Personal Journey: Alaska wilderness, theirs alone

The writer takes in a reflection of a mountain on Upper Paradise Lake, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, frosted by overnight snowfall.
The writer takes in a reflection of a mountain on Upper Paradise Lake, Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, frosted by overnight snowfall. (ED BAYRON)
Posted: June 19, 2011

Our pilot, two friends, and I took off from Moose Pass, Alaska, 100 miles south of Anchorage, and headed toward our U.S. Forest Service wilderness cabin on the shores of Upper Paradise Lake.

It was early October, and we flew into the narrow valley over Ptarmigan Lake, glimpsing about two dozen mountain goats perched on the cliffs of a mountain. As we entered the wider Paradise Valley, our view was of endless mountains and glaciers.

The floatplane landed on Upper Paradise Lake and taxied to our exposed 12-by-14-foot rustic wood cabin. We unloaded our gear, then watched as our lifeline to the outside world took off and disappeared.

We had the Alaskan wilderness to ourselves - and just a bare-bones cabin with a rowboat. At $35 a night we had no electricity, running water, or phone service; a woodstove and wooden bunks were our luxury. We would have to make do with our own gear: a lantern, cooking stove, sleeping bags, and food. We also had bear repellent - grizzly and black bears are common here.

Settling into our home for three nights, we ate dinner and talked while getting used to the complete silence and tranquility surrounding us. We fell asleep with the wood stove burning away and a few candles aflame.

We awoke the next morning to a steady rain and temperatures in the 40s. Not to be deterred, we put on rain gear and headed out in the rowboat toward the other end of the lake. Our goal was to hike 1,500 feet up a moderate saddle to get a view of the Wolverine Glacier. Unfortunately, the cloud cover blocked almost all visibility.

We did catch a glimpse of a cow moose about 100 yards away, making her way toward the lake.

Beaten by the weather, we headed back to our cabin for its welcome shelter, to dry out, cook dinner, and enjoy the warmth of the stove. The evening, lighted by my lantern and a few candles, allowed for peaceful conversation - this simplicity of life was just fine.

The following morning offered a surprise. The rain had changed to snow overnight, giving us the reflection of a snow-covered mountain in the glassy lake, with an orange-hued shoreline. Drinking our percolated coffee and taking in this view made our journey into Alaska's wilds worthwhile.

The day turned out to be partly sunny, much better for exploring. Proceeding without the rowboat, we hiked along the shoreline (no trails, as in most of Alaska's wilderness), until we were blocked by impenetrable brush. Returning to our cabin, we had another quiet evening, the clear night sky filled with stars ablaze. We tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, knowing our bush plane would come for us the next morning.

Our pilot showed up right on time (even here, checkout is 11 a.m.). There were no passengers with him, so maybe we would be the last ones in the cabin for the season. The plane taxied and flew through the mountains, this time without any sign of the mountain goats, since everything was covered by a blanket of white.

Kent Zavacky lives in Maple Shade, Burlington County.

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