Archive for gustavus AK

Large small scale building projects

Posted in alaska, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2013 by polarguide


Summer finally arrived after a winter cold May and Early June that transformed into the sunniest summer we have seen here in years.  I have moved over to my summer home in Gustavus Alaska, where I have begun construction on my cabin.  Its been a dream of mine for a long time to buy a piece of land and pay for all the building cost out of pocket and design and build my own modest home. After years of thinking about it, it seems a bit unbelievable that I am actually doing it.

The property I purchased is in a small village in South East Alaska called Gustavus. Nestled in the forest at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus is not an island but it has no road access and is only reachable by boat or airplane. The population  hovers around three hundred people with an increase of one or two hundred more in the summer.

Building in this remote place is challenging but not without its rewards.  Having never built anything in my life the financial and geographical obstacles were intimidating, but once I saved enough money to buy some building material I just threw myself into the project and four weeks later I have made more progress than I thought would be possible. Along with the foundation of my cabin I have built confidence and no longer see the project as overwhelming.  I see the progress I’ve made and  can plan the next stage and even visualize  the completion of the project.

The first obstacle was money and the cost of buying building material.  All the building material in gustavus has to be brought in on a barge, so I have kept the size of the building small to reduce the overall amount of material needed.  Not only is there no road to the town of Gustavus but there is also no road that leads to my property.  This is the second obstacle,  all the material must be carried to the construction site through the forest, another reason the make the structure small.

So far, I have dug a foundation that I put on pier blocks.  Carrying concrete to the building site to pour a foundation was really not an option.  the floor of the building rests on 4″ / 6″ pressure treated lumber raised 12″ off the ground and knee braced with 4″/4″ pressure treated posts.  The deck will be completed with 2″/10″ joist and 3/4″ plywood. It looks like this:



I purchased the land 3 years ago with my friend Zach. Together we purchased a Yurt. we share the yurt as a communal living space while we each build our own cabins on opposite ends of the 3.25 acres of land.


gustavus-9We are completely off the grid.  No electricity, we catch rain water for drinking and we use a wood burning stove to heat the yurt.  Between building I am guiding 8 to 10 day kayak trips.  I leave tomorrow to start trip, it will be at least a week before I can carry back more lumber and start the next part of the project.  I hope to have the walls up and roof on by the end of August.


Seasons end

Posted in alaska, bears, guiding, photography, tourism, travel, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , , , on September 5, 2012 by polarguide

Another summer season has ended.  Tonight I am sitting with the snap and crackle of the wood stove, half through a bottle of Irish whiskey. I have had the yurt to my self for the last week.  The sun has set and the pale evening light strains my eyes.  Soon I will have to light the gas lantern that hangs from a nail over the kitchen counter. I am contemplating the seasons end and feeling nostalgic about the arrival of fall.  I know it sounds strange to speak of fall when August has barely completed her departure, but that’s how it is here. In late August the leaves of the cottonwood trees turn yellow and brown and begin to litter the ground.  The rain falls a little harder, the wind blows a little colder and the twitter and chirp of Sandhill cranes flocking through the grey sky on their long migration south mark the beginning of fall in Gustavus, Alaska.

Oh, let’s not forget the berries. The blue berries are almost ready, but late august brings a bounty of wild strawberries and nagoon berries, plump and red and ready for jamming.  Liz and I picked, jammed and canned a gallon of berries completing our sweet winter cache in just two days.

Nagoon Berries

Liz making Nagoon berry jam


It was an unusual summer in many ways.  It never seemed to stop raining and the temperatures rarely rose above fifty five degrees. My first guided trip began with high winds and heavy rain that blew away our tents and saturated our sleeping bags.  Then, sometime in early July a bear broke into the yurt and ate all of our food.

There were three plane crashes this summer. The local air taxi company that we hire to move guides and clients between Juneau and Gustavus had two planes malfunction, resulting in emergency crash landings.  One stormy morning in July two pilots, Kevin and Gale, left Juneau for their sixty mile morning commute to Gustavus. Each in his own plane, they flew side by side. Only one arrived at his destination.

On a clear day pilots heading for Gustavus will fly west passing over Auke bay and the northern tip of Admiralty Island. They will cross a five mile wide expanse of ocean called Chatham Strait.  Flying at an elevation of three thousand feet they dip and glide between six thousand foot peaks that are the southern end of the Chilkat mountain range. On a stormy day the Chilkat range becomes shrouded in a dense curtain of  grey clouds forcing pilots to bank south.  Soaring below cloud cover they fly around the southern tip of the mountain range before navigating north toward Gustavus. This day was a stormy day.

Two days after the incident I spoke with Gale.  He told me that after crossing Chatham Strait he steered his own plane south to avoid the low lying clouds that veiled the Chilkat mountain range, Kevin did not. Gale watched Kevin’s airplane disappear into the clouds then moments later Kevin’s signal disappeared from Gales radar screen. Kevin hit the top of a ridge doing one hundred and sixty miles an hour.  His air machine was shredded by the trees. The stretch of debris littered the mountainside for hundreds of yards. His body was found still belted to his seat fifty feet forward of the torn and scattered aircraft.

The feeling of fall has sparked a bustle of harvest activity. August began with berry picking and jamming, fishing and rooting over the forest floor in search of edible mushrooms.  On a recent fishing trip Zach and Shellie dropped a halibut skate and we hauled a two hundred pound halibut  from the cold depths of Icy Strait.  On a rare sunny day shelli and I went fly fishing with her father Doug and we caught countless Dolly Varden in Mud Bay, on northern Chichagof Island.  We had a glorious after noon watching brown bears fish for salmon while we cast our lines with less proficiency.

Zach with a giant halibut

shellie with a dolly

Doug paddling with brown bear

Fishing with brown bear

beautiful bear

sneaky bear

The hustle of guiding now done, their are no planes to catch, no boats waiting.  I am enjoying quiet time at the yurt.  Getting small project done, splitting fire wood, reading books and helping Zach build his cabin.

Tonight I will stumble  into bed with good whiskey in my head.  Drizzle tapping on the vinyl roof, fire warming the wood stove, I will dream of the coming days.  Dark brooding days swollen with rain and fog and wind.  Soon we will obtain our seasons quota of fish and hunting season will commence.   We will Slip briskly through the waterlogged forest searching for sign of elusive deer.  After a successful hunt we will pass evenings butchering and processing venison flesh, feasting with friends and  hoarding our bounty for the  approaching months of winter. In this way the fall will pass and winter will bring new adventures.