This winter here in Alaska I have spent more time reading than at any point in my life. I already know what many of you are thinking, ol’ Perkovich is getting soft in his old age and just simply not spending as much time in the outdoors as he used to. Well that theory is wrong my friends as most of my reading has been done during the two weeks I spend on the North Slope each month.
I just finished reading the “ The Final Frontiersman” by James Campbell and to say the least the book was fantastic. A real eye opener for those who think they are true mountain men or want to pretend they are. This book simply tells you like it is or should I say would be if you were planning on living above the Arctic Circle year round off the land. It is about the life and times of Heimo Korth and his family.
Imagine yourself watching the plane fly off over the mountains and knowing that for at least the next couple of months you are going to be forced to exist here in the wilderness all by yourself. You have to rely on your own carpenter skills to build you a shelter that not only protects you from the bugs and rain of summer but also the wind and snow of winter.
You can’t stop by McDonalds for lunch, as there is no such luxury in the wilderness of Alaska. Here you must survive on your own cooking and your ability to find a large part of your diet off the land or in the streams. You must use your time wisely and prepare a way to put up food especially for the long winter months.
You have limited space in the plane that dropped you off and you must decide just what items are the most important for you to take with you. How many matches do you need to survive in the wilderness till the next plane returns? What kinds of roots are edible in the woods and what other types of food can you safely eat? Are you knowledgeable enough about living in the woods to survive or are you likely to be the next victim of the harsh Alaska weather?
Most wilderness cabins had a moss roof that was both economical, as the moss was free besides having good insulation factors, too. However because snow does not slide off a moss roof the structure under the roof had to be built strong enough to handle the weight of the snow. You did not want to be shoveling snow out of your cabin and trying to repair the roof in temperatures around 70. Another big problem that some people might over look is a stove that has a big firebox. One stove that was mentioned in this book had such a small firebox you had to put wood in it every hour! Imagine yourself getting out of bed every hour all night long and putting wood in your stove.
Most mountain men type people moved into another cabin about every three years as by then they had pretty well trapped out all the fur animals and ate a lot of the game. Many times these moves were as far away as 15 miles. Imagine yourself trying to carry your necessary provisions 15 miles to a cabin through the mountains.
Imagine being there alone and you get five feet of snow dumped on you? You still must go outside to haul in wood besides keeping a place chopped open for you to get water from. You must build a cabin close enough to water to make water hauling easy but yet out of the springtime flood plane. You must also have an ample supply of firewood and it must be stacked fairly close to the cabin. You must know how to use and sharpen your ax, as it will become perhaps your most important tool.
You must learn how to smoke fish and meat to preserve it and also be able to can some food too. If you can it then you must also keep your cabin warm enough to prevent it from freezing and busting the canning jars. You need to harvest berries too as a good source of food. Are you able to butcher and preserve large game animals like a moose or caribou by yourself? Do you have a meat cache built to protect it from bears, wolverines, squirrels, magpies, and ravens? Often times the legs of the poles on the meat cache were lined with tin to prevent the small animals from being able to climb the slippery surfaces.
Sound like fun yet? Now throw into this situation the days you wake up sick or just don’t feel like doing anything. Perhaps you have a nagging toothache or you have slipped and sprained your ankle 7 miles from home? There is no doctor or dentist to call or an ambulance to haul you in. You are there alone and often times a very lonely man.
I know of very few men that could survive this type of lifestyle and not sure if you could get any women today that would even think of living like this. I think for most of us we should be very lucky to be able to spend time in the Alaska wilderness on a very limited basis. I love being in the woods as much as any body however my home sure is a whole lot more enjoyable and comfortable to live in then a cabin where I have to put wood in the stove every hour.
I wonder how hard it would be to teach Taby how to do this? Could she also skin out a caribou or flesh out a musty old beaver hide? Perhaps hauling two five gallon buckets of water would be a better job for her. I better get going as I have a lot of things to teach her before we build our cabin on the north fork of the Big River! See you next week!
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