out of a horror movie.
I called it the hole from hell and swore to myself I’d rather crouch than use it. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to something and the next day I was glad it was there.
We were lucky with the weather and had three solid days of sunshine with temperatures never exceeding 30 degrees. Aside from being convinced there was a bear outside my tent on the second night, everything went smoothly.
There was much laughter over dinner as we listened to Dorothy’s stories of her past travels. During the day we paddled to other islands and came home for a long swim. By the time the weekend was over, all of my wild camping questions had been answered. Except one.
When is the next trip?
What Dorothy said:
— Work as a team so no one is left behind
— Kayaking together in case someone capsizes
– Be flexible. You have to change your plans when the weather changes
— Essential items include a water purifier, a compact propane stove, a clothesline, and an air mattress
— Make sure everything fits in your kayak beforehand
— Leave the campsite as you found it. No rubbish or leftover food should be left behind
Halton Outdoor Club
— The HOC is a registered non-profit group run primarily by volunteers that offers cycling, hiking, paddling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing activities. Membership costs $75 per year.
— Website: haltonoutdoorclub.ca