It Is What It Is: In a cabin, in the woods

I think we’re starting to get this cabin camping thing down.


A few years back, we made our first trip to one of the many public-use cabins here on the Kenai Peninsula. It was a great trip, and afterward I wondered why it had taken us so long to take a cabin excursion.

However, we did make a few rookie mistakes. For example, we forgot ice cleats, and of course, things at the trail head that year were a bit icy (conditions were fine once we got a little elevation). We pulled in a sled with all our gear, which worked fine, but with just a tug rope, it tended to bang up against the back of my legs any time the trail took a quick dip.

Oh, and that first cabin trip was when I learned the hard way to make sure the headlamp has fresh batteries before packing it up.

I like to think we’ve upped our cabin camping game since that first trip.

First and foremost, our sled has evolved into a home-made pulk, and we now have two of them. Instead of a tug rope, the sleds are now outfitted with a pair of 5-foot poles attached to a belt, giving the puller much better control over the load. We started using a couple of ski-jor belts, but this year I upgraded those to some Army surplus backpack waist belts, which I thought were perfect for the job.

We also now buy double- and triple-A batteries — the sizes our various headlamps require — in bulk package sizes, so we’re always set with fresh batteries.

We’ve even upgraded our night-light situation, from a glo-stick for that first trip to a strand of battery-powered Christmas lights, which create a lovely ambience.

We’re also better prepared for trail conditions. For our spring break trip, we had skis and snowshoes in anticipation of soft conditions following recent snowfall. While the snow wasn’t as deep as we had expected, it was still pretty soft, and the right gear certainly made the trek a bit more enjoyable.

There’s a few things we’re still working on. The biggest one is sleeping pads, as those cabin bunks are pretty hard. When you’re carrying (or pulling) your gear, there’s a trade-off between comfort and bulkiness or weight. This time around, we brought six sleeping pads and a full-size air mattress — all for four people. My wife and the dogs claimed the air mattress while my kids and I doubled up our sleeping pads. I think we were all pretty comfortable, though at some point the dogs were spooked off the air mattress and decided to share my bunk. And the folks who saw us hiking in or out with sleds piled high with what was mostly bedding must’ve thought we were staying a week, not just one night.

Keeping the cabin warm can also be a variable. Some cabins are draftier than others, so I’ve learned to throw in some masking tape to at least temporarily cover any really bad gaps.

At the more popular cabins, fire wood in the immediate vicinity has usually been picked pretty clean, and sometimes what previous visitors have left in the woodshed is either too green or too rotten to burn. We’ve carried in our own firewood, but we’ve also started taking a few artificial logs, too. They burn for several hours and get the cabin nice and toasty — sometimes too warm. During a cabin stay on New Year’s Eve, which if you remember was a little on the balmy side, we woke up at midnight not to celebrate the coming year, but because the inside of the cabin must’ve been about 90 degrees. We had to open up the door and windows to cool off. Suffice to say we didn’t need the masking tape. And my wife had said she wanted to go someplace warm this winter.

We still make rookie mistakes. For our most recent trip, I forgot to pack plates, despite the stack of paper plates sitting on a shelf right next to where I was loading the sleds. Fortunately, as I was contemplating how to jury-rig a bowl with a Zip-Loc bag and a cardboard ring, we found some bowls left behind by previous visitors.

I’m already thinking about ways to improve next year’s trip. Maybe it’s time to have four smaller sleds, instead of two bigger ones, to even out the load if the trail is soft again. I’ll also continue to look for better ideas for sleeping pads for those cabin bunks.

Oh, and next time, I’ll remember the plates.

Reach Clarion editor Will Morrow at


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