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The Last Trip to the Cabin Before Breakup; April 2011

Posted 04-10-2011 at 02:07 PM by Ard
Updated 04-11-2011 at 12:07 PM by Ard

Breakup, that's what Alaskans call springtime. It is a time of melting snows, ice out on the rivers and lakes and of course mud. Gravel roads and driveways get soft and you don't walk around on your lawn for a while but things eventually dry out and firm up. By April the weather can turn warm without much notice or things can stay pretty chilly and that is what makes this time of year a gamble if you intend to spend a few weeks out at the cabin. The drive to the cabin is made by snowmachine and almost all of the 79 mile ride is over frozen rivers and lakes. The trails on these rivers resemble ice roads some winters and other years they can be more like a very long motocross track. During a motocross year you wish the trip was over by the time you are 10 miles into the ride. This is a rough year on the trails considering all of the trips I have made over the years. I don't want to dedicate this entire story to my dissatisfaction with trail conditions however I can't stop here. Here are some final words for prospective; you are driving a machine that is about 7 feet long or so and pulling a sled behind that weighs about 320 pounds. The snowmachine has suspension but the bumps seem to be rather tall and are spaced about 8 - 10 feet apart. At speeds of 20 - 25 miles per hour the load behind you is crashing and bashing along in such a fashion that you must stop on a regular basis to check the bindings so that you don't leave half the load miles behind before realizing you have lost them. Using the rear view mirrors is not a good thing because taking the eyes off the trail that lies ahead even for a quick glance into the mirror can lead to an unexpected problem. In short you must concentrate on the trail about 100 yards ahead of your position to locate any smooth running you can find. After 79 miles of this you are pretty beat up and very appreciative when you reach your destination.

When I reached the cabin all was well and the weather was clear with a temperature of 38*. With plenty of seasoned fire wood on hand the place was warmed up to 60 in no time. The problem with warm afternoons is that the snow becomes soft and finding areas where a footfall is not met with your leg plunging into what seems to be bottomless snow is rare. The old trails that I had drove into the snow in January and February provided firmer footing but any stray step had you doing the crab crawl to find an icy surface where you could once again stand up. The good news is that provided it gets cold at night everything is firm by morning and you can walk wherever you want until around 1:00 PM then it's back to being careful. At ten in the morning on the second day Nancy & Boss landed on the ice strip a half mile down the lake with our neighbor who is a pilot and we were all together again. There were some projects on the schedule and I had some exploring to do also so the next 9 days were to be busy ones.

There are some beautiful streams that flow through the bush out in the interior. As the creeks reach the points where they empty into the rivers they take on the disposition of a river as it reaches sea level. The waters slow and they lose the characteristics of trout streams. They become slow moving flows with silt bottoms and grow thick with weeds as summer progresses. These weeds will clog a jet motor and stop a small prop so........ Few people get up these streams.

I used the snowmachine and my snowshoes to get way up some creeks and then plotted foot trails to the spots that take miles off the distance. Below is a picture of a spot where I had to leave the snowmachine and walk to go further. The trail you see is one that I made before I parked the Yamaha. When the snow is firm in the morning I drive to a destination and then double back several times on my own tracks to make a wide packed trail. By the time I was ready to drive away the day had warmed and the snow softens, this is when you need the wide and packed trail to exit on. Getting swamped in 6' of soft wet snow will make any day a bad day.

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The morning after setting up my coordinates I took the GPS, my old Sunto Ranger, and some surveyor tape and after getting safely away from where a tape would be spotted from the water I hiked and marked my way to some places that I hope will deliver some of that trout fishing I have been dreaming of for years. There are trout where I fish but I have never found a remote place where there are plenty of big rainbows and no people. If this doesn't work I will be out of ideas. I know that the streams will get salmon far up into their head waters but the salmon tend to hang in the lower portions of the creeks before going on to the head waters. The lag time is that period when I hope to have trout fishing that will not be interrupted by the presence of the huge visitors form the sea.

The snowshoe trips always tell a story of their own. Those stories are those of the many animals who hack out a life in a world that seems uninhabitable. How does a moose survive in 6 - 7 feet of snow, where does a fox, lynx, or coyote find a meal and how do any of the other animals avoid becoming that meal. Wolves are seldom seen but the tracks tell the story of a struggle for survival that surpasses any other species in this place. When I find tracks of wolf or lynx I tell no one.

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The farther you go from the open water this time of year the fewer the tracks. The picture below shows how lonely my tracks look. These trips for me are the stuff of wonderment, they are the things that I am doing before I grow too old to struggle against the elements or pass from this life. I know that not everyone lives in this place called Alaska but I have been exploring in this way for over 40 years all over North America. From all my travels I can tell you that there are adventures closer to you than you now may realize, you just need to go experience them. The snowshoes I use here I bought for 80 dollars new back in 1981 and have been carrying me over the snows for 30 years now. After I got them I discovered that they were the key to winter explorations and I became a snowshoe camper and traveler. If you have never taken a days hike over a foot or more of snow in one of your state forests or game lands I would urge you to try it next winter.

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Here's a look at what I was after on one hike. The gravel you see here is what all the tail outs look like on this stream. By June the streams should be hosting the trout who will migrate from the rivers and lakes to reach this area.

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Once I had my explorations complete I had some basic home improvement work to do at the cabin. My old bird feeder which had endured six winters finally gave in and was smashed by the weight of the snows. When I had built it I used recycled boards from an old outhouse and I made the roof a little too flat for the weight that it would have to support. This year I had some cut off T-111 to use and the results were good. Now the birds have a solid spot and they showed up within an hour of my mounting the new cafeteria.

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I have never built a cabinet and I found that it was not as easy as one would think. By the time I had figured out how to do it the fact that I had no hinges for mounting doors occurred to me so there are no doors on it as of this time. When I go out after breakup I'll have some hinges with me and will build a set of doors and put on some trim boards to finish it off.

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[IMG]Click the image to open in full size.[/IMG]

You can see by the pictures that this place is a cabin and it's a long way from granite counter tops and tile floors but this is what we like. This year I am going to install a real gas stove and some tanks so we can stop using the two burner camp stove. In the winter we use two sources for water, snow and a spring. Snow is melted in a huge kettle on the wood stove for washing dishes and people and a trip up the lake to where a spring flows year round supplies drinking water. The snow is good to drink but if there has been wind it is full of little birch and spruce buds and they are a bit of a distraction when you look at a glass of water.

When we woke on the morning of April 6 it was 15*. The landing strip was solid and Nancy was able to fly out with Boss at 8:30 AM. By 11:00 AM I had decided against staying another few days and vamoosed myself. Whenever things are dangerous I pull no sled behind and carry food, shovel, snowshoes, and my sleeping bag with extra clothes and a small tarp. This is a picture of what I mean by a lead of open water.

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My old Michigan's at home and ready for a coat of marine varnish on the rawhide.

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  1. Old Comment
    Good Story Ard

    Question, if one marks good holes in the rivers during the summer, can they be productive for ice fishing during the winter.

    Posted 04-10-2011 at 03:24 PM by littledavid123 littledavid123 is offline
  2. Old Comment
    FlyBum's Avatar
    Ard: This was a truly enjoyable read. I hope that you have productive trout fishing and look forward to reading about them and seeing pictures of the beautiful fish.

    Posted 04-10-2011 at 06:43 PM by FlyBum FlyBum is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Ard's Avatar
    Originally Posted by littledavid123 View Comment
    Good Story Ard

    Question, if one marks good holes in the rivers during the summer, can they be productive for ice fishing during the winter.

    Hi Dave,

    The rivers here are not the ice fishing kind but the lakes see loads of people out there drilling holes. The slow rivers I travel have a current speed of 3 - 3.5 mph on average. The fast rivers like the Skwentna are flowing 4.5 - 7 mph and that's not even white water, they are just steep gradient rivers. When you travel up or down Skwentna you can see the incline of the river on its surface.
    Posted 04-10-2011 at 07:51 PM by Ard Ard is offline
  4. Old Comment
    Davo's Avatar

    Great write up of your wilderness adventure!! The pics are awesome!! Thanks for sharing!
    Posted 04-12-2011 at 08:10 PM by Davo Davo is offline
  5. Old Comment
    ant's Avatar
    Great posting Ard. I too love to hike in the winter, haven't done that in far too long though.

    And an 80 mile snow mobile trip? Yikes!
    Posted 04-27-2011 at 01:48 PM by ant ant is offline
  6. Old Comment
    HuronRiverDan's Avatar


    Great read Buddy...

    Posted 06-08-2011 at 09:52 AM by HuronRiverDan HuronRiverDan is offline
  7. Old Comment
    A great read, as always. Nice pics to give us some idea of the conditions. Looing forward to more of your tales of the north.
    Posted 11-22-2012 at 09:10 PM by gunner gunner is offline

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