Several years back, a backcountry cabin saved me and a buddy from a really uncomfortable night in the bush.
It was back in the days before I had kids, when I was still free enough (and dumb enough) to zip off on spur-of-the-moment, ill-conceived quests with no chance of success.
This trip was such a venture, a late October trip for elk deep in a valley southwest of Golden. We’d never been there before, nor had we’d never hunted elk. Still, we loaded up my pickup truck and set out with visions of six-point bulls in our otherwise empty heads.
About 60 kilometres back from the highway, it started to snow. Not surprising, as the temperature started to plummet as well.
It seems when things go astray, they usually the do so in a big way. By late afternoon, there was 12 inches of white stuff everywhere and more coming down, the wind was howling and the mercury was well south of freezing.
We intended to sleep in a tent.
As dusk approached, we were still looking for a place to call home when we pulled off the main road into a little clearing.
At the back of it, tucked into the trees, was a little cabin. It wasn’t much really — a 20-foot by 20-foot structure, with some rough bunk beds, a table, some shelves on the wall and an absolutely beautiful little wood stove (all wood stoves are beautiful when you are wet and cold) in the middle of it.
The place hadn’t been used for a while, that was clear, but it was solid and dry. Given the choice between a night on the cold ground protected by nylon walls and a warm night in a cozy heat-filled cabin, we made the obvious choice.
The next day, we cleaned it up a fair bit, cut and split three times the firewood we used and dispatched a pack rat that was doing its best to make the cabin his personal, messy little den.
I have no idea who built the cabin or why or how often they used it, but we were truly grateful for it. We tried to leave it a little bit better than we found it.
Two of my regular hunting partners did the same thing a few years back with a high-alpine cabin they found tucked back into the trees overlooking Adams Lake.
This one was most likely a snowmobile cabin and was equipped to keep people suitably protected from winter’s bite. They spent the night inside of it instead of under tents and a tarp.
My friends took advantage of it in the same way I did that other cabin years before and, during the midday lull, they set about making improvements.
They fixed a door hinge, repaired some broken stairs and left $20 to pay for some of the consumables they consumed (toilet paper, for example). They showed respect for the work of others and did their best to leave the place better than they found it.
Contrast that to the experience the Kamloops Snowmobile Association reported last week.
Someone passing by a KSA warming shelter on Sawmill Creek Forest Service Road set the small structure ablaze, destroying it.
KSA president Joe Boyle told local media that the small shelter was intended for use by snowmobilers and others.
The club’s volunteers built it last year for the comfort of anyone who might stumble upon it and need a place to get warm and dry.
Provincial regulations actually call for backcountry shelters to be left unlocked, for the purpose of providing folks with emergency shelter if they need it.
Why someone would light a structure such as this KSA shelter on fire is a mystery to me. These places are intended to benefit everyone with need.
Perhaps it was an act of unplanned stupidity, as many such acts tend to be. Regardless, it’s a shame and a serious crime.
Unfortunately, it seems such acts of vandalism are not uncommon. The KSA said it regularly sees incidences of theft and destruction at its backcountry sites.
The club said it will rebuild the shelter, but that comes with a cost, both in terms of the volunteer effort and resources it will take to complete.
Hopefully, the club will have the chance to rebuild the shelter before this winter’s season hits hard, as such shelters can save lives.
Those who stumble across a cabin or shelter in the bush should show the same respect they would for someone’s house.
After all, a cabin can be just that — a home away from home — to many people for short periods of time. Leave them as you find them or, better yet, make them better in some small way.
Robert Koopmans is an avid angler and hunter who spends as much time as possible in B.C.’s wild places. He also hosts the Hunting & Fishing British Columbiapodcast (find it on Apple Podcasts). To share a thought, send an email to email@example.com.