Crescent Lake cabin is a great destination

Wednesday, May 28, 2014 - 23:00
Crescent Lake Saddle Cabin, during the last month of winter. The U.S. Forest cabin sleeps six and even comes with a rowboat. Rents is $45 a night.

I realize everyone is now into summer and things that are green, but I’m still catching up on some late-winter outings, one of which was a memorable ski March 19 across Carter and Crescent Lakes on the Kenai Peninsula, in Chugach National Forest.

The Carter Lake trailhead begins at mile 34 of the Seward Highway. If you’re traveling south it’s on the right-hand side just before you get to the fish hatchery at Trail Lake. The first 1-1/2 miles of the 3-mile trail to Carter Lake is relatively steep. On this day it was hard-packed snow from snowmachine traffic. I wore Kahtoola spikes over my ski boots and clamped my skis and poles into a portable carrier.

It was a brilliant, sunny day and there was very little wind. It didn’t take long to reach more gentle terrain, where I put on my skis. I’d only skied a few minutes when I heard a snowmachine engine. When we met on the trail I learned the rider was a park ranger on a day off -- just enjoying the country.

“Are the lakes still solid?” I asked.

“Perfect,” he replied. “You’ve got the place to yourself, except for some ptarmigan. I spotted some fresh wolf tracks on Crescent Lake.”

We chatted awhile longer. He mentioned that he’d lived in the area more than 25 years. He pointed out a location on a ridge, to the northwest, where in summer and autumn one could climb up and get close to mountain goats.

“Take care,” he finally said, revving his engine and continuing down the trail.

I hadn’t been into the area in about 15 years and never skied across the larger Crescent Lake. The 12’ x 14’ public use cabin, called the “Saddle Cabin,” I remembered, was located about half-way down the lake, situated in the middle of the lake’s “C” shape. The U.S. Forest Service rents it for $45 per night, it sleeps six and is equipped with a wood stove, a rowboat with oars and even a saw to cut wood.

In summer, a primitive 6-1/2-mile trail skirts around the south side of Carter and Crescent Lakes to the cabin. In winter, skiing across the middle of the lakes offers safety from avalanches. On my trip I followed snowmachine trails most of the way across both lakes, but once in awhile the snow was firm enough for me to make my own trail, sometimes attempting to skate ski--at which I’m not very good.

A longer trail, called the Crescent Creek Trail, comes in from Sterling Highway and Quartz Creek Road. Hiking about 6-1/2 miles on this trail puts you at another U.S. Forest Service cabin at the west end of Crescent Lake. Winter travel in this area is not advised because of avalanches.

About three hours from the Carter Lake trailhead I arrived at the Crescent Lake Saddle Cabin, situated on a bluff on the lake’s south side. I was surprised how clean it was, and it was nice to sit at the table and pore over the log book while eating lunch. Everyone who visited, some from other states, ranted and raved about their time at the place. It was a Wednesday and I’d wished I had reserved it for the night. I resolved to make another winter trip in there, with friends, and to stay a night or two.

Reading some trip reports later, I learned that venturing a few miles through a small pass directly behind the cabin, to the south, leads to a breathtaking view of Kenai Lake. “I definitely want to try that sometime,” I thought.

The return ski seemed faster, even though it probably wasn’t. After crossing both lakes and removing my skis for the steep hike down to my truck, I began to think about other places visited long ago--places that I’ve overlooked for years. The sun was now slipping below the mountains, it was noticeably cooler, and as I packed up the truck for the ride home, I made a pledge to return to some of those places.

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