Willow Cabin Overnight (February 13-14, 2022)

Sunday, February 13

The road into Kenai Fjords national park closes in winter. It’s flat and a local ski club grooms the first miles to view point. Snowmobilemachine (in Alaska, they call them “snow machines”) tracks cover the last couple miles to a public use cabin. Lydia had landed a reservation for the night of February 13th.

We put things in a duffel bag tied to a sled like we’d seen people do with their pulk sleds for ski expeditions and set out for an easy few hours of skiing. A real pulk sled has stiff leads so that it doesn’t run up on your heels when you’re going downhill and doesn’t fall down every slope that looks a hair off flat. I had threaded paracord through some holes pounded in a cheap sled we got at the hardware store and looped it around the removable hip belt I’d taken off my backpack. Fortunately, this is a level road and the rollers are quite small so it wasn’t really an issue. A previous trip to the Manitoba huts was much shorter but much more eventful because the “not a pulk” construction of the sled.

The “not a pulk” sled entering Chugach National Forest.

The weather was almost as good as it gets in this area for this time of year. The temperature was above freezing and the wind was mild. The clouds were mottled and varied instead of uniformly gray. The sled slid so easily it would run over its leads if I didn’t keep a steady pace. The snow was a little icy which made the skiing loud enough that we sometimes had to stop to spin a thread of conversation. Mostly, however, we just skied and chatted.

The Resurrection River with snowmachine tracks on the far side.

Just before the bridge over the Resurrection River, the grooming ends. Snowmachines use the road regularly so there’s no need to break trail but they leave uneven chunks which kept us off balance. This section was less than two miles but didn’t feel that way. When we finally got to the parking lot for the visitor center and turned left onto the access trail to the cabin (ignoring the One Way sign to keep right in the parking lot), it was a relief.

Home for the night.

There are several cabins, though only one is for public use. The bathrooms weren’t as deeply snowed in as my Mowich Lake trip last year, which is probably important because these were open for use, though there was still a bit of a drop down from accumulated snow.

Don’t fall in.

After arranging our things inside and melting some starter water (the previous starter water had white chunks which were not snow floating in it), we found our way through woods to the river bed and out to Exit Glacier. The way started as a disabled-accessible trail which had seen little enough use in the winter that we ultimately just took the path of least resistance. Usually there was spots of pee on the snow to mark the way, presumably left by moose also using a path of least resistance. Snowmachine tracks in the river bed gave us a reprieve from breaking trail. We got to the glacier while it was still bright out but after the sun had dipped behind the ridge.

Exit Glacier

After returning to the hut, I remembered that the instructions with our permit were to post the permit in the window. I didn’t see a way to do that so I stuck it the condensation on the front door. We didn’t have access to a printer just before setting out and so I’d written what I assumed were the relevant portions on a piece of notebook paper. Not so official looking.

I couldn’t figure how else to “post the permit in the window”.

Monday, February 14

After a lazy morning, we set out into softly falling snow. Unfortunately, the road tends to funnel wind and so eventually the snow was blowing in our faces. This reduced visibility and conversation but made for and adventurous feeling, especially when Lydia spotted a mother moose and calf staring at us a hundred yards or so ahead. They didn’t move so we went back to the Chugach National Forest sign and hid behind it from the wind while eating a snack. The sign wasn’t as comfortable as sitting on the duffel in the sled but that wasn’t sheltered. Fortunately, the moose were gone after our break and we followed their tracks a ways before they turned off.

By the end, I gave up on using sunglasses to keep the snow out of my eyes. I wasn’t quite blind with them on, but might have been legally so. Fun trip anyways.

Through my sunglasses lens shortly before finishing.

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