Almost everyone I know loves a good camping trip. Time spent in the great outdoors among friends is something you just can’t beat as an adventurer. But what if you were forced to camp alone? Could you still enjoy yourself? How safe would you feel and why would you do it anyway? These are some of the questions I had to ask myself before I set out on my first solo camping trip. If your thinking of going camping alone you definitely want to read this. I’ll show you how I survived camping in the great outdoors on my own. I’ll also share a few horror stories about solo campers that will spook you into being more aware of your surroundings!
Why Would Anyone Want To Camp Alone?
Good question! I don’t think the average person ever intentionally prefers to camp alone. It sometimes just works out that way. At least that was my reasoning. I was in between jobs and had a free week off. Everyone I knew was busy working and couldn’t take any time off. Instead of the “stay-cation” option which to me never feels much like a vacation at all, I decided to go it alone on a 2-night camping trip to Sequoia National Park.
There are definitely people that prefer solo camping. I’m just not one of them. I do understand the notion of being distraction free and completely at peace when your surrounded by nature. I also understand the contentment you feel when you can prove to yourself you can survive on your own. I guess I just enjoy the safety and camaraderie that only a group of friends can provide. When it boils down to it, though, I’d rather go camping alone than not go camping at all. So on this trip that’s the way it was going to have to be.
Take Time To Build Your Solo Skills
There is a big difference between a person who camps solo all the time and a beginner. The word is EXPERIENCE. If you’re a beginner, you basically don’t have much. Well sure you know how to pitch a tent and start a fire, but you might not realize all the other things you’ve depended on from your camping buddies. For me it’s cooking. It’s a skill that I’m excellent at when I’m at home with a stove and a fridge full of ingredients. But when camping I relied a little too heavily on my friend Steven who was the unofficial camp chef on most of our trips. This time I’d have to do the cooking on my own. Gulp.
Also if your a beginner, don’t plan on conquering the Alaskan tundra by yourself. Build up your skills by doing something a little easier and safer. I knew that although it was the off season, the campsites in Sequoia would be pretty safe. More than likely there would be a camp host nearby should I need anything. If I could survive this trip then I’d build confidence and probably consider other solo trips in the future. Oh, and it’s a good idea to let at least one person know your itinerary. You don’t want to end up like Aron Ralston, the man who was forced to amputate his own arm in order to remove himself from a boulder which had pinned him in a Utah canyon. Fortunately he survived but he might have been rescued earlier had someone known where he was hiking.
Embrace The Solitude
I won’t lie. I was totally nervous about camping alone. I had no idea what I was getting myself into but the further I drove from home the more I felt okay about my decision to take this trip. I had just driven by an incredible display of wildflowers near Gorman, CA and decided to stop to take a look. You can read about my experience exploring the wildflowers here. After I returned to my truck I drove on feeling very rejuvenated and less worried. If I had been driving with others, I probably wouldn’t have ever stopped off the side of the road to explore.
I arrived in Sequoia and quickly found the campsite I had reserved for the night. It was a nice spot right next to a babbling brook. There weren’t too many other campers but there was a nice elderly couple close by so I felt safe. After setting up my tent I set out to explore the area. My first stop was Sequoia National Park’s Giant Forest so I could marvel at the size of the General Sherman Tree. Wow, it’s massive!
“By volume, the General Sherman Tree is the largest known living single stem tree on Earth.”
I had someone take a quick picture of me in front of the giant tree (that’s what people used to do before the term “selfies” was invented). Then I drove down the Generals Highway to the Giant Forest Museum. It was mid-spring so there was a little bit of snow on the ground. There were lots of other people walking around so again I felt a sense of relief. Safety in numbers you know? A sign up ahead read “Big Trees Trail”. I had hiked this trail in the summer when the park was swarming with guests. It would be a nice change of scenery to see these giant trees in a transitional season.
The trees looked as magnificent as ever. It was cold and there was a bit of a fog hanging low which made the area look eerily peaceful. The trail is only a 1.3 mile loop which I figured was perfect since I didn’t have much time left that first day. As I walked the trail alone, I think I noticed trees I had never really noticed before. Like the tree that looks like it is either kissing or about to swallow the large boulder. So weird…it looks like the tree has eyes! I really never noticed this tree before.
Everything looked so pristine. The moss that hung on the tree bark seemed so fresh and the air felt so crisp. The few people that were around seemed to quickly disappear and I was okay with that. I had started feeling selfishly happy that I was the only one here enjoying this place at this moment in time.
Prepare for things to go wrong
All of a sudden when I was close to the end of the trail, it started to snow. I raced down the trail and ducked under the roof of a wooden structure for cover. It started snowing hard! I continued to run towards the Giant Forest Museum but realized that while I was on the trail the museum had closed for the day. All the cars that were in the parking lot when I had arrived were now gone! What the heck? Had I been on the trail that long?
“Well I guess I’d better leave” I thought. I drove down Generals Highway back towards my campground when I felt my truck start to swerve off the road. There was a lot of snow on the road and although I was driving slow, my truck kept hydroplaning. I held on to the steering wheel tightly, drove as slow as I possibly could and sweated bullets the rest of the way. That was definitely a white knuckle experience if there ever was one.
I guess the moral of this part of the story is to prepare in advance for things to go wrong. Sure you can’t guard against everything, but I certainly could have brought chains for my truck knowing the season I was visiting the park. Plan out your day and have emergency kits on hand. Carry a cell phone or extra batteries in case you need to make a call. You just never know.
Let All Your Worries Go Away
I made it down the mountain to an elevation below the snow level. Finally the roads cleared up and my truck regained it’s stability. Whew, that was pretty scary. On the way to the campsite I pulled off to the side of the road to watch a deer emerge from behind a tree. It’s an amazing thing to see wildlife in their natural settings. And you know what? This deer was alone. Well not really because I was there too.
I arrived at my campsite and decided to call it a night. Inside my tent I made myself as comfortable as possible then laid down to go to sleep. Wouldn’t you know it, it suddenly started to rain. Oh great! I did my best to keep towards the center of the tent then fell asleep. And you know what? I was still alive the next morning! Yep, nothing happened to me except that I got the rest I needed. I woke up the next morning, made some eggs and hot chocolate then walked over to the brook to enjoy my breakfast. I realized I was actually having a good time. Even though I wasn’t my usual chatty self I was still able to enjoy the morning by myself.
Know Your Limits And Use Common Sense
I packed up my tent and headed out of Sequoia towards Kings Canyon where I’d be spending my second night. The campsite was more remote than the first night and there was a long road down into the canyon. I noticed a gas station on the way down that said it was the last place to fill up. For a second I started to worry again and began to second guess my decision to camp here. I tried not to think about it and just enjoyed the scenery. The day was beautiful and there were lots of flowers blanketing the sides of the road. I made it to the campsite and was a little nervous to see there were only a few campers there. It was really quiet. Today I’d go on an easy hike and explore the river nearby. As I sat down and watched the sky I tried my best at cloud-gazing. I pulled out a book and started to read. I read a lot because I had so much time and as time passed I realized that I kind of missed the company of people. It was going to be a long quiet night.
That night in the tent I felt more alone than ever. I was trying to be brave but I still felt like I could become part of the plot to a horror movie. Was that sound outside someone walking towards my tent? That’s what happens when your alone and you let your imagination get the best of you. This is probably one of the most common fears newbie campers have. Well that and bears which I hadn’t even thought of up to that point. I guess I’m more scared of people. Didn’t I promise I’d share a few horror stories with you? Well there are two good ones. The first is a photographer who went camping in Argentina. He was alone and in the middle of the night he heard a strange loud sound that he described sounded like a cry from a dinosaur. He was terrified and let his imagination get the best of him. Thinking he was going to die that night from whatever beast was making the terrible noise he decided to end his trip early. Embarrassingly enough, he found out the creature was no more than a common deer called a “Huemel” that lives in the region. Read his story…it’s told best by him.
There is another story that is so creepy I can’t tell if it’s true or not. In any case here it is. So this girl goes backpacking in a remote location and when she’s out in the woods she notices a guy out in the woods. She’s surprised by him but approaches him and introduces herself only to regret the meeting. The guy totally creeps her out and when she leaves she wants nothing more than to get as far away from him as possible. She hikes past him and sets up her tent then falls asleep quickly. The next morning she packs up continues hiking for the day and again sets up camp at a new site. It’s too early to sleep so she decides to review the photos on her camera. She sees the trees she took pics of on the trail and decides to rewind the pictures to the beginning of the trip. As she’s reviewing her photos she notices some pictures of her tent that she doesn’t remember taking. Weird right? So as she continues to review them she notices more pics of her tent but at a closer range. Then a picture of her tent zipper with a hand on it just before it is opened. Then a picture of her. Sleeping. Oh god. At that moment she hears the crackling of leaves just outside of her tent. Have I got your attention? Good cause here’s where it gets crazy. As she buries herself deep inside her sleeping bag she hears the tent zipper open and a voice say “Sweet dreams, Kate”. Good god that’s a creepy story! You can read her full detailed account of her solo camping trip here.
Well I might have been a little on edge that last night but nothing happened to me and I awoke just fine. Our imaginations are usually the only things to blame but it’s always a good idea to keep a level head and just know your surroundings. If you don’t feel comfortable maybe there is a good reason. Just don’t let fear be the only reason you don’t try camping alone. Fear is something you can totally overcome. The next morning I packed up and headed out to enjoy one more hike before heading home. I had really enjoyed my experience and found that I looked at nature a little more deeply when I was alone than when I was with others. But I did miss the company and realized that if I had the choice I’d rather be with people.
So that’s it. I survived and you can too. I don’t remember when I saw this tree below but I thought Cool…that looks just like a skier that smashed into a tree. Would I have noticed that tree if I was with my friends? Who knows.