Life in Alaska: A Crash Course in Log Cabin Construction

Life in Alaska: In this second report sisters Julie and Miki Collins take a crash course in log cabin construction in the Alaskan wilderness.

| April/May 1996

Life in Alaska: Maintaining a trapline over hundreds of miles of the shifting ice and bitter winds of the Alaskan bush is just part of life for the Collins sisters. In their second report, Miki and Julie describe how necessity really is the mother of invention as they take a crash course in log cabin construction. (See the photos of Alaska in the image gallery.)

Life in Alaska

Building a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness is easy—at least compared to getting permission from the government! My sister Miki and I didn't need a very big cabin—just 10 by 12 feet for overnight stops on our 80-mile trapline. The trapline, established 80 years ago by our neighbor Slim Carlson, had nearly two dozen cabins scattered over several hundred square miles of Alaskan wilderness, but Slim grew old and so did his cabins. By the time we inherited the line in the 1970s, most of the tiny log structures were unusable.

Our dogs deserve a break after getting supplies across melting ice as spring approaches. Taking the horses home after their work is done. Opposite: Julie, Arthur, and Miki in front of the cabin. Below: Supply tent, torn by a grizzly. Miki, Lilja, and Dropi logging on the ice bridge.

Two good cabins were built before the federal government tightened regulations on people who use the land but don't own it. So when we opened the old Twelve-Mile, we pitched a wall tent beside Slims collapsed relic of a cabin. Tent life in the Alaskan winter is not unpleasant, but caring for furs is difficult, cutting firewood an endless chore, and hauling an ungainly canvas tent 30 miles out by dog team each fall a real problem. So we applied for a permit to construct a small cabin to replace Slim's. Five years later, approval seemed imminent. Meanwhile, we made do with the tent.

In late winter 1992, the environmental impact statement, archeological and biological surveys, and public comment periods were completed. Our speck of a house in that isolated corner never visited by outsiders (except the officials) was virtually approved, but ... not ... quite.

Faced with the dilemma of whether to move freight and building supplies to the site before spring breakup made travel impossible, we decided to go ahead. Moving over 4,000 pounds of animal feed and supplies for two months for the two of us, our 15 sled dogs, and three tough little Icelandic horses proved time-consuming. By dog team, snow machine, and packhorse, we moved loads of 250-400 pounds, taking two or three days per 60-mile round trip. When the ice on one stream abruptly broke up and departed, we stockpiled everything there until we hauled a canoe out to ferry freight across. On the last trip, our loyal huskies leaped into the frigid black water to swim across before pulling the sled the last three miles to the cabin site. The horses, too, clambered down steps in the waist-high shelf ice clinging to the banks. They waded carefully across the hip-deep river, then donned their packs again. We crossed one creek on a tiny ice bridge, but found the Twelve-Mile creek still frozen as we marched triumphantly up to the tent camp—only to find the tent in a shredded ball, gear and groceries scattered far and wide! A spring grizzly had had his fun here before moving on.

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