Off the beaten path

A new public service cabin is available for use along the Admiralty Island canoe route

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2003

The U.S. Forest Service has a new public service cabin on a popular and historic canoe route and fishing area that follows a series of lakes across Admiralty Island. The log cabin is one of seven cabins and nine shelters available to the public along the route, which was originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the 1930s.

The Territorial Sportsmen originally constructed some of the cabins along the route in the early 1960s, said Mike Dilger, a cabin and trail crew leader for the Forest Service.

"They've needed to be replaced for a number of years," he said. The shelters, with three walls and a roof, were built by the CCC, and are on the National Registry of Historical Structures. The new cabin sleeps six and rents for $35 a night. The shelters are available to the public at no cost.

Use of the canoe route has dropped some since the 1980s, said John Neary, wilderness field planner for the Admiralty National Monument. Neary said kayaking and wilderness guiding has opened so many beautiful shorelines that the Admiralty route has lost some of its appeal. But the drop in popularity has created its own attractions.

"The solitude, it's very special," said Neary, about the underused wildness route.

Today, most of the people who use the cabins are fishing or hiking, he said.

"People can have a great outdoor experience if they are prepared for the elements," Dilger said of the canoe route.

Like any remote wilderness trip in Southeast Alaska, people have to be cautious about the weather and possible hypothermia, Dilger said.

A series of portages or trails developed by the CCC connect the lakes along the route, and the "staircase to heaven" is one of the more difficult portages, said Ed Grossman, who paddled the route in May.

"It's about a mile long and there is a 400-foot elevation gain," said Grossman, who decided to bring a blow-up canoe because it was easier to pack across the portages. Grossman, 37, is a biologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

"My wife and I are small people and we wanted to make each portage in one trip," Grossman said. A hard canoe often requires two trips, one trip to carry the canoe and another to pack food and camping equipment. Grossman used a backpack frame with a shelf to strap the 35-pound deflated canoe to. His wife, Jennette Grossman, carried most of the camping equipment and supplies.

"My pack weighed about 80 pounds, and hers was about 50," said Grossman.

On one difficult three-mile portage the Grossmans put their loaded canoe in a small stream and walked it down to the next lake.

With one bear every square mile on average, Admiralty has one of the largest concentrations of brown bears in the world and that makes bear safety a big concern, Dilger said. Often campers want to leave excess food behind for the next group to use the cabin.

"Don't do it. It can create aggressive bears," Dilger said.

Grossman's party, which included Neil Stichert and Samia Savell, was probably the first group to cross the route this year, Grossman said. "Everywhere we went there was a bear sign," said Grossman.

They were careful to hang their food in trees when camping, and they had no problems with bears.

There is one main route across the lakes, but there are options, Dilger said. The option the Grossman party chose included six portages ranging in length from a few hundred yards to three miles. Their trip took six days and covered about 50 miles through six lakes.

"We went at it fairly hard. We were tired at the end but not exhausted," Grossman said.

The cost of a charter flight for four on a Beaver float plane from Juneau to Admiralty, the ferry trip from Angoon to Juneau, and a one day stay at a bed-and-breakfast was $500 each, said Grossman. The cost to rent a cabin is $35 a night. The new cabin sleeps six people and includes firewood.

Before leaving on the trip, Grossman sat down with Neary.

"He helped us refine our plan," said Grossman, who recommends that others consider contacting Neary's office before taking on the trip. "It was really helpful and they have a map of the route that we picked up with notes on it about water conditions, cabins and shelters," Grossman said.

The map sells for $4 and combines four USGS topographical maps. The map text explains what to watch for concerning tides that affect the bays on each side of the island, Neary said.

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