This trip was unlike all others to date. I started off for Trapper Creek around 10 a.m., Saturday morning, after inflating all the truck tires. In Trapper my first order of business was to pick up items that were still stored on a friend’s property. The items consisted of a one-place trailer that would make hauling my snowmachine considerably easier, a 100 pound propane tank that still needed to be filled, a small electric refrigerator, and a few remaining windows.
The drive up was grand, not a cloud in the sky and the rising sun lighting up the mountains and tops of the trees as I cruised along on safe, dry roads. My only cautious moment was slowing down to allow a moose and calf to clear the road so I could continue on. When I arrived to where my stuff was stored I found the drive freshly plowed offering easy access. I drove the long drive back into the woods to where a camper sits for the owner’s use. Nearby I found my items covered in a heavy blanket of snow, about forty feet from the plowed drive. With an hour of digging, pushing and pulling, dragging the trailer to the drive with my truck and a chain, and loading everything up, I finally had the items – minus the windows – on the road toward the East-West Express Trail. I stopped at Trapper Creek Inn to fill the propane tank and get some lunch along the way.
Once at the trail parking lot got the snowmachine ready to roll and the fridge and tank in a cargo sled I rented from Alaska Toy Rental in Wasilla. With just the right amount of winter clothing on, the weather was nothing to balk at. The day was perfect with a magnificent view of Denali and the trail well groomed until where I turn off toward my cabin. There the snow became a vast mess of rolling bumps and small ridges of snow caused by wind and snowmachine use. I had to ride slowly with the cargo.
I made it nearly all the way to the cabin before realizing that no one had been using the last 500 or so yards of trail I packed down. There were many inches of fresh snow that would make pulling a cargo sled a hassle with my particular snowmachine. Instead, the trail branched off in a different direction, cutting past a small cabin, and into the muskeg on the opposite side of my cabin.
The solution was simple; I’d ride that tail without the cargo and make my way back on my trail from the opposite direction to pack it back down again. I did this two times before hitching up and drawing the cargo within a few hundred feet of my place. From then I spent a half hour or more riding around the cabin, back and forth, packing down a good trail and creating loops where I’d be able to turn around easy. By nightfall, which still comes early this time of year, I was finished with the fridge and propane tank placed beneath the cabin, my gear in my tent, and my bedding situation setup.
It had been a great day. Even packing trail was fun riding for me, and the little snowmachine did great. In a last effort to put a trail in on the other side of the cabin, circling it in full, I did manage to get stuck. The snow was soft and deep, and I was riding too slow and turning too sharply. It was some time before I got it unstuck. I waited for the cold evening to set the snow up more firm and bolted skins onto the skis to provide better flotation. That and a bit of digging worked like a charm, and I was free. That was the first and only time getting stuck during the course of the trip.
Inside the cabin I found a few inches of snow, some upstairs and some at the front of the cabin on the lower floor, only where there had been no roof overhead. It was easy to shovel out, and I took care of all of it that night in order to get a good start on things the next day.
Getting a good start the next morning proved to be a challenge. During the night, while I slept in my tent and two sleeping bags, the temperature dropped to -34°F. This was based on local weather reports I was pulling up on my cell phone. My exact location could have been warmer, or colder. Either way, despite sleeping somewhat comfortably (a ran a small stove and lantern all night in the tent), the next morning my toes hurt with such a pain that I began to feel a sense of urgency, not quite panic, but a huge need to take care of them, and fast.
I strapped my snowshoes on and went for a run. I figured the activity would get my blood pumping and warm me up. That was the case for most of my body, making my feel almost overheated and sickly in my winter coat, but my toes ached with intensity. I probably packed down a couple hundred yards of trail before returning to the cabin, climbing back in my sleeping bags, and letting my body do it’s work. I felt slightly better after a moment, then succumbed to ripping open some toe and hand warmers and putting them to use. In a short while I was nearly perfect and ate some breakfast and drank a hot drink.
Dee had been on her way, and about this time I got a message that she was waiting for me at Trapper Creek Inn. I was not expecting her so soon. I called her up and made plans to meet her at the trail parking lot and head back to the inn for an early lunch, a tuna melt for her and a BLT for me. An inn employee verified their thermometer read -28°F early that morning. She mentioned a customer recorded -31. I do believe that is the coldest night I’ve ever spent camping.
Eventually Dee and I we were loaded up on the snowmachine, with some gas from the inn, and snowmachining to the cabin. It was still quite cold, more than she had expected. The forecast called for as good if not better weather than the day before. Unfortunately we saw little above -10°F the remainder of the day. She kept warm by keeping busy and using hand and toe warmers. Our work included installing one of the gable rafters on the back side of the cabin and a section of the eve fascia board the rafter butted up against. It took a little longer than expected, but both were necessary in order to begin installing metal roofing on that side of the cabin. In fact, more construction was needed, but I held off on that until the next day. It was getting colder, and darker, and we went back to the inn for dinner before parting ways.
Back at the cabin alone, I made it a point to not use my generator or the stove and lamp at all. It was really just a waste of fuel and resources. I instead opted to use toe warmers during the night while I slept and another body warmer near my stomach. I also slept in my snow pants and a fleece jacket. It was actually a bit steamy in my sleeping bags. It was, perhaps, overkill, but at least I woke with warm appendages and ready to start back on the roof. As far as I knew the temperature never dipped past -20°F.
It was Monday now, January 17. By the time the sun came up I had eaten a sweet muffin, drank some hot tea, and was well on my way measuring and cutting lumber to strengthen up the gable of my roof. The process went smoothly, aside from a piece or two that didn’t fit quite as snugly into place as I had wanted. They were replaced, and by noon I was ready to install more metal. My plan was to knock out three sheets, then pack up and head home.
First, I took the opportunity to take a break, take a long snowshoe around the property, and see things from new views. Now that I was walking on snow above the alders and brush, and without summer foliage blocking my sight, I could see a great deal more. I was able to get a much better sense of the land and how my cabin sits according to the southern muskeg. I could tell where a small pond would best be suited, if I were to dig one, to draw wildlife and be seen from the cabin deck. I even found a flowing spring, despite the cold weather, that came out from the ridge my cabin sat on. It was not on my land, but nearby, and it might come in hand some day. Knowing where to find fresh water is always helpful.
During the walk I took many photos and even spotted my first hairy woodpecker. He was low on a dead tree, and allowed me to get very close before flying off. His quick movements and low light made it hard to get a good photo.
Back at the cabin I propped up three sheets of roof metal against the outside wall. Upstairs I drilled a small hole in the top of each one in order to hook a bungee cord to pull the pieces onto the roof purloins and rafters. One sheet after the other my cabin became more and more protected from the elements. The first sheet took the longest, making sure it was perpendicular to the eve and ridge, but each following sheet went up easily. Sure, the many screws it took to fasten each sheet was a tedious task. I put one in near the top to hold the metal in place. I put another in near the bottom to keep the metal from shifting side-to-side. Then I drilled little holes where all the remaining screws would be, and then drove the screws in. All the while I was climbing up and down the purloins. Having already put metal on the other side of the roof, I had become fairly nimble on the purloins by this time. I often climb through the tight spaces between to get supplies or a tool, then back up through. I felt a little like a gymnast, maybe a monkey, and was grateful for being as light as I am.
More than once I sate still on the ridge of the cabin, just looking out toward the mountains, looking through the trees and across the property, just enjoying the elevation and low sunlight. I realized that once the roof was done that I’d miss not having a reason to be up there. I supposed I’d have to give my self a reason, or be sure to build some sort of lookout tower in the nearby spruce trees. I took a few photos, and committed myself to staying one more night so that I could finish two more sheets of metal in the morning. That was as far as I could go, on both sides of the roof, before having to do more construction on the front gable.
Although the day had seen temps above 0°, the night dropped low again around -30. Again, this was based on the weather report. I did not have a thermometer setup yet. I ran the lantern again that evening, but I did not sleep well. I had rearanged my bedding, and perhaps after the multiple nights of minimal padding and a sorry excuse for a pillow, I woke with a headache that was increasing in pain with every few minutes. At least my toes were warm, and I got up before it was too late to have a hot drink, some breakfast, Tylenol, and to start the generator and power an electric blanket while I laid back down for a while. I also heated up my laptop computer so that I could start it up to check email.
When my headache had subsided I did just that. The computer booted up without any problem. However, typing with gloves on was not an option, and without gloves my fingers quickly got cold. I put off some work until later and started on the two sheets of roof metal instead.
All went well. I managed to stay comfortable while working despite a -18F weather report. Working on the roof, holding firmly onto the purloins while I drove screws, climbing up and down and pulling up the sheets of metal, all kept me warm. While I worked, camp robbers (birds) were landing inside the cabin on the floor, picking up muffin crumbs from my past few breakfasts.
I spent my last relaxing moments on the roof ridge, then climbed down to take photos of the work progress while there was still good light. I also started up the snowmachine, ran the generator with some fuel additive, put some additive in fuel I had brought out that trip, and bagged up trash and gathered my things.
I had made it a goal to be done and back at my truck by noon so that I could get back to some emailing and web design work. This proved to be easy. Unfortunatley, once at the truck, I was unable to start it due to the cold weather the past few days. Turning over the cold, diesel engine was a challenge, even for the two batteries in that truck. Many times I thought the engine would start, but by the time it might have, the batteries were already worn down to the point it was never going to happen.
To wrap this story up, I went back to the cabin, got my generator and battery charger, brought them back and hooked them up to the truck. I hooked the charger up and also plugged in the truck heaters to get the engine turning more freely. This all helped, but eventually I enlisted the aid of a nearby snowmachiner and his pickup to give me a jump start.
The truck fired up quickly and I made my way home… after saying my thank yous of course.
I might have to figure out a solution to this truck starting issue, but I’m looking forward to returning to the cabin to finish the roof and haul out more lumber and windows for this spring and summer’s work.