Wilderness Camping Where Polar Bears Roam
I admit it—I’m the kind of camper who likes four-solid walls around me. But I’ve enjoyed the non-traditional tent-camping trips I’ve gone on, including wilderness camping at Polar Bear Provincial Park where polar bears roam freely and you don’t walk around without a rifle-carrying guide to accompany you.
A few years ago, I was invited to join a six-person group in August for a three-day ‘roughing it’ expedition to look for polar bears at Polar Bear Provincial Park, located on the southern shores of Hudson Bay and home to the world’s most southerly place for polar bears in the wild. AirCreebec flew us to the Cree community of Peawanuck on the Winisk River and that’s where we met up with our host-guide Sam Hunter and his two assistants. We loaded up in two motorized freighter canoes for the three-hour journey (about 35 km/22 miles) to our park basecamp at the end of the Winisk River.
That night we dined on caribou stew and bannock by the bonfire, and later headed to our four-person yurt-style tents and cozy sleeping bags on mattresses. A touring kayak group had joined us that evening, setting up their tents on the camping site.
Then came the night and the dilemma of having to visit the outside privy about 75 feet away and wondering, “What if I meet up with a wandering polar bear on site, or our guide with a rifle mistakes me for a polar bear and shoots?” And once I thought about it, the more I needed to make that jaunt. Quietly, I peeked out of the tent at the almost pitch-black night, selected the shortest route to the privy, and then, with my heart thumping, focused on reaching that privy door. Got there—mission accomplished. I then quickly retraced my steps back to the yurt.
The next day, after a breakfast of pancakes, eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast and coffee, we took turns boarding flights in a Beaver bush plane to fly over the park and search for polar bears from the air. Over the next couple of hours, I saw 21 polar bears in the wild.
Later that evening—as we were mulling around after a supper of sea trout, potatoes and corn—I thought I was seeing my first UFO sighting. Someone had called out, “Is that a UFO in the sky?” We all looked up at a bright round light above us moving strangely in the sky. A short while later, one of the kayakers joined us and had an answer—it wasn’t a UFO. Rather, it was “scrambled light” phenomena where a bright star appears to be moving as its star light travels from the top of Earth’s atmosphere to the ground.
My non-traditional camping in polar bear country had many ‘wow’ moments, from seeing the bears in the wild, flying over Hudson Bay to walking through wildflowers in full bloom on what had once been ancient hunting grounds.
By Elle Andra-Warner
Just Get Out There
The first time we took Sylvia camping, she was five months old. We paddled straight away from our cabin, took two small portages and made camp less than two miles as the crow flies from home. She doesn’t remember it, but perhaps the tent smell, the pine needles, and the campfire smoke all took hold. She’s now five years old. Every year we’ve ventured on several camping trips. Sometimes we car camp, but often we load up the canoe with a family size tent, a dog or two and enough snacks to get us several miles into the wilderness.
Sylvia will tell you she loves camping. She doesn’t necessarily love the traveling part yet, though she’s endured some long portages, high waves and long paddles to get to the next rocky outcrop. Over the past five years, we’ve learned how to make camping fun and so far, it’s paying off. Here are my top five “musts” for our family camping adventures.
Always bring s’mores. I personally feel that roasting a marshmallow and indulging in a s’more is what makes camping great. Sylvia is a fan of marshmallows plain or roasted.
Hammock. We enjoy having a lightweight hammock tied up between two trees. Sylvia will spend hours asking us to push her back and forth. If we are lucky, she will let us join her in the hammock.
Child size paddle and camping chair. Sylvia has her own paddle and camping chair. A little ownership of key gear goes a long way. Her paddle stroke improves each year.
Snacks and more snacks. Our child is addicted to snacks. Some of them are healthy, some of them not. We have found that a nice supply of interesting, new, tasty snacks is one way to capture Sylvia’s interest while trekking down the lake.
Just Be. At one point in my life, pre-child, Matt and I paddled and portaged many miles a day. Now we spend a lot more time in the campsite, playing in the tent, swinging in the hammock, and exploring the woods and trails.
Our tradition is just to get out there. Allow time for rest and relaxation and camping becomes fun. Last year, the main Boundary Waters trip we planned was cancelled due to the fires and closure of the BWCAW. This year we have an even better trip planned. Whether it’s a new entry point, a great campsite, blueberries or wildlife sighting, the camping trips are always memorable. All three of us can’t wait.
By Erin Altemus