Inside, though, it was dry, and there was a woodstove to light.
Yurts, aluminum or wood-frame structures, are new this year to Kejimkujik National Park and National Historic Site.
On the Peskowesk ski trail, one yurt is at Eel Weir, about eight kilometers one-way, and the other is at Peskowesk Brook, about 15 kilometres one-way.
“It’s really part of a broader Parks Canada effort to find a way to appeal to new and different types of visitors,” says Andrew Fry, Kejimkujik’s visitor experience manager.
Canadians are becoming increasingly urban, and this is a way to recognize the shift, adds Fry.
By having the option of yurts, people can still explore Kejimkujik’s back county without having to have advanced wilderness skills.
Yurts “make experiencing Keji in the winter much easier and more accessible,” Fry says.
The yurt at Eel Weir has a wooden frame, while the one farther along the trail is aluminum. The wooden one is made from small trees and bent wood, and the other structure is made from cut pieces of aluminum.
Fry says the aluminum yurt pops up similar to a back-garden gazebo. While the types differ aesthetically, Fry says they’re virtually the same functionally.
As well as a woodstove, the structures include firewood, a table and chairs, and bunks to sleep four. Yurt dwellers must supply sleeping mats and bags, cooking utensils and food.
Fry says so far the response to the new accommodations has been good, with a lot of people hiking to them in December and some people using them in January as well.
Smith found out about the yurts from Facebook’s ‘Friends of Keji Cooperating Association’ page, which is updated regularly.
He and his girlfriend had planned to snowshoe from the parking lot, but they hiked instead because of recent weather. In an email interview, Smith writes it was his first time in a yurt.
Winter camping takes a lot of planning, writes Smith.
“The yurt was easy,” he adds. Shelter and warmth were already there.”
He says the yurt was also far enough away that he felt secluded.
“They’re easy to assemble and disassemble,” says Fry.
That’s part of the reason he thinks the structures are growing in popularity.
Alex Cole, who runs Little Foot Yurts in Wolfville, agrees.
“It’s the beauty of the accessibility,” he says.
But they’re also practical, he says. A yurt like the one at Kejimkujik can be set up in two hours.
“And you can take it down and transport it on the roof of a Volkswagen Golf.”
When asked why yurts, Cole says there are many reasons.
“They’re mandalic structures,” he says.
“As humans, we’re attracted to circular, mandalic objects and structures because they help us think cyclically.”
He compares this to the nature of the earth, on which everything is going around in a cycle.
“The cycle of life, the nitrogen cycle, carbon cycle, the cycle of the year, the harvests, all of these things. So to be in a mandalic structure reminds us of the cycle of life,” says Cole.
Other mandalic structures include teepees, and Celtic sweathouses.
The structures’ mobility is a reason they were sensible for nomads in the steppes of Central Asia. The nomads often had to pack quickly and move from pasture to pasture, says Cole.
According to Little Foot Yurts’ website, the word yurt comes from “yurta,” a Russian word that means dwelling or campsite. Similar structures in Mongolia are called “ger,” which is Mongolian for home.
Cole says how yurts are built are a combination of resources, needs and climate.
“So if the climate’s very rainy, you would expect to find a slightly steeper roof,” he says.
Mongolia’s gers have shallower roofs because there isn’t as much precipitation.
Do it yourself
At Little Foot Yurts, Cole and his wife Selene teach yurt building. Their style is based on the Kyrgyz method because Canada’s and Kyrgyzstan’s resources and climate are similar.
“We’re building a Nova Scotia yurt,” says Cole.
“That’s a 2,000-year-old round wood technique construction, so pre-sawmill.”
He says he and his wife use the re-growth of hardwood trees, examples of which are birch, maple, ash and oak.
“That material is everywhere. You don’t have to go to Home Hardware,” says Cole.
He says it’s a matter of going into the woods with a billhook (an ancient green woodworking tool), a pruning saw to harvest the poles and a drawknife to shave the poles. With the cost of the tools, a yurt frame might cost about $200.
The more pricy part of yurts comes with the coverings, made out of cotton canvas. Cotton canvas could cost $2,500 to $4,000. Cole compares the price of covering a yurt to shingling a roof.
Cole says it’s great that Kejimkujik offers yurts.
People will get to “wake up in the woods and go camping without packing … a winter tent,” he says.
A new year
“The environment was warm and beautiful with the rain falling and the stove burning in this small, round organic-feeling shelter,” describes Smith.
Smith and his girlfriend drank hot chocolate and ate camping food. At the turn of the clock, the two cheered with a celebratory drink to ring in 2012.