“I think we need to leave,” Lisa said, shortly after we noticed the orange glow of a descending wildfire.
The mountain range ahead had been emitting a thick haze of smoke since we had returned to the abandoned scout camp a couple hours prior. As we set tents and cooked dinner, our new group of backpackers quietly wondered where all that smoke was coming from. We considered the potential danger, but remained positive. Smack in the middle of British Columbia's wildfire season, skies of billowing smoke weren't out of the normal.
In the context of climate change, however, normal had become a changing term.
According to BC Wildfire Service, the ten-year average for area burned—during the halfway point of wildfire season—was previously 1,050 square kilometres. With 253 active wildfires still raging, British Columbia was now losing over 4,250 square kilometres—substantially higher than the decade's average. The result of this had become apparent as Brent chugged along smokey roads.
The heavy haze filled the air as we hiked near Lake Louise and drove towards YOHO National Park. It had become a standard backdrop of the scenery we navigated through—sometimes blocking the breathtaking views with a cover of white on white. (It had become a bizarre tendency to look up photos of scenic locations on our phones and hold them out before the smoke-covered scenery. "Ah, that's what it looks like!") The mountains took on a different quality as they poked through the smog in distorted definition, quietly looming over us like hiding giants, present but less pronounced, impressive but less in-your-face.
At the scout camp, we watched the sunset with lawn chairs lined-up and drinks in-hand, trying not to focus on the plumes of black and grey filling the purple sky. We looked beyond the bloom of smoke towards the glowing sun that lowered over the forested horizon. The undeniable beauty of our isolated paradise and the good-humoured giggles that come with a cooler of White Claws put us at ease.
That's the thing with travel—you somehow learn to make the most out of whatever circumstances arrive. With an open mind and full heart, you learn to laugh at whatever storm rages your way.
Some storms, however, are more threatening than others.
As we ate a dinner of peppered beef in the mess-hall hut, we first saw that fire raging through the greenery of distant mountains.
We weren't in any immediate danger. The fire was many miles away. But with the inferno's black smoke conquering the sky, we decided it was time to evacuate.
It didn’t take long for us to pack up tents and throw coolers and packs into the trailer. We collected our belongings with calm focus. “We’re good, but we need to go,” I kept saying as I sealed packs and placed bins in the trailer.
"This is such an FML moment," someone said.
Eventually, night fell, and Brent bounded down the gravel road, high-beams cutting through darkness, the scent of ash and smoke filling the air as we sat with sleeping bags on our laps and headlights strapped to our heads. Lisa drove as I sat on a cooler in the aisle, facing the group. Trying to keep everyone’s spirits high, I read one of my old stories I wrote—about a chaotic canoe trip in Algonquin Park—and Brent rolled towards a campground with hopes of finding an available site in YOHO.
We had no luck.
Something that impresses me the most about Lisa is her adaptability. Not only does she often have a list of contingencies for when things go south—she knows how to determine new plans as we hurtle east. That far-reaching adaptability is what brought us to a hotel in Lake Louise Village.
After parking the bus, we grabbed our bags and headed to the hotel lobby, notably out-of-place in our camp gear and dirt-stained skin.
"You goin' on a hike?" one guy—wearing a tank-top, flip flops, and a snarky smirk—called to me in the lobby.
"Nope," I said. "Had to evacuate a wildfire."
"Ah... Sorry to hear." His smirk faded.
Our group split-up into two rooms and dissolved onto white-linen beds that our ground-accustomed backs didn't anticipate. There was an unexpected cheerfulness amidst us, punctuated by the sense of security that comes with shower access and functional plumbing.
Lying in bed, I thought about that old scout camp beneath the burning mountain range. Avoiding sentimentalism, I knew that Camp FML isn't a place. It's not a scenic location that can be threatened by raging flames or natural disaster.
It's a group. It's a mindset. It's smiles and humour and the joy that comes from moving forward without looking back. It's the yearning for adventure and willingness to roll with its tides.
Camp FML is wherever we are.
From the Forests, Mountains, and Lakes,