With all the rain we had this year, I was getting antsy over the summer. I wanted to go backpacking but everything wasn’t working out.
So, I decided to do a solo backpacking trip close to home. I have always wanted to get back to Elk Island National Park and this was a perfect opportunity.
I was nervous. I was scared. But I was also really excited and hopeful. I had my bag packed days in advance and every morning I would take everything out, double check it, and pack it up again.
The day was warm and sunny. There was a slight breeze to keep some of the mosquitoes away when I started. Not many people were out.
It was different scenery than what I was used to in the mountains. It was flatter than I imagined but coming up to cross sections like this was filling a part of me that was a bit empty.
Being by myself had its challenges. When I first started walking, I was aware of all the small sounds around me. Every little rustle or sway elicited anxious thoughts of the animals or dangers that might be around me.
But as time went on and I found my rhythm, I truly started changing my mindset. The rustle sound was just the wind going through the leaves or the night old rain drops falling to the forest floor.
My route took me between Tawayik Lake and Little Tawayik Lake. This was quite a different type of scenery than before. Instead of forest, it was a plain. This tree stood alone in the field. The open space was refreshing. You could see both lakes on either side of you.
The route to my campsite was about 13 km and mostly flat terrain which was nice. It took me about 4 hours to get to Oster Lake Campground.
When I arrived, there were people finishing up a late lunch and some Park Rangers taking photos. I found my campsite in the far corner and started setting up my tent.
I set up camp and relaxed. I later took down my tarp because I didn’t need it.
By 4 pm, the clouds and thunder started rolling in. I could hear it across the lake. Everyone else in the campground had left by this point so I decided to make supper before the rain started.
After my meal, I put all my smelly items in the bear bins at the entrance of the campground. I was the only one staying over night apparently.
The storm rolled in around 5 pm. Big time. The lightning and thunder came almost simultaneously. My tent would light up and a giant crack would echo over my head.
By 8 pm, the storm had passed and I decided to take one more bathroom break. Just in case.
I fell asleep dry and comfortable in my tent. The coyotes were calling but that sound is more familiar than anything else. My parents place backed onto a field so I was used to hearing the coyotes calling me to sleep.
Around midnight I was awoken by a new sound. Something was in the campsite.
A howl. One lone howl.
A wolf was in my campsite. I could hear another one across the lake, answering. It didn’t stay long and I didn’t check it out. But wow, what a sound! It was a lonely, piercing howl. When the other wolf replied, you could tell they were communicating something deep and primal. It was extraordinary.
At 2 am, I was awoken by another sound. This time it was gruff and huffing. Of course, this was also the time my bladder decided to tell me we had to use the bathroom. Of course. The huffing sounded far away so I decided to venture out.
I had my pocket knife and headlamp on. When I stepped out of the tent, it was pitch black and dense fog. I couldn’t see my picnic table from my tent.
Being brave somehow, I headed for the outhouses.
I was half way there when out of the fog, two reflected lights blinked in my direction. One light appeared at first, then the other turned toward me. It was eyes. They were tall and at least eye level with me. I couldn’t see anything else besides those two specks of light looking in my direction.
I turned around, peed in the bush, and got back into my tent. Nothing followed me to my tent but man was my heart pounding!
At 6 am, I was awoken by the huffing sound again. I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know which animal had come back or how close they were. So I did what any modern woman would do.
I turned on my phone, reached under my fly, and took a picture.
As you can see, my campsite was home to two bison. They must have been there all night and that is what I almost ran into at 2 am.
They were beautiful but large. The sound I was hearing was them grazing on the grass and flowers around me. They created large dirt imprints where they had laid down. Obviously they didn’t care about me which was helpful. I did not want to get into a tussle with them! So I watched some Netflix until 8:30 am. By this point, both of the bison were laying down and I was getting hungry.
So I called the Parks Office desk. I spoke to a very nice lady who told me that this is one of their favorite morning spots! I wasn’t surprised by this at all. I knew that I wasn’t supposed to get closer than 100 m and they were definitely within that range. She also said that if I talk calmly, the bison will realize humans are around (they don’t like us apparently) and will make their way out of there.
Hanging up, I turned on Netflix but at full volume. I figured “The Office” could do the talking for me.
Sure enough, within 5 minutes they had moved away. I got out of the tent, thankful for the stretch and sunshine and looked around the corner.
The bison had lain down by the bear bins and outhouses. Great.
So I laid out my tent to dry out in the sun and sat on a bench to watch the sun bounce off the lake and the birds going about their morning routine. It was peaceful.
By 11:00 am, the bison still hadn’t moved. I had to pack up, eat breakfast and move on.
I turned up “The Office” and inched closer to the bear bins. It took awhile but I eventually got close enough that they moved on their own and I could get my food.
By 11:30 am I was packed up and ready to go. I ate trail mix for breakfast and had my pack ready to go.
I laughed out loud when Parks Rangers drove into the campsite at this point. Of course they showed up now! They got into a canoe and went on the lake.
I decided I wanted to take the shorter (3 km) route back instead of the original route (7 km). Well, I turned the corner and the bison were on the trail toward the shorter route!
Of course they were.
I tried inching around them but one of the bison was staring me down. I was too close. I backed away and went the opposite way.
I took the long route back.
I didn’t put enough mosquito spray on. After the storm, the trail was muddy and mucky. The mosquitoes were eating the back of my arms and any piece of skin they could find. The trail was more of a swamp in some places.
There were lots of fresh droppings from bison but I didn’t see a single mammal on the trail back.
What a trip it was. I made it back safe and sound.
I was so proud of myself for sticking it out, staying safe, and being brave enough to do this on my own. It was a crazy adventure and my family still gets a hoot out of it.
Have you been solo backpacking before? What made it unique?