Campfire Stories

In Canada, summer is the time for camping. I know this because I just looked up availability to one of our fave, local campgrounds to find there was only one spot left out of hundreds. Apparently all of Calgary has already headed out there. And this was for camping mid-week! Usually, one of the perks of being self-employed is that you can set your own hours. In the summer this means leaving home early to arrive at a campsite and register before all those other poor schmucks can get off work and drive out there. Not anymore! Alberta’s pre-registration system has made the whole process more egalitarian if less impromptu.

Darwin at Squanga Lake Yukon

Darwin at Squanga Lake, Yukon – Cyclists have their refreshment, we have ours!

But this is not a rant about Alberta Parks. No, I thought instead, if I can’t get out camping, at least we can have a little campfire fun so to speak on the blog. My question for you is, what was the eeriest moment you ever had camping out in the great big wild? Share in a comment here on the blog – and even better, a pic (if you were brave enough to get one)!

Dempster Highway, Blackstone Mountains, Yukon

Dempster Highway, Blackstone Mountains, Yukon. Do you dare?

Now gather round, and I’ll tell you one of mine…it happened when Darwin and I were traveling through Yukon Territory several years ago. We were way up north on one of Canada’s most infamous roads: the Dempster Highway. Known for potholes big enough to swallow a small car, sharp rocks and frost heaves, it is not a journey undertaken lightly or by the uninformed. The weather can also be a bit extreme. The shots in this post are from that visit August 21, 2008. As you can see, we are well into fall colours during our little trip.

Ogilvie Mountains, Yukon

Ogilvie Mountains, Yukon. A little further on up the road.

My campfire story doesn’t involve a campfire, but it does involve a campground. After hours of driving, we’d managed to reach Engineer Creek Campground where we decided to stop for lunch. Mother nature had been tempermental all day with bursts of sunshine peeking through menacing clouds and fog. We pulled into the campground and found it quite charming with its black rock roads contrasting with fresh yellow leaves. Charming…but quite deserted. There was not a single soul in the place!

Engineer Creek Campground, Yukon Territory, Canada

Engineer Creek Campground. Hellooooo! Anyone home?

We were not deterred and got out our lunch stuff. This involved firing up our small portable cook stove to make a warm lunch. We each set about our tasks of preparing lunch (me chopping veg, Darwin trying to get the stove to work). Pretty soon we noticed though that there didn’t even seem to be birds in this campground, or if there were, they weren’t making a peep.

I think that’s when I started to get a little creeped out.

“Hey Darwin,” I said. “Don’t you think it’s awfully quiet here?”

Darwin looked up from fiddling with the stove. “Come to think of it, where is everybody?” It was later in the day on a very long, lonely road – no one was planning on staying the night here? We kept on prepping lunch but both of us would peer into the dense foliage from time to time. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being watched whenever I turned my back on the woods. Surreptitiously, I kept my bear spray nearby on the table. We ate facing opposite sides of the forest, not talking much and keeping an eye out.

Shelter, Engineer Creek Campground, Yukon Territory, Canada

Is someone there?

Well, sorry to say no yeti strode out of the shrubbery and sat down to lunch with us that day. I’m pretty sure something was out there though – usually you get the heebie-jeebies in your tent, in the dark, after a good round of scary stories. But this was during the day, in a beautiful place that we were lucky enough to have all to ourselves. Even our dog, Brando didn’t seem as excited as usual to go for a walk. If there was a critter eyeing us with intent, we never saw or heard it. By mutual agreement we decided not to camp there – or even spend another minute – and pressed on a little further up the Dempster before turning back and beginning our long journey homeward. I shuddered as we drove past the campground on our way back. It still seemed as we drove by as silent as the grave.

Darwin at Two Moose Lake, Yukon, Canada

Darwin at Two Moose Lake, Yukon. Maybe we should eat here? I love summer camping!

Watch out behind you!

Watch out behind you!

Yukon camping.

Yukon camping.

About the Author

Photographing the incredible beauty of natural things, filming quirky videos, trying new foods with unpronounceable names, curling up with a good book, sharing ideas on how to live lighter on the Earth...these are a few of my favourite things!

13 Comments

  1. Carol James
    August 10, 2015

    My husband and I lived in Whitehorse YT from 1976-1978 and did lots of camping in the summer time. We were only vaguely bear aware in those days since we and most of our friends were city folk. Once we drove after work to Dawson City with friends, arriving well after dusk and setting up camp. Two very funny things happened to us there. Our friend had packed creamsicles in her cooler (?!) expecting them to be still frozen to eat when we arrived. Well they weren’t and she removed the soggy mess and left them at the base of a tree away from the campsite (?!). We had a 2 man 20$ tent and they were sleeping in their vehicle so we left our styrofoam cooler on the picnic table… I know! At a very early hour we could here the squeak, squeak of the styrofoam as some creature tried to gain access to the cooler and we were a few feet away in our tent. My husband inched his way out of his sleeping bag and down to the zipper of the tent scarcely daring to breathe. As he silently unzipped the tent tooth by tooth and peeked out he was met by a hilarious sight. There was a very determined squirrel digging through the top of our cooler and a shower of styrofoam shooting out behind him. In a few hours we were up and about and our friend headed off to the outhouse. As he returned to the campsite a big blob of melted creamsicles with their wrappers fell out of the tree smack on the top of his head! The industrious little creatures had carried the whole thing up the tree! So bears 0, campers 0 and squirrels 2!

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      August 10, 2015

      Ha! Watch out for those racoons, squirrels and determined ravens! Thanks for sharing Carol; awesome story (and lesson on clean campsites).

  2. Craig
    August 10, 2015

    This is not exactly a campfire story either but it did take place in a campground. I was on a week long photo tour of Glacier National Park in Montana. I was by myself and I had been driving some back roads looking for a place to shoot sunset. I came across this campground beside this awesome lake. There were a few others around, including a couple of guys fishing in the lake. I wandered along the beach a couple of hundred meters from the boat ramp and set up to wait for sunset. I was mentally planning my shot(s) and I heard noises behind me in the underbrush. At first I thought it was a squirrel or some other critter. But then the noises got louder. And close to me. I made some of my own noise by singing (in my horrible, off tune voice), 99 bottles of beer on the wall. After a few moments the noise disappeared. Clouds were moving in across the lake, so I decided to switch spots. As I walked back to the boat ramp,the 2 guys who had been fishing were talking to another guy. They all saw me and said “did you see that big, black bear that just walked out of the bush? Man he was huge!”

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      August 10, 2015

      Yiiiiiiiikkkkeess! Once Darwin and I were hiking around in the backcountry in B.C. (the Rockwall if anyone has been). We kept seeing all these bear digs and little paw prints. We must have been pretty thick, because for some dumb reason we thought it was a small black bear up here in the high alpine. I guess because we only saw the one set of prints. Then, one afternoon we had lunch and a snooze just off trail. As I said, we were in the high alpine so when we hiked further up the meadow, we looked back and saw a momma grizzly with two cubs on the trail where we had just been napping! I guess she’d been digging ground squirrels for a few days and just avoiding us dumb hikers.

  3. Tom
    August 10, 2015

    Great story Sam and I agree, kind of creepy. Kate and I had quite a bizarre camping experience ourselves – actually it was just over a month ago on our way back home from our trip to Oregon.
    I’ve seen many images of the Painted Hills in Oregon over the years and have always wanted to see them for myself, so on our way back home from Oregon we decided to spend the day there. After our visit to the Painted Hills (they are amazing by the way) we drove north looking for a campground to spend the night at.
    We drove by a campground named Bear’s Hollow and drove in to check it out. It was a fairly nice campground with a loop in an open, quiet forest and some spur roads so we chose a spot and started to settle in. The first thing we always do when we arrive at a campsite is to set our van up for sleeping. We have a bed in the back so it’s just a matter of moving things around and on to the front seats. Once we had that done, we started on making dinner – it was around 8pm at this time. As we were cooking our dinner (on a similar stove as yours 🙂 ) we suddenly noticed that we were the only people in the entire campground. There were about 10 -15 other occupied sites in the campground with tents or tent trailers set up. People had left their things all over their picnic tables (some had quite the mess actually) but there were no actual people anywhere- not a single one! It was as though they had all been abducted by aliens or if the area was evacuated for some reason and they forgot to tell us. It was so weird and eerie! We never experienced anything like this anywhere.
    We finished our dinner, washed the dishes and cleaned up, and jumped in to our van even though it was still light outside. Then I made sure that I locked the doors.
    About half an hour later a car came in to the campground, then another, and another. Soon all of the campers were all back and the campground was full of life. It was so strange. I don’t think all of these people were together because they were all camping in different areas of the campground (not all together nor near each other). I also thought that maybe because it was July 4th that they all went to see the fireworks somewhere, but that didn’t make much sense because when they all returned it was still kind of light outside.

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      August 10, 2015

      That is VERY eerie indeed. I’ll have to see your pics sometime – when we manage to get together!!

  4. Bob Melnyk
    August 10, 2015

    Beautiful images… wish I was there… thank you both for sharing.

    Reply
  5. Jeff Lewis
    August 10, 2015

    My wife and I were camping and climbing in the Sierra near Bishop a number of years ago. Being on the road for weeks at a time, we had converted our 1989 GMC Safari into a makeshift camper where we would do most of our sleeping and food prep, but we usually cooked outside and away from the van to keep critters away. On a particularly windy evening we had to use the van as a shield from the wind (and dust) and I’m fairly sure we “may” have dropped a few dinner remains on the ground. Fast forward to late in the night…sometime around midnight, my wife wakes me up..”Did you hear that?!”….I was barely awake, so I’m pretty sure I said not to worry about it, it was most likely just a mouse or something. Just a few minutes later we both hear a pretty loud *thump* on either the side or from underneath the van. At this point my wife was genuinely freaked out and wanted to leave. I assured here that there were no big or dangerous creatures where we were, but she insisted we moved camp. I refused. In a matter of minutes I was bouncing around the back of the van as my wife drove like a madwoman down one of the bumpiest roads I’ve even been on. Pleading with her to slow down so I didn’t rattle my brains out, she made it to a paved road in record time….and parked us in the brightest parking lot in Bishop. “Are you happy now?”, I asked. She smiled and be both tried to sleep it off.

    The next day we returned to our camp to continue climbing and the first thing we saw run by……..a rabbit, right where we had dropped some pasta.

    I’m headed to the Yukon in a few weeks to drive some of the Dempster and then off into the Tombstone’s for a week of backpacking and photography. I can’t wait to drive there from Jasper…should be quite the adventure! Thanks for the inspiration guys!

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      August 10, 2015

      You never know…I read a book as a child about a vampire bunny named Bunnicula…. Enjoy your trip north; it’s going to be amazing.

  6. Andy Simpson
    August 10, 2015

    I can’t bring myself to post my story from camping this summer. This is a family site I presume and I don’t want to gross out your readers. You know what I am referring to!

    Reply
    • Samantha Chrysanthou
      August 10, 2015

      What happens during family camping stays at family camping! 🙂

  7. Chris Greenwood
    August 11, 2015

    On Nathalie’s first ever backpacking trip with a friend she had some ominous noises outside her tent at night. She was on the Assiniboine trail, and there was no-one else at the campsite. She assured her partner it was an Elk. Come morning it turns out it was a grizzly sniffing around. The park ranger they met told them they should have gotten out of the tent and confronted it. Yeah.

    Reply
  8. Paul Sinclair
    August 27, 2015

    It is hard for an Australian to top camping stories involving bears – we have koala bears but unless one fell asleep and dropped out of a tree and hit you on the head they are not usually the source of horror stories. Drunk, gun-toting fishermen on the other hand…
    Around 1983 my wife and I were on an remote coastal extended walk in South West Tasmania.
    The previous year had seen Australia’s biggest conservation battle over the building of a dam on the Franklin River. Conservationists and hikers in that part of Tasmania were very unpopular with many locals and emotions were running hot.
    We didn’t pay much attention to the commercial fishing boat creeping into the small bay below our campsite and happily stoked the campfire.
    A few minutes later some garbled insults were followed by the crack of a rifle and a bullet pinging through the trees above our heads. Another brave (crazy) camper ran down to the water and faced them down while we lay less bravely flat out on the ground.
    I guess the situation presented photographic opportunities but you perhaps understand why the story isn’t supported with an image. You may also understand why on our many return trips to this amazing part of Australia that Kevlar bulletproof jackets became an essential item on our equipment list!

    Reply

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