Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

More bears, the start of the rain!

As we were being chased from campsite #7 into our water craft I was thinking that it wasn't an auspicious start for the kids. Although on one hand, I think they were quite thrilled to see a bear up close, at least one of them was a bit jumpy after our #7 experience. Within minutes of pushing off and paddling along the shore, another bear appeared! At first we thought it was the same one following us! However, this one was doing what bears were supposed to do...nonchalantly ripping apart a rotten stump looking for ants. We were within 20 feet of it and I whispered to Helen to get some pictures. She hit the button, but for the life of us we can't find the photos!

Suffice it to say that Mike's opinion was that this was a bear not accustomed to feeding from campsites, and he looked better for it. His coat was glossy and he was looking and eating from his intended nutritional palate. I don't imagine the smarties did much for bear #1...

We had a shorter portage on the second day and entered the west arm of Isaac Lake, the longest lake on the Bowron Circuit. We found site #14. At least it had a bear warning sign on it. (Remember that site #15 had been closed because of a bear.)

That morning had been what I had forecasted in my truncated journal entry. Glorious sunshine. However, by the time we stopped at site #14 it had clouded over. Another dilemma faced the shortest Newtons (I include myself in this category!): The campsite had 7 tent pads (there were 7 tents in our group), but four were on one side of the campsite and the other three were on the opposite side, separated by a substantial stand of trees. With our junior paddlers we were often last into camp each day and we arrived the rest of our group had graciously left the three isolated tent pads for us. Except that some of the Newtons would rather camp next to Mike.

After a bit of discussion we decided that we would camp on the same side as everyone else, even if it meant pitching off the pads. The kids really wanted to be close to us and I pulled rank when Mike and Linda offered to share their large pad. In the end, the kids pitched their tents in the middle of a circle made by the other tents.

Tom decided that since it was looking a bit rainy, we should put up a tarp and lash it to trees to provide shelter for dinner and whatever festivities we could muster up while anticipating our nocturnal visitors.

The group deferred to Mike's experience in the woods and there ensued a 1/2 hour demonstration on how to elegantly provide cooking shelter with an 8x10 tarp and several pieces of rope. It occurred to me that Chris and I have been fortunate in our 20 years camping together in the backcountry: we've rarely had enough rain to warrant putting up a tarp! When we have, I'll admit it was not elegant. A properly attached cooking shelter should look like a jib sail reefed right in, in 6 knots of wind. Ours always looked like the sail when it was in irons...flapping madly.

After putting up the tarp, there ensued a 1/2 hour lesson on the best knots to accomplish the shelter installation and to minimize cursing and swearing the next morning after the rain has swelled those "never come loose, homemade knots".

We were just in time, too. Rain started to splatter. We weren't worried. We'd all heard several different versions of the forecast before we arrived. And although they were all a little different, they had one thing in common: mostly sun. Right.

Helen and I went to my tent to read a bit before dinner and we were caught there for a good 20 minutes as the splatters turned to a torrential downpour. Gradually over those 20 minutes I realized that the edges of the tent seemed to feel a lot like the water bed I had as a kid. Bladder like. Inch by inch I started to move our thermarests to the centre of the tent, but the water puddle under the tent grew.

Eventually the rain slowed and Chris poked his head in the tent to tell me he thought there was a problem with the tent. Gingerly I poked my head out and looked down. Mike and Linda's tent was on the high side of the pad and all the water had flowed down and accumulated at the end of the pad, stopped by the wood edges of the pad. Stephen and Mike had a good time using sticks and such to divert the water, creating rivers and holes from below the pad. Mike said it reminded him of the hours he spent as a kid playing in the rain and making rivers just like these.

After a bit of discussion, Mike and Linda offered to move to the isolated part of the campground and let us take their spot. Although we felt better with them near, I thought I'd be drier if I took up their offer.

In the end there was no bear although we got a lot more thorough unpacking the kayaks. I'd like to say that each morning I rose early and wrote in my journal, but between packing up, cooking, and dealing with the effects of way-off-base weather reports, my first entry was to be my last of the trip. I'm thinking that as notebooks get smaller I may be able to effectively journal on one of these trips. A solar charger and 80 words a minute would take care of it! The photo below is of us packing up to leave campsite #14!

Our first day on Isaac Lake was our longest paddle, about 15 or 16 kms. We swapped Katie and Stephen a few times in the Pungo to keep them fresh. We spent a bit of time figuring out how to take off sweaters from underneath a life jacket and put raingear on as the day was alternately hot and rainy. We did get caught in a fairly steady downpour before lunch that forced us to beach and take stock of our sweater situation. Stephen's sweater was completely wet, as was Katie's. It was here on Day 3, that I handed over my new, fluffy, water-wicking, fast drying (white!) camp sweater, never to be worn by me again on the trip. Chris gave up his "outer" sweater to Stephen, who truth be told, suffers the cold more keenly then the rest of us as there's not much width to him. Chris didn't see the sweater during the trip again either. When Stephen gave it back occasionally, Chris gallantly allowed me time to warm up in it.

We arrived at campsite #21 in the afternoon and this turned out to be my favourite campsite. It had a sandy beach and was nestled in trees. And, it was windy when we arrived so it gave us all a chance to pitch tents and let them dry. Clotheslines appeared and wet clothes were hung. The cooking shelter was hung and most of us went swimming. I had a solar shower.

I discovered the solar shower last year and after 19 years of backwoods camping and canoeing (and never much complaining about the lack of showers) I bought one. I've had some eye rolling since I bought it but in my defence most women in their 40's suddenly stop tenting and demand a 25 foot fifth wheel. I bought a sunshower for $20. And I LOVE it. Having always had a frugal nature with water, I can completely shower in less than 2 gallons, leaving the remainder for Chris, who so far hasn't refused. When I shower, I enlist Chris and one of the girls to hold our tarp up and when Chris showers Stephen and I do privacy duty. Here is the link to the sunshower

No bears that night but we were visited by that other regular nocturnal visitor: pouring rain! The morning of day #4 we packed up all our wet equipment and headed across Isaac Lake to follow the north side to our next stop at the end of the prepare for our passage through the Chute!

We managed to cross as the lake was getting choppy (for once we Newtons were ready first!). By the time everyone had crossed the lake was much choppier. We stopped a fair bit this day as the kids' arms got tired much faster. We discovered that Stephen LOVED the choppy water which seemed to make him forget the fact that he doesn't like swimming. He powered through almost-whitecap water for quite some time, never missing a stroke. The Pungo, being mostly a river kayak (and no rudder) bounced a fair bit in the waves. The two sea kayaks Chris and I were piloting cut through the waves like a knife through butter. It was amazing.

When we decided to brave the choppy water after lunch, a fellow with a beautiful canoe whose campsite we were using for our stop, asked me if he could take our picture as we rounded the point of the campsite into the waves. Without stopping my paddling I said "sure, I should give you my email!!!" I could hear him say I should give to him if we met up again along the circuit. (We did and Mike and Linda have that picture, which I will post later).

It was a hard day paddling and it seemed that we would never get to the end of Issac Lake. But we did, in pouring rain. Before setting up we surveyed our tent pads and cleaned out and widened the little rivers that would wick the rain away from our tents. After we were set up we grabbed our food and cooking gear and ran through an increasingly loud downpour to the open air shelter that all campsites at the end of the lake shared. These shelters have picnic tables, a woodstove, places to hang wet clothing, and a satellite phone for emergencies (and apparently running out of chocolate bars is NOT an emergency).

It was cold, we were wet, our gear was wet. We hung stuff everywhere in the shelter and eyed the woodstove longingly. Nobody could leave the shelter without getting drenched. The paths to our tents were a connect the dots of little lakes and rivers. We made our dinners, chilled, but thankful we could at least cook and eat undercover. I was doing a mental inventory of the few dry items I had left that I could give to the kids and cursing The WeatherNetwork.

After an hour or so of huddling, our beautiful canoe friend and photographer showed up with his group and set up on the table we cleared for them. After another 20 minutes a fellow in their party asked if we would be upset if he started the woodstove. Nope, nope, nope. We were seriously considering it anyway as it was difficult to contemplate carrying on without drying out. The kids were a little bothered by the fact that with a campfire ban on, we were lighting a woodstove, so we had to explain to them that there are exceptions to the rules and how we have to weigh risks and consequences. We talked about the effects of hypothermia, the chances of starting a forest fire with all the rain, and the consequences in terms of the $345 fine.

The park administration had said they'd prefer if campers didn't light the woodstoves in the drying huts during the campfire ban (these weren't campfires), but I honestly don't know how we would have fared without being able to dry out some of our essential equipment, like sleeping bags, sweaters, footwear and socks.
It was so wet, I didn't actually think they'd get the woodstove going, but eventually they did and after about an hour, steam started coming from our clothing. Children became happier and the end of my sleeping bag finally dried. After another hour or two, we Newtons took our dry stuff and dashed as fast as we could to our tents, leaving the rest of them to play poker!

The next installment: the group shoots the rapids, all captured on video, in the rain, of course!

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