Thursday, October 13, 2011

Good Camp/Bad Camp

When the time comes to get off the water for the day, and a campsite has to be created, there is a great deal of thought that gets put into all facets of the site. The first is location. Is this a place that I can easily get off the water, with space for three things. A good site for a tent, level, and flat. A site for a kitchen, a good distance from the tents, level and flat would be nice but it isn't necessary. A place for the kayaks to sleep, preferable above the tents - in terms of tide height - but if not above the tents then at the same height, and regardless of height above tide they must be able to be tied to something stout. It wouldn't do for a wave to come in and take our boats away while we slept warm and dry in our bags. Keep in mind that most of the foot traffic in a campsite is in the kitchen area, so it should be on the most durable of surfaces. Rocks, gravel, dirt. No grasses or mosses, nothing fragile that would be impacted by our trampling feet. The same goes for the location of the tent and the kayaks, but because there is less traffic to those locations we need the kitchen to be on the most durable surface.

Our new home may take on the look of a yard sale while we are setting up, cooking and eating dinner, and relaxing afterwards. People tend to try and hang things to help them dry and food bags get their contents strewn about during dinner preparation. But once it is time to call it a night and climb into a warm bag with a good book, the yard sale has to be put away. Everything is packed. Food is stored safely with Animals in mind. All our gear is packed and stored well above the tide line. I like to put things back in their dry bags, and then back into the kayaks. In Alaska I would put my gear in their two large mesh duffel bags and put those on top of my kayak (over turned so the mesh was down and the waterproof bottom was facing up) and then I would carabiner them to the kayak. 

The thought process behind this is that we need our gear, and we need to take care of it. Just as it wouldn't be beneficial to have our kayaks wash away, it wouldn't do to have any of our gear wash away. But what could wash away our gear, you ask? Well, besides the fact that we may make a mistake calculating the next high tide, there are also storm surges that can create higher tides than predicted. It could also be something as simple as a ferry or cruise ship a dozen miles away. Its wake hits the beach and pushes way above the predicted high tide line. We were very careful in Alaska.

So you can imagine our surprise when early in the morning we came around cape fanshaw - it was probably seven AM and we wanted to be some unpredictable weather around a point known for big water - and saw the epitome of a 'bad camp'. We could see tents in the trees way above the beach - which in and of itself is fine, but the rest of what we saw was a little scary. Click the image below to see what scared us. 

A tarp that was about to be blown down and away. Thirteen kayaks, that didn't look tied up, or to each other - they may have been but as far as some kayaks were from others led us to believe otherwise. A vast amount of gear on the beach, just above the high tide line. And as incredible as all that is, someones red jacket on the grass, waiting to be blown away, washed away, or just simply rained on. The number of dry bags and water bottles waiting to disappear was very disturbing. This is poor leadership, and poor role modeling. We never saw this group again, we suspected that they were heading south while we were heading north. I hope their trip ended well, but honestly, they were setting themselves up for disappointment. 


  1. Great post! It reminds me of the time when my wife and I were camping on Haida Gwaii and came across hundreds of moon snails about 100 feet into the forest. The power of the tides and winds need to be respected.

  2. It absolutely does. I am always amazed wheb I see drift wood the size of a tractor trailer on a beach. Thanks for reading.


  3. You raise great points. Tides and large animals command respect. That said... I can shed some light on what you saw, though I don't know if it applies to the group camp you saw.

    Several non-profit organizations in Southeast Alaska take "youth at risk" (kids who've been having trouble with the law and/or substance abuse) on extended wilderness trips. One of the big features of those trips is personal responsibility and natural consequences. No better place to teach than in the wilderness with back-up systems in place for emergency. Instruction is given, tie your boats, put away your gear, ... but leaders do not do these things for the youth, they simply provide instruction and then role model. Gear left may be gear lost and discomfort experienced, possibly for weeks at a time. It is a tough love model but can do amazing things for some kids. And, with a large group, there is a lot more latitude for staying safe while teaching these lessons.

    And, many of us work around the tides with a fair degree of familiarity. I've been known to camp at the very edge of the expected tide and then set my alarm to be sure I'm awake and checking things out before anticipated high tide. Or, to camp below high tide line if I'm in a jam and know when the tide will be back to my tent spot. If the high tide is before I'm planning to be asleep I may leave camp set up and boats on the beach before high tide line while I sleep, knowing the water won't be back again before I'm on my way. I do ALWAYS tie my boat if I am leaving it for any time or sleeping.

    I now use AyeTides, an iPhone ap, graph view to determine exactly what time the tide will be at a certain level. I find this especially helpful if I land at a steep beach that flattens out at low tide. I'll know I need to be off the beach again by a certain time or stuck with a long haul or wait.

  4. Anon hits it on the head! We did run into two groups - though none were kayaking - of 'at risk youth' and it makes perfect sense that this is what was going on. That said the lesson stands for the rest of us. protect your gear from the tide. And I will look into AyeTides. awesome tip. I wish there were more kayaking related apps. thanks for the comment.