The Stagger Inn: Portrait Of A Wilderness Cabin

by Paul Kirtley

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Man in front of a wilderness cabin

Wilderness cabins are intriguing places. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Wilderness cabins, huts, hytte, cottages, bothies – whatever your name for these footholds in the wilds – are intriguing places.

They tell you something of their owners and users.

They can also inform you about the environment in which they are placed.

In the north woods, a well outfitted cabin indicates how cold it gets in winter and what skills are important for survival there.

We came across one such cabin on the Bloodvein River.

It was called the Stagger Inn and was one of only two cabins we passed on 225km (140 mi) of river journey.

stagger inn name plate board

Name board on the Stagger Inn, Bloodvein River. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Basic yet comfy, the Stagger Inn cabin is a relatively small single-room structure but well set up for several people to spend an extended period there.

inside of the cabin

Inside the Stagger Inn cabin. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Snowshoes and an ice auger tell you it gets cold here in winter. Most telling of just how cold, however, was the size of the stove.

Snowshoes and ice auger

Snowshoes and a motorised ice auger hint at the winter conditions. Photo: Paul Kirtley

snowshoes

Snow shoes. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

large iron stove

A big stove indicates how low the winter temperatures drop. Photo: Paul Kirtley

stove

Note also the metal flashing behind the stove to protect the cabin structure from the radiant heat of the stove as well as reflect it back into the room. Photo: Paul Kirtley

One other detail filled me with warmth.

It’s a detail that might pass by many a summer visitor.

All along the main beam spanning the centre of the room, inserted at regular intervals were long nails.

I’ve done a fair bit of winter travel and one of the most important things is to keep your clothing and footwear free from moisture/frost, something which is very difficult unless you have access to a warm environment such as a heated tent or cabin.

This is something I noted in my How To Live In A Heated Tent article. And in a cabin, as in a hot tent, the warmest air is high up in the warm space. So it was that I smiled at the rows of nails in the beam. Today though, still in September, there were no winter garments or boots hanging up there, only an enammelled coffee pot.

Enamelled coffee pot hanging from nail

Coffee pot hanging from one of the many nails in the beams – intended as drying hooks. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Some sizeable and well-seasoned firewood was stacked ready and alongside were a couple of hefty axes, including a specialist Chopper1 mechanical splitting axe.

axes and wood

Well seasoned firewood and hefty axes. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

Chopper 1 Axe head

Chopper1 Axe detail. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The inquisitive reader may be wondering why we came to be in the cabin, if we should have been in there looking around or even if we might have broken in!

It is known to travellers of the Bloodvein that this cabin is left unlocked – as many such cabins in the north woods are – in case anyone is in need of its shelter.

Indeed the owners encourage visitors to leave a message and sign the visitors log book, left out on the table.

interior cabin shot

Visitor log book on the table. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Looking through a visitor book

Looking through some of the entries in the visitor log. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Sign asking for respect of the land

A straightforward request for all visitors to respect the land. Photo: Paul Kirtley

All the space around the perimeter of the room was put to efficient use. On the walls were cupboards and shelves, housing basic supplies as well as reading material. There was also a map of the local area and, on one of the cupboards was taped a hand-written note (which I’ve typed out below).

map of the area around the stagger inn cabin

Map of the area around the cabin. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

hand written note taped to a cupboard door

Hand-written note. See below for the text. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

The Hand Written Note:

“Winter 2001

To the traveller of the River,

This is the story of our winter work on this cabin, we decided to put tin on the roof and walls while doing this we thought maybe make it a little bigger.

It consisted of many sleigh loads of material to haul from Riverton to Matheson Island, there the plywood was painted and cut to fit the sleighs then loaded in the truck and hauled to mile 19 on the Rice River road a distance of about sixty miles then it was loaded in our sleigh brought to the sight here on the Bloodvein River, it was many trips but we finally hauled it all here, another forty five miles.

We started rebuilding first ripping the roof off, then what walls that had to come out, the temperature never went above minus thirty, so it was very cold in the camp before we could get it weathered in, some mornings there was three inches of ice on our water pail, we sometimes wondered if it was worth it but when we read the comments you write in our small log book we feel assured it was well worth the effort.

Harold Bennett
Doreen Bennett
Jerry Bennet
Dave Persman

The door is always open and the welcome mat is out”.


 

Even though we were not in need of the shelter the cabin provided, we were all very grateful for the spirit of hospitality, kindness and trust which was underpinned the unlocked door and the hand-written note. It certainly made my day. Thank you Harold, Doreeen, Jerry and Dave.

Around the cabin were signs of it being used as a trappers cabin, most notably some traps hung up behind the stove. Outside were also some traps.

man with trap

Tony checking out one of the traps hanging on the outside of the cabin. Photo: Paul Kirtley.

body grip trap hanging on a tree

Body-grip trap. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Whatever your thoughts on trapping, this cabin and the surrounding land are the survival kit of the people who come here.

We were careful to leave the cabin as we found it and, in particular, close the door properly.

Leaving the cabin

Leaving the cabin as we found it. Photo: Paul Kirtley

Even though it was mid-September and still relatively warm during the day, the night-time temperatures were steadily falling during our two-week trip, the geese were flying in greater numbers during each day and we knew the first snows were really not far away.

What struck you about this cabin? What did you find interesting? Let me and other readers know in the comment section below…

Related Material On Paul Kirtley’s Blog:

Winter Magic: Return To The Northern Forest

How To Live In A Heated Tent

Bloodvein River Trip: My Personal Gear

Six Men, Three Boats And The Bloodvein: Canoeing A Wilderness River

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Paul Kirtley is an award-winning professional bushcraft instructor. He is passionate about nature and wilderness travel. In addition to writing this blog Paul owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

 

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Darragh

The generosity of the people that own that cabin amazes me, and others like it. You would be hard pressed to find this kindness anywhere other than the wilderness community. I cant imagine taking on a project like this in the depth of the northern winter. Another great artical Paul. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Hi Darragh,

Yes, it really is quite remarkable. All credit to them.

Thanks for your comment and all the best,

Paul

Reply

Tony

This generosity is commonplace in the Canadian countryside. When I was growing up, the family went on a trip someplace in central Alberta. The car broke down so we walked to the nearest farm house. Nobody was home, but the door was unlocked. So my dad let us in, he used the phone, which was on a ‘party line’ and got a local mechanic to come out. We waited in the house. As a young lad of around 8 or 9 I was struck by how nobody thought it was weird that we had ‘moved into’ the farm house. The farmer came home a while later and he was a little surprised to find us there, but when my dad explained our situation, he offered us dinner and a ride into town.

I think it stems from the harshness of the Canadian wilderness and the fact that anyone who has experienced -40c with a high wind knows that any shelter can literally save your life if you find yourself in it unprepared.

Reply

Steve

I think along with the generosity and kind-heartedness of the owners, the local-ish! population also have a part to play, being educated that this is a survival tool and not a place to trash.

I can only hope and wish that a facility like this could be common place in the UK. Admitedly there are few places where this kind of facility is needed (bothy’s cater for some of this) but even so, I fear it would be abused and stripped of anything of worth.

If only we as a nation were more acustomed to helping others as opposed to oneself.

Reply

Janet Hopewell

What a fantastic cabin. My idea of heaven. Would love to spend a year living there! Every thing you need to survive without the pressures of the modern world.

Just what you need to survive -40 to come across this stagger inn would really lift your sprits.
Love the great use of a small compact space. I’ll have the top bunk!

Thanks for a great article.

Reply

John Post

Hi Paul, great article as always. That looks like an awesome trip and what a gem of a cabin. The generosity of the Bennett family to leave that open to help others in time of need is wonderful. It’s unfortunate we find this kind of kindness, trust and generosity so surprising and uncommon in today’s world. It’s nice to see.

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Murray McGinn

Very well done Paul. I used to be a member of the Search and Rescue in southern British Columbia when I was younger. Brings back a lot of memories of hunting and fishing. At the end of the article you mentioned the “trapping” being done. Here in Canada, some individuals still rely on trapping as an income in Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba. It is a natural way of life. In fact where I live we are all quite avid hunters. Hunting not only provides 1rst class meat to fill the freezer but it also keeps the wildlife population in check. An example is that the local Mule Deer or White Tail Deer population needs an amount of territory for one deer to survive the winter here. 4 years ago most of the local Pronghorn Antelope population died off because of the harsh winter. The local Environment Officers therefore cut the hunting licensing to hunters and it hasn’t been opened since and their population is now increasing every year. It is all about balance between land for grazing and population count of species. Here in South Western Saskatchewan we are blessed with an abundance of wildlife. The South Saskatchewan River here in the Leader area has about 10 different types of sport fish. We have upland game birds (Hungarian Partridge, Pheasant, etc.) , Mule Deer, White Tail Deer, Moose, Pronghorn Antelope, Rabbit, some Wild Boer and numerous types of birds for the bird watching enthusiast. When winter comes, yes it is sometimes harsh. Last winter we had some really cold weather down to about – 54 one day. But it is a very lush environment for wildlife to thrive. The Mule Deer, White Tail Deer, Moose and Pronghorn Antelope all have good forage as long as the snow doesn’t get too deep. They also get to eat the “left overs” from the grain crops and manage quite nicely. I was born and raised in British Columbia and the taste of the wild meat was quite obnoxious compared to the wild meat here because of the wild animals foraging on the grain fields. It is a fantastic place to live.

Reply

Deri Pocock

I have encountered several cabins when I lived in Canada. One one the shore of Lake Superior was handy at a time I needed it – had a sprained ankle. Courtesy requires that a departing guest makes up a fire and leaves a box of matches with several matches stuck between box and cover so that someone with frosted fingers can use them. The cabins are all privately owned – not like Scottish bothies.

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Craig

Thanks for sharing the experience Paul.

Beautiful cabin, and setting. Lucky people. Wud be interesting to know how they keep it fuelled (oven) and stocked. Wud love to have some r&r time in a place like that.

Truly sad that the same good spirit is almost gone from populated areas, and the UK generally as a society.

Reply

Mike

You know Paul it is stories just like this that makes me wax nostalgic. Though not able to be physically there I can most certainly travel there in my mind. The picture of the wood stove brought back many memories of sitting by my grandpas old potbellied stove as a youngster and feeling its warmth. Thanks go out to you for writing this story and thanks go out to the Bennett family for allowing you to have access to what I would describe as a mansion. How truly blessed we have been to be allowed a glimpse into their life’s and their cabin. Thank you so very much

Reply

Windy

Smashin article and pics. A place to be treasured for sure. Kinda like the bothy network we have up here, which sadly don’t get the same respect, and in some cases have been lost forever due to misuse.

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massimo martinoli

la passione unisce , la natura e la bellezza si sposano con la gentilezza delle persone che rendono questo luogo un vero paradiso , da vivere grande paul ..grazie per le emozioni …max

Reply

Mark P

Hi Paul,
Reminded me of an old cabin I once stayed in way back in the 90s whilst climbing in the Purcell mountains in the Canadian Rockies called the “General Store”. It was a well constructed log cabin near to a lake where each morning you collected your water, but you always went down in pairs armed with a bear gun (pepper spray) to “protect” yourself from the bears that patrolled the shores. These places are a god send and should be treated with the utmost respect.

Reply

Rocky Rains

Awesome story and pics Paul! Thanks for taking us along with you!

Reply

Leena

Awesome , and thanks for taking us along , sharing this.

I first came across the hut, when I visited Norway. I love scenic places, and Norway is a hikers dream.
Their system of huts are quite varied, although the principle of shelter, self service, and unwritten codes of honour ( people can pay or not pay, self service, not serviced, service with cost, huts can be locked, unlocked). I was amazed at what I saw then. There is something so simple yet eloquent about a warm place, hospitality in midst of a hike 🙂

This story from Canada, thus brings back fond memories. Thanks Again.

Regards
– Leena.

Reply

Yves Lessard

Paul
nice cabin story…did you notice the bucket by the stove with a string sticking out….looks like a mouse trap???trapper cabin style…have used that myself with some success…been following the Blood vein trip stories …maybe I will do it some day…happy trails…keep up the interesting articles …
Yves

Reply

barry

I really enjoyed his article paul excellent as always I think we all miss the simplicity of living in a home like this .truly diy no painter and decorators there love it.

Reply

Paul Kirtley

Glad you enjoyed it Barry and that this article transported you there for a brief time 🙂

Warm regards,

Paul

Reply

craig bennett

I love the idea an open cabin. It seems that trust is kept, and trekkers honor the system. Btw, I have to laugh at the surname. My pop, also a Bennett, had a slab cabin on his property which he never locked; and was never upset to find someone camping in it.

Reply

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