Clouds above the summit of Hale Bop Peak.
Along with many other Alaskans and outdoor enthusiasts, I love staying at backcountry cabins. But I also take my ability to visit cabins like Manitoba for granted. I sign up to stay, get excited about the fact that there is an OVEN to use, pack my bag, and make the most of my experience there. Rarely do I think about the time and energy that went into creating the trails, constructing the cabin, hauling that oven to the cabin, maintaining the cabin, improving it….The list stretches on.
Since I started to work for the Alaska Huts Association last year, all of these things are now in the forefront of my mind. I make sure that things run smoothly at Manitoba - and am consistently surprised at the effort that goes into maintaining the facility. Eric, our firewood supplier, spends his fall, summer and winter constantly searching out and cutting down our wood supply for Spring Work Weekend and Woodstock. Someone hikes or skis into Manitoba almost every week, checking to be sure there is enough propane for heat, functioning smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, toilet paper….Again, the list stretches on. After a winter of heavy use, Manitoba starts to show signs of being tired. Leaks pop up on the roof, insulation begins to sag under the yurt, snow melts to show piles of debris and gravel mysteriously disappears from walkways.
Spring Work Weekend is all about giving Manitoba the attention it needs to live a healthy, long life. With a staff totaling only two people, both Alaska Huts and Manitoba rely heavily upon volunteer support.
On Saturday, May 19th, we will be stacking 8-10 new cords of firewood, hauling gravel and re-graveling the grounds, and giving the yurts and cabin a deep cleaning in preparation for summer. As a reward for our hard work, Indian Valley Meats and Resolution Brewing Company have generously donated treats for the weekend.
We are lucky to live in a state with pristine wilderness and cabins like Manitoba that have ovens, saunas, dishes, and solar-powered lights. The Alaska Huts Association was founded with the goal to foster wilderness experiences and build camaraderie. The groundwork necessary to build a hut, and maintain and improve it, is a big undertaking. It’s an undertaking that requires a community to stand together through support and time.
I hope you can join us on May 19th for Spring Work Weekend; we would love to see you there! RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Mackenzie Barnwell, Operations Manager
by Erin Kirkland, Executive Director
Even Alaska families need reminders now and then to remind their kids about the benefits of outdoor play. We may live in one of the most wild places in the world, but our children are still party to the busy schedules of families everywhere.
That's why Alaska Huts is proud to be partnering up with the National Park Trust's annual Kids to Parks Day project, held each may in celebration of youth, public lands, and adults' commitment to both. It's been a part of my family's spring since the first event in 2011, and we're thrilled to pass along the love to this organization.
The Manitoba Spring Work Weekend happens to fall on May 19, the same as Kids to Parks Day, so Operations Manager Mackenzie Barnwell and I thought we'd make it a full schedule of work and play for all ages.
Families are welcome to the event held at Manitoba Cabin and Yurts along Mile 48 of the Seward Highway. Look for our welcome table in the pullout, and enjoy a guided walk to the cabin and a tent of fun, just for kids. We'll have crafts, a scavenger hunt, and a chance to check out the property if you've never been before.
Mackenzie and her team will be conducting springtime maintenance and general spiffing up of the property before another busy summer season, and kids are welcome to enjoy their own activities while parents put in some time making this historic area shine.
Kids to Parks Day 2018 is looking to bring more than 430,000 youth into the nation's public lands on May 19, and wouldn't it be fantastic if Alaska Huts Association brought a few more?
Parents, caregivers, and other groups with children attending Kids to Parks Day should bring the following:
- Sturdy shoes suitable for walking in all kinds of terrain
- Raingear, gloves, hats, and non-cotton layers of clothing
- Sack lunches, water, and snacks for hungry kiddos (breakfast too, if you're spending the night)**
- Backpacks for stashing gear (there will be lots of people!)
**If you are spending the night, RSVP immediately to email@example.com to reserve a bunk. Bring a sleeping bag and pillow for each family member. Tenting is welcome, but do remember there is NO food or smelly items allowed in tents.
We'll see you there!
by Erin Kirkland, Executive Director
The 2018 Flannel Affair fundraiser was off-the-charts successful, if the many kudos coming from guests who attended are any indication. "Great party!" someone wrote in a note. "Totally lit!" someone else told me as they walked out the door following some fantastic music by Hope Social Club.
We agree. After all, helping people have amazing experiences is part of our job, and Thursday night's opportunity to create even more of those experiences in Alaska's backcountry was the perfect stepping stone for 2018 and beyond.
Thanks to you, dear members, guests, and auction-bidders, we raised nearly $10,000 for Alaska Huts Association's current and future projects!
What now? We put our heads down and get to work maintaining the high standard we've set for Manitoba Cabin and Yurts at Mile 48 of the Seward Highway, with new programs, fun activities, and chances to gather together as a community. It means we start moving forward on our Glacier Discovery project with partner agency Chugach National Forest so a new hut can be built near Spencer Whistle Stop.
You helped us get there, and I hope you'll stick around as we blaze a trail toward Alaska's only hut system. We can't wait to see where it takes us!
Hat tip to you all!
by Erin Kirkland
The Alaska Huts Association's primary fundraiser of the year is happening tomorrow night, and while we're pretty excited about the silent auction items and excellent music by Hope Social Club, we're also looking forward to something else.
A Flannel Affair came about because someone knew all about comfortable things. Gala season in Alaska has always meant "come as you are" to a certain extent, but we here at Alaska Huts knew we wanted to mean it.
Why do people wear flannel? It's cozy. It's comforting. It's something we put on when heading outdoors for a weekend in the woods, or hanging out in front of a campfire with friends. Flannel speaks to our sense of relaxation, a freedom from the business clothes we may wear the rest of the week. And darned if Alaska Huts doesn't support that concept 100%.
Each spring Alaska Huts Association asks you to join us in this pledge of coziness by sporting your favorite flannel apparel: Join us Thursday evening with a signal that you support fun family-and-friends time, whether snuggled up at Manitoba Cabin or playing on the trails nearby. Do it for yourself. Do it in the name of flannel everywhere.
A Flannel Affair will be held at 49th State Brewing Company on 3rd Avenue in downtown Anchorage. Doors open at 6:30 and silent auction bidding begins as soon as you raise a glass to Alaska's only organization dedicated to hut-to-hut exploration of our state's beautiful backcountry.
We're aiming to raise $9,000. We're getting there, but we need YOU.
Need tickets? Go HERE. And hurry, they're selling faster than a set of flannel pyjamas.
Sometime in the overnight hours Saturday/Sunday April 7-8, a few vehicles parked at Milepost 48 of the Seward Highway were vandalized. An Alaska Huts volunteer noticed the damage and immediately informed current visitors to Manitoba Cabin, called Alaska State Troopers, and escorted the guests back to their vehicles while waiting for law enforcement to arrive.
The Alaska Huts Association utilizes the public pullout at Milepost 48 as an access point for Manitoba Cabin and Yurts. There are no restrictions on who can park at this area, and as the weather gets better, more people will be utilizing the space for a variety of activities, not all of which are honorable.
We at Alaska Huts are distressed that individuals took advantage of Manitoba guests to break in to cars parked in the Milepost 48 pullout. Visitor comfort and safety are a top priority of the organization, and we are strategizing addional ways to mitigate such incidents from occurring again.
One very important way Manitoba guests can help is to remove ANYTHING of value from their vehicle upon arriving at the Milepost 48 area. This means extra clothing, food, electronic devices, and most especially, wallets, backpacks, and/or purses. Lock your vehicle.
Report any suspicious behavior or obvious vehicle damage/tampering to State Troopers by calling 9-1-1.
Please reach out to Huts Executive Director, Erin Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org should you need additional information or have questions regarding a Manitoba Cabin and Yurts guest experience.
A lot of people ask what makes Alaska Huts special, and why we are different from public use cabins. I inevitably mention the sauna, or the skiing, or the amenities available at Manitoba Cabin. It’s a lot harder to capture what truly makes Alaska Huts special to me – the community.
Every fall at our Wood Stock work weekend staff and volunteers spend a day hauling and stacking eight cords of firewood and doing a deep clean of the entire cabin. It’s a lot of hard work, but the fun atmosphere makes it a completely different experience. This past September I found myself watching five year-olds carrying one log at a time up the hill alongside grandparents pushing overflowing wheelbarrows. Other groups set out to hike Manitoba Mountain after the work was done, or just sat around the fire to share stories. Everyone came together to make Manitoba Cabin a better place, and in doing so created a welcoming community.
I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to be a part of that community for the past three years, which makes it bittersweet to share the news that I’m going to be leaving Alaska Huts at the end of March. I’ll be moving down to California to pursue further schooling, eat lots of citrus, and attempt to learn how to surf. I can’t thank you all enough for the opportunity to be a part of Alaska Huts, and I’ll hopefully be back in Alaska in the not too distant future.
While it is sad to leave, I am delighted to share the news that we have a fantastic new Executive Director on board. Erin Kirkland has been a frequent partner of Alaska Huts over the past few years, and with her experience in marketing, tourism and the outdoor industry she is a perfect fit for this organization. I can’t wait to see where Alaska Huts goes under her leadership.
If you would like to meet Erin and learn more about her vision for Alaska Huts I would encourage everyone, young or not-so-young, to join us at our annual fundraiser, A Flannel Affair, at 49th State Brewing Company on April 12th, and at the Manitoba Cabin Spring Work Weekend on May 19th. These are two great events, and we hope to see you all there!
Until Next Time,
I woke up Sunday morning to the sounds of kids trying to be quiet. Clinks and clanks, coupled with “SHHHHHH” and a few thuds as firewood was loaded into the little wood stove of Manitoba Cabin. It was chilly, only about 30 F, and somebody had obviously decided to take charge and start the fire before the rest of us emerged from our sleeping bags.
It didn’t take long for a crackle of kindling and the bubbling of coffee pots to entice more people into the cabin, and soon the place was warm and cozy with parents and kids sipping warm drinks and nibbling on pancakes as they rehashed the best parts of their weekend. It was noisy, crowded, and utterly fabulous.
This was Family Fun Camp, a concept developed in cooperation among Alaska Huts, AKontheGO, and Kenai Backcountry Adventures (we’ve also had Camp Fire Alaska as a partner for past camp weekends). In all, 20 people ranging in age from four to 50 participated in the one-night campout at Manitoba Cabin and Yurts, our third session so far.
Designed to help moms, dads, grandparents or caregivers become more comfortable in Alaska’s outdoor spaces with the children they love, Family Fun Camp serves up to four families during a pre-determined weekend, in a variety of seasons. Participants sign up through Alaska Huts and receive lodging, activities, and a Saturday night dinner at this historic little homestead cabin. Everyone shares yurt space at Manitoba, gaining even more knowledge of campsite etiquette, equipment value, and the intricacies of keeping a small space warm during an Alaska fall or winter when temperatures often drop below freezing at night.
During this session of camp, kids and parents worked together to build survival shelters with no man-made materials; they learned how to cook over an open fire using a cast-iron dutch oven technique perfected by the team at Kenai Backcountry Adventures; and we all gathered around to watch “Miner Steve” give each child the chance to pan for gold with paydirt straight out of the rushing, cold creek below the cabin.
Why do people keep coming back? One family has attended three times and counts it as their “best family weekend away, ever.” Others say it’s the camaraderie of kids naturally forming their own groups and playing in the woods like they did as kids. Several single parents have found Family Fun Camp to be a way to connect with other adults while their kids enjoy companionship.
Whatever the reason, it is clear the concept works. Camping with kids, especially in Alaska, feels “too big” for many parents, so delegating some of the organizational responsibility to leaders makes planning a bit easier for parents new to outdoor overnights. Once comfortable, it is our hope they’ll take the next step to go on their own.
Erin Kirkland is author of the Alaska On the Go guidebook series and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage.
Friends had talked for years of their stays at Manitoba Hut. They spoke glowingly, but they spoke of it as a winter destination for skiing, not as a summer destination for hiking. They spoke of carving up Manitoba Mountain, not climbing Manitoba Mountain. They spoke of skiing up creeks, not hiking trails. It just did not seem to have much a draw for a hiker, especially with so many other fine hikes and climbs close to mile 49 on Seward Highway. It took but one chance visit to the hut to make me a regular visitor.
No particular longing drew me to the hut. I had no thoughts of it on leaving Seward one mid-day in August a few years ago. Then a whim took hold as I rolled past Summit Lake. With no urgent need to get anywhere, it suddenly seemed a good idea to walk down to the hut. Call it serendipitous if you will. At the time it seemed merely gratuitous, little more than a minor tug of curiosity, not a yank of longing. I didn’t even expect to hike very far.
On that chilly day under a high smear of gray sky, I intended only to find the hut. But the trail did not stop at the hut. So, finding the hut deserted and spending a few moments admiring the surroundings, I continued up the trail.
Then the wonder of discovery got the better of me. As the trail continued to wind upland, passing Little Manitoba Mountain before dropping down to cross Juneau Creek (neither of the names of which, like every other creek or mountain I encountered that day, did I learn until looking at a map later), I kept following it. Eventually I followed over the base of Windwalker and down into the Mills Creek basin. There a miner labored at coaxing a few gold flakes from the current. Waving to him over the noise of his engines, I continued up stream. Only when the water on one side and the cliffs on the other prevented any further travel up stream did I stop. I wanted to go on. But after first looking hard for a way to continue, even taking a few steps into the fast, deep stream in a vain attempt to ford it, the time came to turn around.
But unbeknownst to me, I had only begun my exploring of the area. Backtracking the way I had come, I turned to look up a narrow trail climbing to the top of Little Manitoba Mountain. Then I looked at the sky. I had some hours before dark it seemed. With that decision, I shrugged my shoulders wondering what I’d find, and started up the overgrown trail to the spruce-covered crest of Little Manitoba Mountain.
From there another faint trail led down the edge of the spruce to where one could look across a wide dip and up to the summit of Manitoba Mountain—the obvious and tempting mountain one can see from the highway.
Down I dropped into the brush on the far side of Little Manitoba Mountain. After then winding through the low brush in the wide saddle below, I began to climb. Eventually, after trudging up that wide slope (the slope my skiing friends had spoken of excitedly for so many years) I stood on the summit.
And, lo and behold, a trail actually led off the back of the summit toward the high ridge that rose at a right angle over a mile farther up the ridge.
Now that looked intriguing, and so the way led on again.
After clambering up the increasingly rocky ridge and making one last grunt-filled scramble up a steep scree and shale slope I stood on that ridge. Then I first tried going right (south) but soon dangled a bit too precariously over a bit too much air. Then after carefully backtracking I thought about going right (north) and climbing the prominent peak rising many feet above the saddle between us.
In that late hour of the day, it took some time to ponder whether to go on or not. As Robert Frost so aptly observed, “way leads on to way” and it did seem that way had indeed led on to way. Standing on that corner of the ridge with that massive summit (called Silvertip Peak I learned later) rising just across the saddle to the north I so wanted the way to lead me on to yet another way. But the gray day had rapidly begun to lean toward a gray night and so I pulled myself away.
When a number of hours later I finally reached the car in the dark, I realized how much hiking and climbing one could do in the mountains and valleys behind the hut. Since that first trip I’ve spent many hours venturing into the country. Yet even after all those hours (including one memorable night’s bivouac on the north side of Silvertip Peak) my list of possible hikes and climbs in the area still remains unfinished. As way has led on to way, the various ways keep increasing. With a little luck the number of ways may continue to increase as the years pass. Thus has a whim turned into an obsession.
Shawn Lyons is a writer, guitar instructor and restaurater living in Anchorage. A new edition of Shawn's "Walk About Guide to Alaska" will be published in 2018; it describes adventures all around Southcentral Alaska, including many in the Manitoba Cabin area.