Crescent Saddle Cabin: Part One

Even though the Kenai is "Alaska's Playground" there are acres of untouched terrain that yield a bounty of seclusion like we've rarely experienced before. The drive into the Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage takes you past 40 miles of shoreline on an arm of the Cook Inlet, where salmon and beluga whales are residents, Turnagain Arm. This drive lets you know you're in Alaska. Massive mountains, low clouds, and pale blue glaciers accompany wind and rain on each drive we've made (four now). It's a grand entrance into a grand chunk of Alaska and the perfect start for our first US Forest Service cabin experience.

Nothing says serenity like a cabin nestled in the woods with all the amenities being a wood burning stove, rowboat, and outhouse. What more do you really need? And nothing builds up to the sight of your shelter for the next three days like an 11 mile hike that requires wading through 6-foot rain-soaked grass and brush while the ponder, "Do brown bears hang out in grass this high?" dances through your thoughts. Don't get us wrong, we love adventure, and stumbling up this last stretch of 4 miles through a primitive trail (maybe extremely primitive trail is more fitting) is exactly the type of experience we both seek.

The climb, the giant grass, the 40-pound pack, and the soaked gear is more than worth it when you arrive. The sight of the cabin evaporates your previous grumbles. Crescent Saddle Cabin is situated on the southern shoreline of Crescent Lake, a stunning 5-mile long crescent-shaped lake that holds some of the largest grayling found in Alaska. The lake is surrounded by mountains that are so close you feel you could reach out and touch one. But when you see white specks dotting the rocks near an elevation of 4,000 feet you realize those 200 pound Dall sheep are awfully tiny and start to grasp the mountains' true size.  

When you step inside your cabin you feel like you're Richard Proenneke, without the daunting labor of actually building the cabin. Now it's time to gather wood and water before nightfall. Gathering firewood you realize there is literally no one around for miles, your closest mammalian neighbor could be a brown bear, and there is no other way you'd have it when you're experiencing pristine wilderness. You hear loons calling to one another between their underwater fishing forays and the steady rush of the wind flowing through the glaciated valley.

Before you know it, you have a small fire roaring and your wet gear drying out above on a rope spiderweb kindly strung up by a previous cabin user. Off to the lake to filter some water for drinking and dinner. At the shoreline, up close, you wonder why there is even a need to filter the clear water you can see at least 20 feet into, but know you need to either way. Back up to the cabin to boil your bounty for preparing dinner.

Sleeping is one of the best parts. Getting up every four hours or so to add another log to the fire, tweak the air control and ensure coals hold out for the next few hours is truly satisfying in the simplest of ways. It's the perfect balance between rainy tenting and a programmable thermostat. Your payoff for gathering all that wood is a comfy spot next to that warm fire's glow.

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