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A Trip to the Cabin January - February 3rd 2020

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Last Thursday we got some supplies around and then left for the trip to the cabin on the lake. The trip involves hauling a couple Skidoo snowmachines from home to the launch site some 37 miles from home. From there you unload and then drive for 74.6 miles over 3 different frozen rivers, islands and finally a 8 1/2 mile course across land. Generally the river portion of the trip is uneventful because they are the main artery of supply and travel into the Interior. These are the rivers that races like the famous Iditarod and The Iron Dog run over and they are well traveled.

Well traveled is not the case for the last 6 miles of our trip, those last 6 miles involve crossing what we know as 'The Big Swamp'. Now the big swamp is called that because that is essentially what it is, a huge expanse of wetland which spreads out covering some 15 to 20 square miles depending on how you would measure it. To get from Skwentna to our cabin you gotta cross the no man's land of the swamp. Not such a big deal in years past as new cabins sprang up at the lake and new people caught up in the excitement of having a remote property flooded into our quite spot. When those people were coming they required building materials and supplies and behind them came freight haulers and with the freight men came good well marked trails across the big swamp.

Now it's 2020 not 2010 and it appears that the shine has worn from the apple because there is zero activity out there. On the lake itself set about 10 new and expensive cabins which are essentially deserted. It's the ride I think, that 75 mile ride out then back has a way of wearing them down and eventually they just stop coming. Some places go up for sale and when a new owner buys in the cycle begins again. But for now the Big Swamp presents a real obstacle to navigating to the cabin. No trail and there have been some 114 inches of snow recorded right there between Skwentna and Hewitt Lake...........

I'm old school, people tell me I need to use a GPS for reckoning my way across a featureless landscape but I can't imagine how I'd be able to read a screen while trying to keep a machine moving through that snow. The snow actually envelops you, it billows up over the front of the machine and can cover your goggles to the extent you are busy wiping them. So I use my dead reckoning method, if you can see Shell Hill (actually a mountain) with a ceiling of at least 8000 feet you can see the peak and you just head straight for it until the topography drops and you lose sight of the peak. When that happens you look to the south west for an eroded bluff above a creek and veer off that direction. If everything goes well you intersect the creek and are only half a mile from the lake. Hit the lake and drive a mile north and then swing east and you are here..........

That's an old photo taken during summer but you get the idea, a cabin built on a series of 20 railroad tie stilts. Built up about 4 foot avove ground to allow for snow not to bury the place.

This was Friday.

After a significant amount of snow packing we got it packed to the level of the porch, no need to use the steps at this point.....

I don't take as many pictures as I used to but I did get a few, the old fuel shed presented quite a job just digging out so I could access the door. And the outhouse? I had to do that one too but everything else except one of the woodpiles remains buried.

There will not be a lack of water out there this spring by the look of things.

Fuel shed.

And this....

Along with all the snow there has been warm weather and some rain and so those 114 inches compact down to about 4 or 4 1/2 foot of ground covering snow but it's still more than I've seen for ten years. The ride across no mans land was rough going in because I led on a Skidoo Tundra 550F that has a 16" long track under it and Nancy followed on the Scandiic which is a long track super wide track and she sort of rolled it when we had to thread through a narrow treeline that represents the only real landmark on the whole swamp. Trying to straddle my narrow track with the wide machine was tough and she's small while the snowmachine is around 550 pounds......

The tipping of a big machine in roughly 5 foot of snow having different consistencies from powder to crusty layers between the surface and the frozen ground presents a certain set of problems. The first of which is you can't stand or walk very well in that much snow. Couple that with the machine being on its side and sunk a few feet and things get special. No I didn't get a picture..... I was busy trying to sort out how to get it back on top the snow. It took a while before I even realized she wasn't behind me and when I circled back it was hard to spot her because she was sunk in too. The best way to deal with this is stay calm and move in steps which led to my being able to right the sled and walk it back up on the snow in maybe ten minutes. There was a lot of digging and stopping down of snow involved because you have to create a depression on the side away from the track and then get it back upright.

That isn't something I'd wish on a person new to all this and I've found my share of folks who were in trouble through the years. I've also been the guy in trouble and was taught how to recover a machine from what may look like a hopeless situation by strangers who came along and found me just as I've found others. Aside from that great trouble the trips out and back were uneventful other than the stress of having to recross that land in order to get out. The wind came up while we were there and another 6 inches of snow fell so that when we headed back out all traces of our tracks in were erased. That makes things interesting I must say, it's so easy to backtrack but difficult to make a fresh trail each way.

This is the back door and those mounds are tarp-ed wood piles. The one on the right of the photo is what I uncovered so we could restock the supply inside before leaving. You always do that, restock with good wood. Now I need to fill 6 30 gallon drums with gasoline and haul out the fuel for the next year, that is always an adventure. If you've never tried to pull a freight sled with 1335 pounds loaded on it for 75 miles through these conditions you haven't lived the real remote Alaskan life I don't think.

The birds were glad to see me, I cleaned the feeder filled it and put out a fresh suet cake for them and will be back by the weekend

The wide groomed area you see is packed by the 2 people who live there year round so planes can land on the lake. Those other designs in the snow are our approach tracks and my runway to the hill. It takes a lot of work just to get a good track up the slope from the lake when there is that much snow. Once it's packed it gets super hard and remains until the spring melt.



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