Written by Andy Goodson
Photography by Andy Goodson and Sean Hootz
When some friends and I stayed in a ski shelter last November, the fireplace needed to be restocked with wood every hour to stay comfortable. The slough outside was entirely frozen over. The icy wind rumbled the plastic windows. The frost-covered trees seemed so stiff and brittle, they could shatter like glass.
Something has changed this year. Call the culprit whatever you like (I like the hyped up 'Super El Niño'), but we've been gifted a new season whether we like it or not. It's some sort of limbo between winter and fall, not unlike how I imagine winter in Texas. I'll call it 'slautumn' – a word that embodies the sleet and slush, doom and gloom, and downright disorientation from not being able to go ice fishing yet.
A drive down Ski Hill Road takes Sean, Jean-Paul and I back to Batka Lake where we pull up to an empty parking area. We haven't seen a soul for miles— the main perk for this time of year. I step outside and breathe in the scent of old leaves and pungent spruce. I'm not sure why my stomach twists considering this is going to be, quite literally, a walk in the park. Then again, I'm the nervous type.
Last winter's failed attempt to reach Moose Lake comes to mind. The bad omens weighed far too heavily against us. We ended up having to give up and go home.
No reason to weasel my way out of this one. Besides, this hike is only a little over 5 km on groomed trail, and, it's not -40 outside. The windless atmosphere does make the dead-looking forest feel like the perfect setting for a horror movie though.
With that in mind, we decide to focus our shots on capturing the lonely and dismal atmosphere.
Even when trying to capture the loneliness of it all, I feel like my shots are coming out a little too pretty. It doesn't help that Jean-Paul keeps running into frame gleefully smiling. Sean however, being the reclusive-hermit type, is a natural master of doom and gloom.
The change from our other trips this year is actually refreshing. Too often, I feel like we give the impression that nature is all sunshine and rainbows. Or, that the outdoors can only be enjoyed when nature plays in your favour.
We continue our march. Over a few more slopes, Moose Lake Shelter peeks its head.
Eager to see how Moose Lake squares up to Ski Hill Shelter, I make myself at home. It's a decent establishment. Not quite as cozy, but all the amenities are there plus a homemade acoustic guitar. This is convenient since there's not much else to do.
The white vinyl interior makes the shack feel more like a beach house than a cabin in the woods. It's almost an identical setup to Ski Hill Shelter, with furnace, axe, frying pans and even a solar-powered interior light. There's not much room for more than three people to stay the night comfortably.
There's no pressure to chop firewood or get cooking before dark. So, we take this cue to procrastinate and enjoy the sweet boredom.
I don't want to over-romanticize what is, quite honestly, a slack adventure. But there's something to be said about simplicity. When wilderness backpacking, your mind gets preoccupied with the hike, or building camp. Out here at Moose Lake, there's time to stretch out and enjoy the area for what it is. Pure, quiet nothingness.
The sound of cracking beers and a crackling fire breaks the silence, along with a chorus of howling wolves in the distance.
With beer supplies running low around midnight, it's time to turn in.
I decide to sleep up in the loft, which is a huge mistake since I'll be slow-cooked by the furnace. But I'm happy to let the fire die while I toss and turn on the stiff 1960s couch cushions that make up my mattress.
The only perk from a terrible night's sleep is waking up to see the sunrise from the loft.
Alright, not bad. But not exactly worth the crappy sleep.
I turn back and try to keep the sun out of my eyes. I need to rest off this headache, caused by some wicked combination of alcohol and cheese, breathing carbon monoxide all night and sleeping on a wooden plank. The dingy cushions are not doing me any favours either.
By noon, I have recovered the bare minimum of my consciousness and dignity to make the hike home. Fresh air is the ultimate hangover cure. And, as luck would have it, we find ourselves hiking through sunshine and rainbows all the way home.