3 girls and a (not) bear-proof tent

Posted by on Oct 8, 2013 in Camping, Canada, National Parks | 14 comments

3 girls and a (not) bear-proof tent

Beth (from Texas), Abbey (from Kentucky) and I set off to hike and camp for five days in Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario, Canada in the most glorious mid-September autumn weather. We set up camp at dusk by a beautiful tree-lined lake and read about bears by torchlight around the fire.

“Great” said Abbey “Randy moose and hungry bears”.


Each night we have to ‘bear bag’ all the food.  Abbey brought a 100 foot rope, so we spend some time looking for suitably spaced trees with the right kind of branches.  Abbey hurls the rope over the branch of one tree, then we go round and round the tree, over logs and through bushes, dragging the tangled rope behind and finally secure it to that tree, then do the same to the next tree with the other end of the rope, but leaving it loose so we can winch up the bags after dinner.  The line between the trees needs to be low enough so we can reach it.  Tall people (me) and long sticks come in quite useful.

After dinner we put all the food and toiletries into our two waterproof canoeing bags and secure them to the rope with a dangly bag of ‘noise’, such as pots and cutlery, then we all heave on the rope, giggling and straining in the dark, shouting orders or making useful but unintelligible comments with torches in various states of disrepair stuffed under chins or in mouths.  We’ve found it easier if the tall person, that’s me, pushes up under the bags to take the weight off them which is easier said than done as they wobble when hanging precariously from a rope.  They have to be hauled up to at least ten feet and far enough from each tree that bears can’t reach out if they climb the tree.  It seems bears are not only big and scary, but also highly intelligent, cunning, run fast and can climb trees as well as swim.


We spent several perfect days wandering through colourful spruce, beech and maple forests examining scats and footprints and catching frogs. We walked through beech forests, with little open spiky nuts scattered over the forest floor, then up through tall spruce or fir trees, then back through the maple forest with a bright salmon orange canopy, especially where the sun hits the leaves at the top.  Some tiny maple trees with only their first two leaves and standing all of one centimetre tall, are the most brilliant red of all.

There are mushrooms and fungi of all shapes, sizes and colours, including a dark green mushroom and many little cream ones with pink stained water inside as though someone had syringed a few drops of coccineal or beetroot juice into each one.

We saw bracket fungi 8 inches in diameter with rings of subdued autumn colours matching those in the forest – ochres, purples, browns and ending with a rim of cream.  It could have been a photo of Saturn’s rings.  We saw fungi that looked just like dead coral and others that look and feel cold and clammy and shiny like big blobs of brown slime. Others looked like little overcooked grains of white rice scattered along the path.

There’s such a wonderful variety of smells as we walk through the forest – sweet smells, musty smells, mouldy, damp smells, floral and spicy smells as well as various animal smells, nearly all of which are deliciously unknown to me, being Australian.

We passed behind a beaver dam which looked like nothing more than a few sticks laid up against a bonfire on the outer edge, but it held back an entire lake.  We saw many tracks, some of which we later identified as wolf, moose, red fox and deer and many scats, mostly moose, but also some which were probably ermine or mink.  Fortunately we didn’t see any bears.

The weather was glorious, days around 20 degrees C (68 F), quite hot walking but we were mostly in shade and nights around 6 deg C (42 F).  We were almost constantly by lakes so were able to swim three times each day and light a fire at night. In the mornings and evenings we sat on the rocks by the water and watched the sun light up the trees to a brilliant red across the lake.

Our conversations were fun. By the time we converted everything from US dollars, imperial measures and Farenheit into metric, Celsius, Australian dollars via Canadian dollars and back again, and dealt with three different accents, we could all be very confused.


On the last day, Beth came back from the bush with a billy of deliciously half-rotted leaf litter and mud, a ‘special concoction’ for our hair, as we didn’t want to pollute the lakes with shampoo and hadn’t washed our hair for five days.  There wasn’t much to lose so we sat naked in the lake and gingerly plastered our heads with her ‘special’ mud.  She instructed that it should be left for five minutes so we shivered while mud trickled down our backs and wiped it from our faces.  When it came time to rinse it out, it took a lot of perseverance and scrubbing to remove the grit and grime.  Beth was excited with the results and insisted that her hair was indeed glossier than before.  I wasn’t completely convinced, but it was certainly no worse than it had been.

I can highly recommend a few days hiking and camping in Algonquin Provincial Park (or probably any national park really) with girlfriends.  What a treat to remember. This was actually taken from my journal from several years ago.  I dedicate this to Abbey who sadly, has since passed away.


  1. tammer1001@gmail.com'

    Sounds wonderful!
    Travels with Tam recently posted…A Message from RandyMy Profile

    • Thanks Tam, It really was a memory I’ll carry forever. The girlfriends, the lakes, the glorious autumn forests, the giggles….

  2. leigh_mcadam@telus.net'

    I can relate on several fronts. I canoed Algonquin Park – only for three days in May of this year and it was glorious, if a little chilly at night. And this summer I did a ton of hiking and backpacking, some by myself. I ran into mama bear and two cubs alone with no one around on a hike in Nova Scotia. I have since decided that I will go to Canadian Tire and buy an inexpensive air horn to carry with me as you can’t take bear spray or bangers on a plane and I was too cheap to buy them.
    I’m sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I’m glad you have good memories.
    Leigh recently posted…Hiking the Skyline Trail in Jasper National ParkMy Profile

    • Wow Leigh! What an adventure. Your heart-rate must have doubled when you ran into those bears. What an exhilarating memory. I haven’t heard about the air horn. That’s good advice, especially these days when a lot of things are banned from flights. Yes, it’s precious to have memories of Abbey. I also did a whirlwind trip right across the USA in 3 days with her. I might write about that too, although everything went by so fast, there’s not much to write!

  3. awflyer@sbcglobal.net'

    Oh wow Jane by the title I thought a bear had gotten into your tent! I loved this story as it completely reminded me of my step father’s own version of an Outward Bound trip he took me on. We drove from Central California to Northern British Columbia to a very isolated lake. There were no amnenities AT ALL. Thank you again for the great memory! 🙂
    Mike recently posted…How To Make Your First Roast Duck A Delicious SuccessMy Profile

    • Thanks Mike, I’m so glad you enjoyed the story and that it brought back fond memories. That must have been a wonderful trip you did with your step father – it’s a long drive. Those are such precious memories that last forever. I hope the title wasn’t too misleading, but I’m absolutely certain that the tent wasn’t bear-proof and thankful that a bear didn’t test that theory.

  4. jo.cstr1@gmail.com'

    What a lovely hike and with a wonderful bunch of girls too. I love the picture I have in my mind of you all in the lake with a mud shampoo on your hair! What a beautiful dedication for Abby too.
    Johanna recently posted…The camels of Cable BeachMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Johanna, I really appreciate your comments. Girlfriends are so special – I mostly travel alone so this is a particularly special memory and so nice to have wonderful memories with Abbey. It would be fun to have a photo of us sitting in the lake with mud in our hair, but it’s a vivid enough memory. I can still feel the slop running down my face and back and the chill of the late afternoon lake water!

  5. DevlinParsa6440@aol.com'

    My wife and I enjoy this website so much, saved to my book marks.

    • Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoy the site and I really appreciate your comment.

  6. gracecinotti@gmail.com'

    That sounds a lot of fun. It’s been awhile since I went camping. Good old days.
    Grace Cinotti recently posted…synergy spanishMy Profile

    • Thanks very much Grace. I’m glad the post brought some happy memories for you.

  7. chinhoobler@gmail.com'

    Sounds fun to me!
    Shaun Hoobler recently posted…app dev secretsMy Profile

    • Sure was fun. Thanks for visiting the site, Shaun.

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