There’s a secret cabin tucked into a spruce forest about a dozen miles up a gorgeous river valley near Anchorage. Few people use it, and the ones who do keep it under wraps. The rule is, “You can show it to friends, but only friends who aren’t smart enough to find their way back.”
A prospector built the cabin decades ago, but today it’s cared for by a 76-year-old Anchorage man named Dick and a following of hikers and skiers who cut wood for it, repair the roof and stove, and carry in the occasional cook pot, book, bucket, axe, lantern, or other supplies that we all share in the use of. For 25 years, passers-through have kept accounts of their visits in the cabin’s diary which Dick puts into the computer every few years. It’s an amazing digest of the life of this cabin, adventures in the wilderness, and of just how precious warm, dry shelter can be to backcountry travelers.
I went up to the Raven (that’s what we call the cabin) this weekend for the last time before becoming a father (and took lots of photos). Here’s what I wrote in the diary before leaving:
It’s been several years since I’ve visited Raven. But the place still holds so many special memories for me. First, it’s a temple to our beloved Dick who, for me, epitomizes the good Alaskan life. Dick left yesterday for a 3-week ski trip from McGrath west. It’s nice to see the middle-aged man still doing trips like he has his whole life long. Dick has spirit, and it’s not something that’s diminished with age.
I read through many past diary entries. It was a walk down memory lane: reading of times gone by and of people who are no longer alive to enjoy the beauty of these valleys. And also reading of adventures in my own past that occurred here at the Raven. Sometimes it seems like I’m reading about a different life, or at least a distant chapter of my own life. I can remember the stories, but it feels like you can never go back—and not that I should want to.
There’s something so special about the first time you do something, or the first times you visit a place. That feeling never comes back for me—then it’s time to move on and try something new. Over the years, I’ve brought brothers, girlfriends, and dear friends up to Raven. This trip, I brought an adventurous young Albert who’s been in Alaska for less than a month. Spending time in the wilderness seems all brand new to him. I’m going to ski out today and leave Albert to find his peace up here.
When I get back to the road, the first thing I’m going to do is call my wife and make sure she hasn’t gone into labor. (We’re still a month away, and she was the one who encouraged me to take this last opportunity to get away for a while.) As I reminisce on 15 years of adventure here at the Raven, I know that perhaps life’s greatest adventure likes just ahead. I hope Alaska and the Raven cabin retain their magic when it comes time for my child to enjoy them.