When you’re on the move – hiking, mountaineering, canoeing – circumstances often dictate what small patch of the great outdoors you’ll be calling home for the night. Sometimes the sheer beauty of the spot convinces you to stop moving for the day – even if it is a bit early. Sometimes you’re with an organized group and the decision is not yours to make. Sometimes you have to stop because the weather is promising to turn nasty and going on would be foolish. And sometimes you stop because of what is on tap for the next day.
The last reason was certainly true of the spot below. We had climbed up to a plateau about 800 meters below the peak of Nevado Tocllaraju in the Peruvian Andes, our objective for the next morning. It was late afternoon and we enjoyed the views and had supper at our high camp before crawling into our tents for some rest. We would get up at 1:00 a.m. for our summit attempt.
The tarps are up in the photo below because a storm had just come in, cutting short our progress in Ontario’s Temagami canoe country. The next morning we would paddle the last 12 kilometers to our vehicle but at the moment the objective was to stay dry and warm!
Nothing like finding a sheltered spot, tucked away from the wind! We were half way across a glacier in British Columbia’s Purcell Mountains. It was near the end of the afternoon when we found this spot, complete with a puddle of water at the bottom for our cooking needs. The next night – quite the contrast – we’d sleep in the cosy Olive Hut complete with a gas stove and dishes.
Sometimes you have to accept the fact that your tent will not be the only one around, that you’ll be sharing your space with other hikers who are attracted to the same thing that brought you there. This was certainly true of the three days I spent in a tent on the Inca Trail as it makes its way to Machu Picchu. Every day another 1200 or so hikers set off at the start of the trail and given the numbers it works remarkably well. As in the Himalayas, I had to remind myself that I was on a pilgrimage and not a wilderness trek.
Chee-Skon Lake is an out-of-the-way lake in the middle of a Temagami old-growth forest that you need to do some portaging to get to. It is also the site of the Conjuring Rock, a massive granite pillar that figures in the traditional mythology of the local Ojibwe. We considered ourselves lucky to have the lake to ourselves for one day in October. We pitched our tent on the choice spot directly across from the Conjuring Rock. It is on the spit you see on the far side of the lake with our green tarp barely visible.
In the case of our Namche Bazaar tent site in Nepal’s Khumbu valley – it sits at the end of the long diagonal road going up from the center to the top left of the image – our trekking company had arranged a stay in front of the lodge on whose property the tents were set up. In the photo, the tents are the small blue dots. We camped there for two nights, allowing our bodies to acclimatize before continuing our walk up to Everest Base Camp.
Sometimes, as I said above, you come to a spot and you just have to stop because it is so beautiful. That was certainly true of this tiny slice of the Canadian Shield on the Kopka River north of Thunder Bay in Ontario. A windless sunny day that became a clear evening with a star-filled sky and we had front row seats.
A walk down Bolivia’s Cordillera Real is certainly not lacking in dramatic campsites. The one below was just one of the many we walked into. Thanks to an incredible trekking crew our tents were usually up when we arrived in camp, as was the mess tent with the waiting tea and cookies! Here I’ve fallen behind the rest of the group a bit, having stopped to take yet another photo or two.
The Ishinca valley in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has dozens of climbing objectives. My partner and I were biding our time at high camp in the tent below waiting for the early morning wake-up call for our own version of Maslow’s “peak experience”.
Tucked into the edge of a stand of trees, flat grassy terrain to push the pegs into, the River flowing by to a set of rapids just below the bottom right of the photo below – it was a perfect way to end another day on Manitoba’s Bloodvein River as it makes its way to Lake Winnipeg.
The Refugio Grey is a stop on the Torres del Paine circuit and has a camping area not far from the refuge, the restaurant, and the shower facilities. Having had a big day of walking the day before, I would make this day a short one. I arrived at the beach below before noon and, after putting up my tent and showering, treated myself to lunch in the restaurant.
Sometimes a particular spot is so memorable that you talk about going back. My brother and I did just that when we canoed to Hobart Lake and one of our favourite campsites. A massive chunk of sloped granite leads up from the water to a flat area with twenty-meter high pine and spruce trees to tent under. To the west is a great sunset view of Maple Mountain and the fire tower. And the tent? It is barely visible – but is underneath the pine tree branches in the area behind the tripod! The site is large enough to host four or five tents but we had it to ourselves.
We walked by the Applebee camp on our return from Bugaboo Spire and marvelled at the dramatic location of the camp, facing as it does some of the incredible granite spires that provide climbers with a range of challenging routes. However, we would not be staying! We were on our way to the Conrad Kain Hut, a couple of hundred meters further down, where our food supplies and sleeping bags were waiting. The views from the hut were not quite as dramatic as the one you see here!
I could only look on with envy from the ruins of the Chincana on Isla del Sol in Lago Titicaca as I saw the tent down below on the beach. While I did have nice accommodation at the Ecolodge La Estancia in Yumani for the night, there is something about a tent and the freedom and flexibility it allows. Those backpackers had the best room on the island!
Every once in a while, as I look at maps and surf the net for another place or two to pitch my tent, I think of Lao Tzu, the legendary writer of the Tao Te Ching. One poem in particular, # 47, comes to mind. It reads like this –
Without opening your door,
you can know the whole world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the way of heaven.
The further you go,
the less you know.
The more knowledge you seek,
the less you understand.
The Sage understands without leaving,
sees clearly without looking,
accomplishes much without doing anything.
“Hey, True North, where do you think you’re going?” he says to me. “Don’t you know that you’re already there? All your travels are only taking you further away from this obvious truth.”
And then I think back to his own legendary life and the fact that the collection of poems only came to be because a border guard insisted that he write down the essence of his wisdom before he left the Middle Kingdom and continued towards the Himalayas on his water buffalo.
I want to shout out to him – “Hey, Lao Tzu, where do you think you’re going?”
After crossing the border he was never heard of again. We can only imagine the stupendous camp sites he came upon in his travels!