Feature Trip: Solo Camping in Little Harbour, NS

Despite the remarkably short, unchallenging, and uneventful paddle to a tiny island in Little Harbour, Nova Scotia, my first solo camping experience will stand out as an eventful personal milestone.

Last season I checked off a longish solo day paddle from my list of “to have” experiences. I’ve since followed that up with a number of longer day paddles and I truly enjoy the freedom of going at my own pace and challenging myself to achieve speed and distance milestones. Although a solo camping trip was indeed on my list for the 2016 paddling season, the funny thing is that I wasn’t even planning it for this weekend — it just worked out that way.

I was attending the second weekend of the Committed 2 The Core Instructor Training program, which Christopher Lockyer was conducting in one of his favourite classroom settings at Little Harbour. A two-hour drive from my home in Hubbards, I planned to stay overnight and discussed camping on an island with my fellow students. But at the end of the first day I discovered that Sarah was heading to Halifax, Ryan was sleeping in his car, and Quiller had brought a 4-person tent that was unsuitable for kayak camping. Having my heart set on camping on an island, and with terrier-like tenacity to pursue my goal, I packed up my boat and headed out.

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With barely enough room to pitch my tent, this is the only suitable camp spot on Johns Island

Less than a half nautical mile from the Little Harbour public wharf, Johns Island seemed unremarkable. It took less than 10 minutes to paddle to the sandy beach, which was easy to land on. I’d played around here before and considered it more of a rock feature than an island but tonight it would be my home. I scouted the densely-treed islet for spots to erect my tent and determined that the small patch of grass at the top end of the beach was the only suitable candidate.

There wasn’t much to explore on Johns. I found the small but charming memorial that Christopher mentioned on the northwest corner and took some photographs as the sun set. I reflected on this first opportunity to be truly alone to make all decisions myself with no negotiation. I also considered what I would do if I sprained my ankle or broke a wrist as I scrambled over rocks. Putting worry aside, I set my alarm and went to bed just after a rather spectacular sunset.

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Where NOT to leave your boat: this beach is covered by water at high tide.

The lobster fishermen were up and at it around 3:30am, leaving the harbour at high tide when they could get to traps set in the most shallow spots. I listened to the water lapping, now much closer to my tent that I had set up at low tide. I remembered working on hanging draws with Christopher just a few years ago in the slot where I landed my kayak and considered that the water was now fairly close to my campsite. I was reassured by my decision earlier not only to pull my boat right up to the trees but also to tie it with my tow belt.

I woke in the morning before my alarm and prepared a modest breakfast of coffee and boiled eggs. It didn’t take long to deconstruct my little camp and pack it back up in my boat. A few minutes later I was back at the public wharf where Sarah had just arrived.

My solo camping trip, albeit unexpected, was as wonderful as it was simple. I look forward to doing it again. The next time I’ll go farther, I’ll stay longer, and perhaps there will be a be a taller tale to tell in the end.

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