Sunday, August 26, 2012

Camping in ZEC Lavigne, firebuilding for fun and profit!

 To be honest, there was no profit to be made in fire building. Although useful and entertaining, it was not a ready source of income. This was the textual equivalent of screaming the word sex in a crowded room to get everyone’s attention. Clearly, if you are reading this, it may have worked!

This three day excursion was a physically demanding and challenging proposition: an 8.4km hike to the campground with everything carried on our backs. It was a great way to get back to nature, giving us direct access to vistas often missed by car and ATV drivers because of the speeds involved in their journeys.

The roads were clearly not designed for human traffic. These dirt roads were rock-strewn, the hills steep and they climbed fast. No effort was made to make off ramps or shoulders. We were lucky enough not to travel at night as vehicle traffic was fairly constant. Good news for us: the weather played in our favor. Although a few drops did fall, it ended quickly, leaving us not the worse for wear. We were privileged to see some great views of the rolling hills and a couple of lakes, making the hike in well worth it.


The camp site was a large and fairly well maintained area, surrounded by trees and far enough away from the main access road to make visitors easily noticeable. We had ready access to firewood (of the five finger discount variety) and lake water which we drank with no ill effects (with minimal filtering). A picnic table was available, as well as a metal garbage can with lid. There was enough flat ground to set up at least 4 small tents. We only had two, therefore leaving a lot of room for a very large fire pit. Bathroom facilities were of the do it yourself variety. Thankfully, gardening trowels had been brought. We learned later that this campground is used as a staging area for fishing trips on Bouchard Lake. There was a fair bit of garbage lying about. As an afterthought, we should have kept the empty beer cans for cash.

One of the many pleasant surprises about this ZEC was the large number of hiking trails in and around the area where we were. We actually managed to get some hiking done on day two, travelling back to lac sauvage, an area disturbingly close to the start of our adventure, on a far more direct route (although more dangerous to travel). The views on the lake and the brook leading to it from the path’s start were great. It was a worthy way to spend a morning.

Trail to Lac Sauvage

The rest of our time was spent doing camp chores, which mostly involved prepping fire wood and maintaining the fire. Getting dry dead wood proved to be a challenge, but nothing a group of determined men couldn’t handle. We managed to procure and baton a good quantity of wood, which allowed us to cook and keep the cold at bay.

How to split logs with a knife

And it did get cold. The second night in was colder than the mean seasonal averages. A pair of long johns would have been great to have. I’ll try to remember for next time. Although I have an excellent sleeping bag, a Marco by Asolo, it does tend to have a problem with colder temperature. I would define that as anything below 5 degrees Celsius. This is spot on with the product description, to my complete amazement.

 Fire building was a bit of a challenge. The perfect deadwood, still standing, eluded us all week-end. We were force to resort to birch bark and pine boughs to get the heat going enough to dry out our logs. It did work, but Friday night was a long battle to get the fire going, delaying supper for far too long for three very hungry campers. Regardless, it was good practice in Firecraft.

After Saturday night’s heavy cold and heavier fire (we actually got the flames up to 11 feet at one point), it became easy to cook the morning’s breakfast on the remaining hot coals. Needless to say, it took a lot of water to put the thing out before we left.

Fire Frenzy for the last night

The hike back to “civilization” was not an easy one. In a rush to get back, I did not pace myself enough, needing longer breaks along the way. My handy tripod stool was used, helping to take a load off my (at that point) very sore feet. We did stop off a few times to snap some pictures and take our packs off, however, we managed to do the trek back in an hour less than the trip in. This should become a yearly event for our group. We all enjoyed it a great deal, testing ourselves and learning a great deal about ourselves along the way. I feel that most people could benefit from week-ends like this, getting back in touch with a lost part of our collective roots as settlers and explorers. Learning to work with nature again instead of ignoring it from the relative safety of our towns and cities is something that everyone should try and do.

Zen night in nature
Gear review!

While on the subject of gear, this was my 3rd outing with my Eureka bella coola 3. I feel that it is an excellent option for backpacking. Its specs mean that even taller folks can get in comfortably, even with two large packs. Remember to always use a simple formula when shopping for tents: reported size -1. So, my bella coola 3 is really a 2 person tent.

 I have also had the opportunity to confirm my hypothesis concerning my MSR pocket rocket: it is not designed to work with my MSI bugaboo. We had another incident while boiling potatoes… It was grim. Several Bothans died. Seriously though, the main cook pot is too large for the pocket rocket. I’ll use my pinnacle dualist instead next time.

 The final piece of gear I’ve used and recommend is the Neoair trekker by Thermarest. I have some back problems. Sleeping on this mat actually helped, something my oversized and expensive bed at home fails to deliver. The Neoair does have two drawbacks: the price and the noise it makes when moving on it. Although less noisy than the previous version, it’s still pretty annoying. My “roommate” said it wasn’t that bad. Then again, it wasn’t his ear on the damned thing. Still, great comfort if you can spare the cash.

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