The Ontario-born pro kayaker Benny Marr has paddled the wildest rivers all over the globe and slept in some crazy places. We asked him for his most memorable and remote campsites.
words :: Benny Marr.
A campsite can make its way to your Top Five by hitting high scores in diverse and random categories. An epic setting and/or big view can underscore the life decisions that brought you to that moment—which will likely foster a deeper relationship to the outdoors. The site may make the list because of its proximity to terrain that boasts a best-in-class feature for your outdoor discipline. And perhaps the approach to the site was special or difficult? Exhaustion can rule over setting when you have earned a deep sleep immersed in a natural soundscape.
Strongwater Camping & Cabins, Sunshine Coast, Egmont, B.C.
As a native Ontarian, coastal B.C. is a feast for the senses. The sight and smell of the ocean, the old-growth forests covered in vibrant green moss, the colourful starfish clinging to the shore during the ebb and flow of the tides—this is all new. Outside of Egmont, the ocean creates a standing wave through Skookumchuck Narrows. The wave is a fantastic and famous surf spot. Though a pay-access campground, Strongwater has a strong place on my list because of the amount of time I’ve comfortably passed there on surfing trips.
Hawaii Rapid, Mistassibi River, Quebec
“The river is remote, the nearby towns are small, the locals are friendly and have always accommodated kayakers from around the world who come to shred…”–Benny Marr
During spring snow runoff, the Mistassibi River boasts more large standing river waves in a 70-km section than any other river in the world. Midway through the rapid that holds four of these top-quality waves is a unique tubing feature named “Hawaii”.
The river is remote, the nearby towns are small, the locals are friendly and have always accommodated kayakers from around the world who come to shred. Camping beside Hawaii is too loud to be soothing, but access and proximity to a rapid of this size is rare.
Catfish Lake, Algonquin Provincial Park, Ontario
My grandmother left us a list of five places she wanted her ashes to be left. As a family, including Gran, we tripped in Algonquin Park every summer until the draw of whitewater shifted our summer trips to the Madawaska and Ottawa Rivers (still including Gran). After almost 25 years I returned to Algonquin Park with a small amount of Gran’s ashes. Close to 250 km of paddling and portaging took me to her favourite campsite on Catfish Lake, then into the Madawaska River where I relived my earliest water memories in the rapids where I learned to kayak.
My dad later confirmed that I landed on the very island Gran loved. The sunset, the tribute whiskey Manhattan (her drink of choice ) and the quiet time spent in the cool fall evening was a different kind of peak experience. I was there for her by her request. It’s a beautiful memory for me, and a very cool way to feel close to someone who has passed.
Wolf Tracks Camp, Stikine River, British Columbia
Though increasing in annual descents, the Stikine River remains a Class V testing ground for expert-only whitewater kayakers.
The Grand Canyon of the Stikine is within the 80-km section that challenges kayakers over a two-day effort. Midway is a beach where the first group of the year will find only animal tracks while the last group will see evidence of every trip’s footprints that season. A nearby creek for water and a beautiful angled boulder for protection from rain puts this campsite—accessible only by Class V kayaking—high on my list.
Benny Marr’s Dream Wave, Cross Lake, Manitoba
My all-time number one site. Provisioned for a two-week raft support expedition, we came across the biggest, best, standing river wave of our lives on Cross Lake (Nelson River) in northern Manitoba and set up camp.
We flew over the section first and saw the wave; I kept my optimism at bay but it seemed that we were onto a winner. Upon arrival, we knew. Rarely do waves stand up so tall and consistently when that much water is creating them.
We dubbed it “Dream Wave” and it was a nearly perfect feature. I could hear it at night and see it through my tent window every morning of the seven we spent camped on shore, scattered into different sub-camps. I claimed my spot pretty quickly. —ML
This article is from the summer Camping Issue of Mountain Life–Blue Mountains.