Tucked into the spraydeck of my canoe I examined the sky, calculating how much time we had before the next squall hit, hoping we would make it to camp in time. For the past several days, dark, looming clouds threatened from the west, ready to unleash another afternoon monsoon. At this moment, I and five other women were well into the rhythm of a sixteen-day canoe trip, exploring the rivers of Spatsizi Plateau Wilderness Provincial Park in northern British Columbia.
Checking the map, I knew we were getting close to a good campsite on a large gravel bar at the confluence of an unnamed river that flows into the Stikine. These maps, published in the 1960s, are the only USGS maps that exist of the area. “Location approximate,” warnings scatter the topographical features, along with labels of grand icefields that melted long ago. Accessible only by bush flight or backpacking, the remoteness of this wilderness was palpable. The only signs of traffic were prints left by wolf, bear, and moose.
Just beyond a bend in the river, I could see a creek on river left, rushing into the Stikine with a deep eddy, promising Arctic grayling and rainbow trout. I signaled to the other boats to eddy out: This looked like our spot, and none too soon. Raindrops sprinkled my shoulders, and like a racecar pit crew, the six of us sprang into action de-rigging boats and setting up camp, trying to beat the impending downpour.
I grabbed our tents and within minutes, we had three Comfort 3’s set up each with a rainfly staked down and guyed out for extra stability. The durable DAC poles are connected as one unit, making it easy to figure out where they attach. Having two doors and two vestibules, the Comfort 3 provided us with convenient exits and plenty of room to protect our gear from the elements. No crawling soaked over your tent mate. No climbing back over her to pee. And tonight, like every other night, the PU coated rainfly would keep us warm and dry, withstanding high winds and torrential rain with nary a dribble on the tent floor.
As the storm escalated, we piled into our cozy shelters to wait it out. But the waiting was its own joy. We belted out ‘90s hits, endured the inevitable carbohydrate induced farts, and reflected on what it was like to be part of an all-female trip. Combined, we had thousands of days of wilderness exploration and yet only a portion of them were shared among groups composed exclusively of women. The time felt more sacred somehow, borrowed from busy lives as full-time social workers, journalists, grant writers, and community organizers.
In these weeks together, we were free to be ourselves: frolicking along sandy beaches and unafraid to voice our opinions when faced with group decisions. We fantasized where our next trip would take us – the Noatak, which runs through Alaska’s Gates of the Artic National Park? The Kluane, in western Yukon Territory? We wondered how to inspire other women to adventure to wild places. As the rain dissipated, we emerged from our shelters – still dry, and now just a little bit cozier, to take in the stunning scene. Mist rose off of the Stikine and the late afternoon light hinted of rainbow in the fracturing clouds.