Copper River Record October 2017
By Robin Mayo
Before hanging up our boots and backpacks for winter, we took one final hike last week. As WISE plans for the next season, we are always looking for new places to explore. We are also planning a major new program for next summer, Outdoor Wilderness Leadership Skills (OWLS) which will begin with a multi-day backpacking trip. With this is mind, we headed to the Nabesna Road to check out the Caribou Creek Public Use Cabin.
As we drove north, the light skiff of snow from the night before thickened to a good blanket, and we found about four inches of fresh snow on the Nabesna Road. We even stopped to get out and turn those old-fashioned manual hubs on the Truckling in case four-wheel drive was needed.
At this time of year choice of footgear is always a dilemma. I opted for my Extra-Tuffs, while Mikaela chose waterproof hiking boots and gaiters. Both choices worked well, although I compromised on traction, and she had to pick her way carefully at the stream crossings.
Parking for the trail is at Mile 18.5 Nabesna Road, and the trailhead is about a quarter mile further east. I was a little apprehensive about the approximately one thousand foot elevation gain shown on the map, but the first half of the trail was a gently but steady uphill on a very solid and wide trail, winding through the spruce forest. It is three miles to the cabin, a nice distance for slightly out-of-shape backpackers like yours truly.
At about the halfway point, the trail crosses Caribou Creek at a wide ford with a nice solid gravel bottom. I imagine that during spring runoff it could be deep enough to be worrisome, but we made our way across easily without getting wet feet. From there the trail got steeper and somewhat rougher as it climbed up into the v-shaped valley. With the snow covering the trail, we did a little slipping on roots and rocks, but the double-track trail was always easy to follow.
Right at timberline, and right when my legs were starting to drag and the shallow layer of snow feel like postholing, we arrived at the cabin. It is a welcoming sight perched on a relatively level spot above the creek.
The last user had left the cabin nicely stocked with dry spruce branches for kindling, and a couple of nice logs to get our fire started. We were also glad to find plenty of dry willow available nearby, and a good sized spruce log to cut up. The cabin has an axe and saw, but we were glad for the sharp saw we brought. My favorite camping saw is a small, inexpensive sharp-toothed carpenters saw, which performs much better than a bow saw.
The Caribou Creek Cabin is about 10 by 12, with two bunks, windows, a counter, and most importantly a good wood stove. The heavy stove with fire brick was slow to warm up, but very satisfactory once it got going. Bear shutters cover the windows, and we were careful to replace them when we were ready to leave.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park seems to make a tradition of situating outhouses with superlative views, and this privy did not disappoint. We hiked through layers of clouds on our way up, but in the morning were treated to views across the valley to the South, including the “backside” of Mt. Wrangell.
Hiking to a cabin makes camping so much more comfortable in the fall, it would have been a damp and chilly experience in a tent. We also enjoyed very light loads, just bringing pads, sleeping bags, a few extra layers, pots, and food.
For me one of the highlights of visiting a public use cabin is reading the logbook. Although the Caribou Creek book lacked the character development and highly developed plot of the Nugget Creek Logbook (See March 23 Copper River Record for highlights) it did have some gems, including a proposal made with a candy ring, bear encounters, and puzzle angst. Easy boys, it’s just a picture printed on bits of cardboard!
We hiked back out on a sunny day, squinting in the bright reflected sunlight, and felt ready to let go of fall and embrace winter.
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.