As much as I love the adventure and independence associated with tent camping, after a few weekends of frozen boots and lost battles against condensation, a toasty cabin sounded inviting. I perused through lists of public use cabins to find two available, semi-close cabins- the Crescent Saddle cabin and Crescent Lake cabin. Obvious choice. This past summer, Dustin, our friend Meghan and I visited Crescent Lake cabin, besides, after mile 2, winter travel is highly discouraged. To really drive the point home, the road leading to the trail head remains unplowed. Crescent Lake cabin was out.
Avalanche warnings exist for a portion of the Carter Lake Trail leading to the Crescent Saddle cabin, yet I decided to risk it and reserved the Crescent Saddle cabin for Saturday night. I hardheartedly reasoned the weather could not change drastically over just a few days, knowing that Alaskan weather is notoriously erratic. Dustin also warned against reserving the cabin on a whim. Even when weather reports slated that Typhoon Nuri would bring high winds, rain and snow over the weekend, I held out hope we would be able to go.
Luckily for the both of us, Dustin’s practicality is unwavering. He firmly advised that unless the forecast improved, a visit to Crescent Saddle Cabin would not be in our immediate future. Still, I dutifully packed Friday evening-including extra fuel and food, a safe bet even with a positive forecast- hoping the weather would let up. Dustin watched on and jokingly wished me a safe trip-a charade I reciprocated by stating that I would have an awesome time by myself eating all the extra food rations.
By Saturday morning, he caved just a little, agreeing to drive out to the trail head and assess the weather from there. With packed bags and an excited dog, Blaze, in tow, we headed out earlier than normal, around 9:00 am. Along the way, Dustin managed to point any and every indication of dismal weather- wind that rocked the car, heavy fog and consistent rain . I finally conceded, with the damning evidence at hand, that we would hike Blaze a bit, but not risk the entire trek.
Once at the trail head, we looked around to find no indications of the dismal weather predicted. There was even another car in the lot. We decided to go. I giddily pulled on my boots and threw on my pack, while Blaze yipped in excitement, in a way that Dustin grumpily claimed akin a dying animal.
As I plodded and slipped up the icy, steep start of the trail, I lost a bit-very small- of my enthusiasm. Imagine a sheet of slick ice rising about 1500 feet over numerous switchbacks and me haphazardly grasping at dry spots with my trekking poles. Needless to say, I fell on my ass about 10 minutes into the hike. However, the sunny calm weather proved encouraging and we made good time. The only other hiker-likely the owner of the car in the parking lot- on the trail further encouraged us, stating the wind picked up only a bit near the saddle. Unbeknownst to the hiker, he had only made it a third of the way to the trail and could provide little insight on the true conditions. The sign that indicates the right way to the Crescent Saddle Cabin is still about three miles from the cabin.
I knew from researching the hike that U.S Forest Service maintenance ended at the primitive trail-the second part of the trail. Knowing that, the ease with which we navigated the primitive part of the trail surprised me. Only crossing the partially frozen creek presented problems. It seemed too treacherous too simply follow the path across as hikers in the past likely did. The creek we encountered seemed to offer no such option: water spurted steadily across chunks of ice and slippery looking rocks. As we pondered the best possible route, Blaze, too, raced up and down the embankment looking for a spot to cross. We hiked down the hill because the shortest distance also appeared to be safest. Earlier on, Dustin mentioned that the abundant ice melt made it seem like spring, but the in-between stages of the creek solidified his remarks.
The varied topography of the land alongside the Crescent Lake also amazed us. Pine trees preceded portions of low bushes, which gave way to formidable alders.
Four hours into the trip, our enthusiasm began to wane, especially when the wind picked up significantly and frozen rain pelted us in the face. Our good weather streak officially ended. However, at that moment, the worsening conditions concerned us little because we made it. The previous cabin users only improved our spirits by kindly leaving a clean cabin, well stocked with wood, candles, and tinder.
We quickly settled into the cabin by lighting candles, hanging wet clothes, and changing into long underwear and 40 below booties. If I may add, the booties are amazing. A few weeks ago, I purchased them and up until this weekend we used them mostly in our house. You can find more info about them at the 40 Below Booties website. They proved their worth on the chilly floors of the cabin. Unfortunately, we forgot to take pictures of them in action so these ones from the website will to suffice for now.
Then, Dustin began the manly man task of starting the fire. Before long, we had a roaring fire that he maintained all night. He even woke up at 3:00 am to keep it going; at which point he lost his spot to Blaze. Wish I would’ve gotten a picture of his face! I learned, the next morning, fire starting is a skill that I do not yet possess. I tinkered with a few weak flames before Dustin took over.
With the hard part over, we were left with other decisions…
- What to drink: Box Merlot vs. Jack Daniels. It turned out to be a simple one. I drank the wine and Dustin drank both.
- What to eat: Organic MaryJane’s Bare Burrito vs. Mountainhouse’s Chili Mac. Ordinarily, the Bare Burrito would have been the pick, but we were feeling festive and decided to switch things up. Dustin immediately regretted this decision when he decided to take a sneak peek prior to adding water. He eloquently described the contents as gerbil poop. In any case, once it was warmed up, we wasted little time scarfing it down. I honestly can’t if the fervor which we ate the meal was an indication of its tastiness or our fatigue from the hike. If you know freezed dried meals, you likely agree that it was a result of the latter.
- And…what to write in the cabin guestbook. Dustin took the lead on this one, succinctly summing up our trip to the cabin in just a few sentences. And he didn’t include how I semi-bullied him into the trip. Phew! We enjoyed reading the variety of entries: some preached about caring for the cabin, others left retaliation comments in response to the preachers. All I can say is that I am grateful that the U.S Forest Service provides such great cabins. Based on the snippets of adventures I read in the guest book, there’s a bunch of other people who love the cabins, too!
The mood turned notably somber the next morning after listening to the howling of the fierce wind all night. Well, Dustin managed to fit a few hours of restless sleep between stoking the fire and losing his spot to Blaze. On the plus side, no bears. If you read earlier posts, you might remember Dustin has a love/hate relationship with bears.
In any case, after hearing the ferocious howls of the wind, I felt an urgency to leave as soon as possible. Dustin did not need to say, “I told you so” because I wholeheartedly knew that perhaps we should not have gambled with the weather. Now there were two choices: either stay and wait out the impending storm or move quickly around the lake. Dustin determined that the situation wouldn’t be as dire because there was not that much snow. We worried about the creek crossing, which was difficult enough the day prior without the gale force winds.
As we began the trek out, Dustin noticed two swans across the lake. While, I love birds, swans are by far my favorite and I joked to Dustin that their presence was definitely a good sign. Though I managed to get a few pictures, the swans were merely specks, especially compared to the huge waves.
Unfortunately, neither picture really captures my intent, so you are going to have to just take my word for it. The left was intended to show the size of the waves, whereas in the right picture, those two white specks are swans. You may have guessed, but I am not the best photographer.
We made it back to the trail head-7 miles- in about three hours, record time for us. Even the creek crossing was relatively straightforward so perhaps we over thought it the day prior. Granted, the return hike was mostly downhill, but we were working against a super strong headwind and freezing rain. Long story short, enjoy the beauty of Alaska, but don’t underestimate Alaskan weather.
We pulled out of the parking lot, glanced to the left of the road to see this baby.
We celebrated another awesome trip and safe return home with Red Robin burgers and the Walking Dead. Faced with a similar scenario, I would much rather enjoy a quiet night than battling the remnants of a typhoon. You win, Typhoon Nuri. With that being said, weather gods-if you exist-please, please, please, bring some snow. I’ve got some brand new snowshoes that are begging for some action.