In mid-November 2014, I set out on an ambitious trip to the Manitoba Duck Mountains to get in one last stint of solo tent-camping. I spend the day snapping photos, but I bail on the overnighter as soon as the temperature hits -20. Autumn in Canada, right? I still have camping fever though, so I meet up the following day with a couple of friends to discuss a different kind of trip: spending the night in a cross-country ski shelter.
The Saskatchewan-side of Duck Mountain has over 50 kilometres of groomed cross country ski trails maintained in-part by the Kamsack Ski Club. There are 4 warm-up shelters equipped for overnight stays on these trails: Moose Lake, Ski Hill, Tamarack, and Rundle Lake. November is a bit too early in the season to ski, but these trails are gorgeous any time of the year. My friends and I decide to head for the Ski Hill Shelter located somewhere in the 'nucleus' of this trail system. Starting with an easy 5 kilometre hike from the Madge Lake Golf Course through Jack Rabbit Junction:
We make it to the shelter with about 45 minutes of sunlight left. It's been about 10 years since I've seen one of these shelters, so I'm unsure what we have to work with. Lucky for us, the shelter is completely outfitted: axe, lumber, frying pan, candles, cooking utensils, and matches... Practically more amenities than my apartment.
Within 10 minutes of reaching the shelter, we have the wood-fire stove roaring. Home sweet home:
The temperature is still well below -20, but I don't really feel it. Staying in this shelter and calling it "roughing it" would be embarrassing. It's hard to complain when you're warm, cooking potatoes over a wood fire, and basking in the scent of birch bark... We'll call it a 5-star hill billy hotel.
We spend the evening taking snaps of the stars, reading a book on alien encounters, and watching the dog chase a squirrel or two. Once the conversation's tapped out, I step up to the loft and collapse on my sleeping bag. The last thing I see is the night sky out of a frosted window before falling asleep to the sound of crackling fire.
Definitely not roughing it.
Try staying in one of these shelters the next time you need an ultra-slack camping experience. Whether you're on the Manitoba or Saskatchewan side of Duck Mountain, the scenery never disappoints.