Camping Accidents


(This 1227th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on September 28, 2014.)


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My Camping Hammock


My first canoe trip was in Algonquin Park over seventy years ago. There were nine of us in three of Camp Pathfinder's red canvas canoes. Our route I would learn later was a common starter and not too stressful. We were out five days.


From our put-in at Brule Lake we headed up through Rosswood and Straight Shore Lakes to camp on McIntyre Lake. The second day we paddled through Grassy Bay and White Trout Lake to Big Trout Lake where we spent a day camping on the north shore. Our return was up through the Otterslides to camp at the north end of Burnt Island Lake and from there we got to our Source Lake destination through Linda, Owl, Raven and Bruce Lakes.


I suspect that everyone recalls their first such trip as I do with great affection. There was the challenge of carrying for the first time a hundred pound canoe. Those were before the days of aluminum and kevlar that would over time reduce that weight by half. The hardest part was lifting the canoe at the outset; from there I found it easier than carrying the heavy packs.


In fact, even though we had to double back to pick up extra packs, I found portaging easier than paddling. The trick in paddling is to get in a kind of groove so you don't think about getting tired. That is easier said than experienced.


And of course there were problems: shallow water that demanded lining the canoe, beaver dams (to which an extra n was often assigned) that required managing, inevitably leading to boots filled with water, and false leads through marshes requiring quarter-mile reversals.


All that sounds to many people more like work than play, but to us it was incomparable fun. As it is today for so many.

The most interesting incident on that hike came the first night on our Big Trout Lake campsite. That breezy evening we huddled around the campfire telling ghost stories. Then off to bed. The campers normally slept in tents and we counselors slept under a tarp that was held up by a canoe on its side. It was like an open lean-to. No mosquito netting sometimes led to problems but on this windy night that was the least of our worries.


The wind continued to increase and began to blow rain in off the lake so we brought another canoe up. Now we had a canoe at our head and one at our feet holding up the tarp. The campers from one of the tents had joined us so we had six tightly squeezed under it.


Overnight the storm played itself out, but in the morning when I woke in the middle of that group I found the tarp billowing down within an inch of my sleeping bag. It had filled with water. Without thinking, I pushed up the bulge to send the water cascading out the sides. Unfortunately that sent it directly into the sleeping bags of the outer sleepers. They looked like drowned rats. Fortunately we had the next day to dry out those bags.


I thought of that stupid trick this summer when I spent a night camping in the Southern Tier. To follow this story you have to understand how my hammock works. A line is stretched between two trees and the hammock hangs below that line. It is a closed sack and I lie with only mosquito netting over me. But before I enter the hammock I stretch a tarp over the line to protect myself from rain.


All went well that night even though it did rain very hard. But at 5:30 a.m. I was awakened by a loud snap and I looked up into morning light and heavy rain. The tarp was gone and my sleeping bag and I were in a shower bath.


What had happened: I had lost one of the two stakes that held the tarp in place and I had tied that corner to a tree. Unfortunately that created a basin that filled with water and finally whipped out the opposite stake.


By the time I got out of the hammock I was at least as wet as were those unfortunate campers so many years ago. Payback time had finally arrived.