Refreshing history

Posted: Friday, August 13, 2010

Work to remodel the popular John Muir Cabin is moving along right on schedule.

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Photos By Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Photos By Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Construction improvements to the 30-year-old structure will not only improve the energy efficiency of the building and overall functionality of the site, but they will also be completed just in time for the cabin's "busy season," said Ed Grossman, recreation program manager for the Forest Service on the Juneau Ranger District.

It's in the winter when cross-country and backcountry skiers frequent the cabin, which was named for famed Alaska explorer, conservationist and author John Muir. As the snow blankets muskeg, firms trails and opens recreation opportunities in the nearby Spaulding Meadows, reservations climb to reach their annual average of about 200 nights per year.

"This is definitely a major remodel," he said. "There were some extensive rehabilitation projects in the past, but this is a remodel that makes the whole site more efficient. The weather-sensitive work is behind us and we hope to have it open to the public again, and for rentals, in September."

Grossman said the improvements currently under way include a restored roof, a new spiral staircase leading to a now-enclosed second story, new door with window and an improved vault system outhouse which replaces the maintenance-laden pit system. Crews have also just completed a trail and turnpike to the now permanent latrine.

Grossman said the work is being funded from recreation site improvement dollars and the project itself adheres to one of the overarching goals of the Forest Service which is to remove all items on the organization's public use cabin deferred maintenance list.

Located 13 miles northwest of downtown Juneau, the John Muir Cabin can be accessed on foot, by ski or snowshoe via the trailhead located at around mile 12 of Glacier Highway. It's one of 11 cabins in the Juneau Ranger District available for overnight rental, or day use by individuals. Hike 0.8 miles up the Spaulding Meadows Trail then nearly three miles along the Auk Nu Trail to the cabin, which is located in a subalpine meadow about 1,500 feet above the Mendenhall Valley. The structure echoes the style of many public use Forest Service cabins with its log, chalet-style construction, wooden bunks, table and benches all enclosed in a single, 15- by 12-foot room.

Visitors are encouraged to bring sleeping bags, pads, a cooking stove, lantern, eatingware and utensils, food, toilet paper, garbage bags, fire extinguisher and fire starter. Drinking water is available from the nearby Auke Nu Creek, located about 3/8 of a mile down the trail. All water should be filtered, treated or boiled before use. The cabin contains a wood stove, though wood is not provided. Overall, the cabin is heated by a propane wall furnace and the propane is supplied.

And while this cabin is structurally similar to others on the district, it's location boasts a few unique opportunities.

"There's a winter ski route that was marked years ago," Grossman said. "It hasn't been remarked in a long time, but we do hope to tackle that this winter."

It's a route that Grossman said a handful of locals know well, but it's one that can also be quite confusing if not marked properly or travelled often. The overland trail follows the meadows north from the cabin and meanders its way eventually to Peterson Lake. In theory, interested parties would ski or snowshoe up to the John Muir Cabin, stay one night, then traverse over to the Peterson Lake Cabin where night two would be spent. From there it's a mostly downhill trip to the Peterson Lake trailhead located between mile 24 and 25 on Glacier Highway.

Beyond the features this little cabin boasts today, there are also significant historical ties to the structure.

"It was designed and promoted in the late 1970s," Grossman said. "Then, when it was built in 1980, that was the 100th anniversary of John Muir visiting the Gastineau Channel area."

He said it was also built in commemoration of the founding of Juneau. Both the city of Juneau and Gastineau Channel, as it winds around Douglas Island, can be seen from the cabin on a clear day.

Currently, Grossman said the construction site is closed to the public for both rentals and as a warming hut.

What's left now for the crew, he said, is finish work which includes installing the new windows, finishing the plumbing for the wood stove and preparing the outhouse for use.

More information on the status of Forest Service cabins can be found online at

• Contact Outdoors editor Abby Lowell @

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