Winter 2016 by all accounts has been pretty mild. With only one weekend of frigid -45 Celsius temperatures I feel that we got off easy. Even though the winter of 2016 has quickly become known as the “Winter That Never Was” I still felt like I should make an effort to see it off properly as we march into spring. The official first day of spring is March 20th, which is when the Spring Equinox occurs, and luckily enough it was on a Sunday this year. This meant I had the day off to celebrate the final day of winter on the Saturday.
A few weeks before the end of Spring I had explored a new trail called the Old Baldy Trailwith my girlfriend and two dogs at Candle Lake Provincial Park. This trail has been a hike that I have been wanting to complete for a while but my summer attempts were thwarted by a derelict boardwalk and a deep swamp.
Cattails showing where in the summer there is a deep swamp
With the swamp frozen it was no longer an issue to venture out as we could hike over the ice. During our initial exploration of the trail we came across an old ski shack that overlooks Candle Lake. It is here that someone has placed a picnic bench and a fireplace with a small lean-to and an outhouse that looks like a good way to freeze your butt to a seat. After discovering this cozy “home” in the woods it sparked an idea to come back in a few weeks with friends to spend the day sitting by a bonfire while enjoying the quiet beauty of the Saskatchewan boreal forest.
I was able to add three friends to partake in the “Winter Send Off Party.” They were all eager to see this shack I had been talking about non-stop since I had discovered it. We lucked out with perfect conditions as the sun was shining, the mercury was just above zero and there was a fresh snow fall only a couple days earlier. This made the forest heavy as the branches held onto the quickly melting snow.
The group making its way
The group was quiet as I led the pack through the fresh snow and the dense Saskatchewan boreal forest. We marched in silence, transfixed by the sound of our boots scrunching the snow. My two dogs, Ted and Callebeaut, urged us to pick up our feet and hurry even though they had no idea where we were going and what the end destination was. They reluctantly slowed their pace after a couple stern warnings from me about getting too far ahead. Callebeaut reserved himself to making sure that the trail was well marked with his “scent” to let other adventurers know that he now owned it.
Would you guys hurry up please? I've got things to sniff!
As we hiked we began to quickly shed layers until most of us were hiking in a light sweater and toque. Even mitts became too hot as we pushed through the sticky snow. After about a 45-minute journey we reached our destination; the old shack on the hill. We paused to overlook the frozen waters of Candle Lake and began to decide to what to do with our day.
Anyone who lives in Saskatchewan and spends the winters here knows that once the weather starts to turn and the sun begins to give those few glimmers of warmth it creates this magical effect where all your stress seems to melt away; just like the snowy landscape around us. Those first days of spring warmth can make anyone as giddy as child whose had too many five cent candies.
I think I'd rather use the bush and a hole than this old outhouse
I quickly realized that this trip out to the old shack would be a bit more spiritual than originally planned. It seems everyone in the group needed a day in the forest without any responsibilities, bills or any of the other daily stresses of life. It was just going to be us in the snow in the forest and it would be up to us to decide what we wanted to do with it.
After surveying the area around the shack three of the people in the group realized the potential for building a snowman to stand watch over the lake. The snow was perfect to build a sixth member of the gang. However, as they began to roll and stack their layers the idea quickly transformed from a snowman to a fort. Even though none of us are engineers, we all grew up in Saskatchewan, which means that we all have built a snow fort or two in our day. Almost no words were spoken to each other as everyone already had the blueprints ingrained in their memories from countless winters building masterpieces.
Ted doing his best foreman impression as the team builds their masterpiece
I left the crew to build their new home as I had just purchased a new hatchet that I was aching to use. First, I needed to make a wood pile in order to test out my new tool. There is something quite satisfying and primal about using one’s hands and muscles to yank dead trees out of the forest and carry them back to camp. This was going to be my way to blow off some steam from a couple weeks of built up stress.
I spent most of the day in a t-shirt as I worked up a sweat chopping dead-fall
Once I had built a pile that I was satisfied with I began the process of chopping the logs into something a bit more manageable to burn. As my new hatchet began to fly and chips of wood exploded around me I could see my one friend looking curiously at what I was doing. Being a woman who doesn’t back down from much she quickly asked if she could have a turn. I knew I didn’t have the stamina to chop all the wood I had pulled from the forest so I happily agreed. After showing her the proper techniques to ensure that if she missed a swing the hatchet wouldn’t end buried in her leg, I let her start swinging away.
I am not too sure whose face was on that log but if I were them I would be pretty scared. As a nurse I know she regularly deals with high levels of stress and I watched with awe as she made quick work of the logs. She continued to chop until she heard the satisfying thud of the hatchet breaking the log in two. As she handed the hatchet back to me she was breathing hard but was satisfied. “Thanks, I needed that,” and with that she went back to help the ever growing engineering project.
Callebeaut patiently waiting for his hotdog to be cooked for him
We spent roughly five hours out by the shack that day building, chopping and exploring the area. It wasn’t until we returned that I realized there was a period of 2 hours where nothing more than a few words were spoken. We had lost ourselves in the Saskatchewan boreal forest with our very important tasks that we set out for the day.
The finishing touches
Once the fort was completed and the construction crew admired their work, I lit a fire using some tree beard I had collected on the hike in and we whittled a few branches to make hotdog sticks. Ted and Callebeut were happily napping in the sun as we sipped on beers that had been cooling in a snowbank all afternoon.
And the finished product!
As we feasted on our fire roasted hotdogs and drank a cold beer I caught myself reflecting on another Saskatchewan winter and all adventures I had. I wonder what I’ll see this Spring?
What was as highlight of your Winter 2016? Share it in the comments!
The three new members of the crew enjoying their well deserved supper after a day of building