PUBLISHED: 10:33 AM on Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Peterson Lake Cabin
Southeast Adventures

Photo courtesy of Barb Turley
  The Peterson Lake Cabin was piled with snow on one Turley's winter visits.
The Forest Service Peterson Lake Cabin is one of the easier cabins to reach from the Juneau road system. It is accessed at mile 24.1 on the Glacier Highway, just a little bit farther north than the Shrine of Saint Therese. A 4.5-mile trail, which only gains 600 feet in elevation, leads to the cabin. Summer or winter, this provides a handy spot to enjoy the Southeast Alaskan outdoors.

My family's first visit to the cabin occurred when we still had two daughters in high school. As we often do to insure that a cabin will be available, we reserved it months before the time we wished to use it. The last weekend in January sounded like a suitable time, as far as we could tell in October.

Forest Service cabins can be reserved up to six months ahead of the desired date.

Photo courtesy of Barb Turley
  Frozen Peterson Lake beside the cabin is a great place for night skiing.
We booked the Peterson Lake Cabin for Friday and Saturday nights. Neither my husband Kim, nor I, knew that we were both going to be in Anchorage on work assignments, and not get back to Juneau until 9:30 p.m. that Friday. That didn't deter Mariann and Kathy from going by themselves after school Friday. We knew that they were experienced with cabin camping, so we concurred to the plan. They got ready Thursday evening. To get away as quickly as possible, they took advantage of the fact that Kathy had a substitute teacher for her last class Friday afternoon. High school senior Mariann, wrote a note asking that Kathy be excused 20 minutes early because she had an appointment. She signed her own name to it, but added credence to the hoped for assumption that she was Kathy's mother by listing her work phone number under her signature. All of the State offices in Juneau have a unique telephone exchange, which anyone recognizes at a glance. Mariann was a student intern at the time, working in the State Department of Personnel, so the number was legitimate.

Even though they made a speedy getaway, darkness overtook them long before they completed the three-hour trip to the cabin. It greatly helped that there were clear skies to prolong the daylight, and then bright moonlight. They brought a couple of dogs with them. The dogs carried packs, lightening the girls' loads by 20 pounds or more. As is so often the case near sea level, skiing conditions were extremely poor on the icy trail. After numerous falls, they carried their skis. The only damage from the falls, other than some bruises, was that the mantle of the Coleman lantern Kathy was carrying broke. Both girls felt a real sense of accomplishment when Kathy was able to attach a new mantle to the lantern and get it lit while Mariann got a fire going in the cabin.

Kim and I didn't get an early start on Saturday. It was after lunch before we reached the cabin. We carried our skies the entire distance except for the last half-mile, which is on the frozen surface of Peterson Lake.

The girls took us on a tour of the interesting animal tracks that they had found around the edges of the lake. Apparently there was a beaver living in a tiny, snow-covered tributary stream. Holes in the snow three or four feet deep that exposed little sections of the creek were connected by muddy trails to trees that had been gnawed. The heavy frost crystals on the snow obscured individual tracks in most cases, but drag marks where limbs had been moved were obvious. The girls showed us slide marks on several steep hillsides next to the lake. We agreed with their assessment that these had been made by river otters. Mariann and Kathy also showed us porcupine and squirrel tracks and we found mink tracks. Back on the lake ice, we found several long sequences of tracks where an otter repeatedly had bounded a few steps, then slid eight to 10 feet. The tracks made it so apparent that our mental picture was almost as entertaining as actually seeing the otter doing it.

The weather stayed clear and cold all weekend. The temperature was probably around zero Sunday morning. The Peterson Lake Cabin is very snug and easy to heat. Our time at the cabin went by too quickly. After taking winter scenery pictures, we headed out at about noon. On the way, we stopped to look at Peterson Creek just below the lake. It looked like a root beer float with its brown water flowing over and around big chunks of white ice and snow.

As things turned out, Mariann and Kathy spent another day on their own at the Peterson Lake Cabin, though Kim and I were there at night this time. Our plan, on this winter three-day weekend, had been to spend one night at the Peterson Lake Cabin and the next at the John Muir Cabin. There is about a 1,000-foot elevation gain between the two cabins, so skis were essential. As we were skiing on frozen Peterson Lake the first evening, a bolt on Mariann's ski binding broke. Kim got it partially repaired and probably able to use, but the next morning just after we'd packed up and started the ascent, Kathy's binding failed irreparably. We revised our plans. With the girls and our overnight gear left at the cabin, Kim and I made a quick trip up to the John Muir Cabin and back again. Fortunately, no one else had reserved the Peterson Lake Cabin for this night.

One other time, when our family was a little older, there was another cabin trip without us. Kathy, who was a high school junior at that time, and our nephew Dan, a high school senior who was living with us, along with two other friends, hiked in to the cabin for a Monday school holiday in October.

They hiked in Sunday afternoon, enjoying the first snowfall of the season. Eight or 10 inches of snow fell while they were there, adding a cozy winter charm to the cabin. It had seemed to me that they took more than enough food with them, but hardly any of it came back. Apparently it takes a lot of fuel to sustain four teenagers through 24 hours of winter fun.

The Peterson Lake Cabin is great for quick, easy cabin trips at any season. Rain or snow, a warm stove and a solid roof make it a fine place to escape from the everyday chores at home.