Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Don Sheldon Mountain House details

The mountain hut flanked by Mount Dickey.

The Mountain House:
Few are the people that have not seen pictures or heard of the Don Sheldon Mountain House. Situated in the splendor of the Alaska Mountain range, perched on a rock outcrop in the middle of glacier at 6,000 ft, it commands superlative stretching views in every direction. Ever since I first saw a picture of it, I said to myself, I have to go there! The Hut was built by the legendary bush pilot Don Sheldon. For an intriguing read of his amazing flight adventures try Wager with the Wind from amazon.

One normally needs to reserve this place well in advance, but due to a cancellation I was fortunate to get a three night stay with just a few weeks notice. The Alaska Mountaineering School, based in Talkeetna now manages the hut and they have the current information. In 2008 it rented for $132 a night. For those interested in the details and logistics, I'll share some of that here, as I was very curious of what take, and what to expect.

How to get there:
First of all, the hut is accessed from Talkeetna, Alaska via plane on skis. The flight is about $400 round trip per person, and you can take 125 pounds of gear each. That sounds like a lot, but photographers carry a lot of extra weight, which, when coupled with skis, snowshoes, cold weather gear, tripods, etc., adds up quickly--especially when you throw in the wood for the stove. Due to weather more volatile than the current stock market, one needs to bring enough supplies to get weathered in for an extra three to five additional days. One entry in the mountain house log stated: "We were supposed to be picked up six days ago, need I say more?" The hut is a short hike from the landing spot on the Ruth Glacier, and depending on conditions, you may or may not want snow shoes or skis to haul your gear. A plastic sled is a bonus. Speaking of landing strips...for our departure, we had to stamp down an approaching and departing runway in 16 inches of fresh snow. For this task, some skis and snowshoes were invaluable, as was frequent breaks for chocolate and water. Discuss your pilots needs for a runway before you leave.

What to Take:

  • Bring wood for the stove, (which is usually for sale in small bundles at the gas station near the spur road entrance to Talkeetna), no longer than 16 inches. It is a small but comfortable hut, and heats up quickly. Managing the stove temp is critical and easier to do with chopped wood as opposed to round logs. There was a hatchet there.
  • Cooking stove and fuel. Don’t bring propane canisters; the pilots won't let you fly them in. You don't need a fry pan since I accidentally left mine there-a rather nice one! There are plenty utensils for eating, and a few cups and bowls, along with large pots for melting snow for drinking water.
  • The National Park Service requires a pack it in/pack it out policy, which includes human waste. Stop by the Park Headquarters in Talkeetna and they will issue you special containers for the transportation of human waste, with full explanation save a demonstration.
  • If you plan to ski, you will want a pair of skins, some rope and enough skill to feel comfortable traveling on crevasse potential glacial terrain. Don't forget your sunglasses, ski goggles, and sun screen.
  • SAT phones
  • I rented a SAT phone, $20 for the first day, $10 for each additional day, which is cheap. I’d recommend it.

About the Hut:
The six sided building has four lengthy benches with pads, which sleep four people very comfortably and plenty of storage above and below the benches. The 5th side is the counter and cooking area and the 6th side is the door. You are surrounded by windows, which render impressive views. The wood stove is in the center. If you have a larger group, tents may be set up nearby the hut or down on the glacier.

I was really hoping for some clear skies and an opportunity for aurora borealis photography, but the clouds did not part for that wish. Two hours after we landed, a blizzard began, which lasted for a day and a half, dumping about 16 inches of fresh snow. It was white on white, and blowing about 30-40 mph at times. I took lots of white on white pictures, blowing snow, and a few moments of good light opened up on our departure day. I'll be returning for sure, with a better idea of what to expect, and a longer stay. Check out some photos of the journey below

Packing a lot of gear in the Talkeetna Air Taxi bush plane.

Just landed on the glacier on skis, a few hours before the blizzard started.

Hauling gear to the Mountain hut.

The brown box on the rock, that is the outhouse.

A morning trip to the outhouse in white-out conditions.

White on white, and the hut.

Mountaineers weathering out the storm.

Cabin fever?

Hugh Rose telemarking in the blizzard.

The spacious, hexagonal, mountain hut.

The things photographers do when bored during a white out.

Looks worse than a game of scrabble.

Morning light and lightening skies.

A rest from making the runway in 16 inches of snow.

Mark Lead climbing a 200 foot wall by the mountain hut.

Wow, there was some light after all.

Wilderness magic

Youth, the color white, and welcomed skies.

Mount Dickey.

A little blue sky.

Our plane arrives.

We depart the Ruth Amphitheater, into the Ruth Gorge. Wow! you have to be there.


Anonymous said...

Hey Patrick

What an awesome trip .. it's a treat to catch up with the trips you do, man. Great stuff, with some killer pictures, as always.



Patrick said...

It's a magnificent visual arena in that part of Alaska. Can't wait to go back again some time for a longer visit. If our summer stays free of smoke there will be some great trips to be had!

Robert said...

This amazing cabin has been on my bucket list since i saw the photo and then later read about it in one of Charles Kuralt`s books. Don Sheldon tricked Kuralt into staying the night up there and he spoke of an unbelievable light show from "the northern lights". I am sorry that you missed that experience this time . Thanks for your report and wonderful photos.

Patrick said...

It is a place you should indeed visit. Glad you enjoyed the photos.