Alone in the Wilderness

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Alone in the Wilderness

It’s a good thing you don’t have to be quite as extreme as this guy to enjoy the log cabin life!

In 1968, after spending his working years as a mechanic, repairman, and fisherman, Richard Proenneke decided it was time to retire. The 52 year old has worked in Alaska on and off for nearly two decades, and had decided to build his own log cabin near the shores of Twin Lakes, Alaska. There he would hunt, fish, raise, and gather his own food, with the occasional supply coming in via float plane. Most interestingly for the rest of us, Proenneke documented his activities (especially the building of his cabin) in journals and on video camera.

The location

The location

On May 21, 1968, Proenneke arrived at Twin Lakes (just over thirty miles from the nearest town of Port Alsworth, Alaska), having received permission from the land’s owner to build his cabin and life out his retirement there. His hand-made cabin is noted for its tremendous craftsmanship – Proenneke had previously acquired great skill as a carpenter and wood worker. Materials for the construction and furnishings were all gathered from near the build site. The cabin’s foundation was created from gravel carried from the lake bed. He selected, cut down, and hand-cut timber with interlocking joints for the walls and rafters. Openings were carefully planned and cut. Proenneke found and dug out stones from the ground to create a fireplace and flue, then mortared them in place. He even made himself a sort of primitive refrigerator, digging out below the front line to keep perishables cool for long periods of time.

Proenneke's cabin in a photo from the National Park Service

Proenneke’s cabin in a photo from the National Park Service

Perhaps most amazingly, Proenneke documented the entire process of building his home thoroughly in home videos. You can see his techniques for yourself in the following video, which is a condensed segment from a full-length documentary showing Proennekes’ time in the wilderness called Alone in the Wilderness. He narrated much of the film himself.

The detailed journals he kept are also a valuable legacy. In 1973, Sam Keith, a friend of Proenneke’s, published a complied and modified version of his journals called One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey. After the book was re-issued in 1999, it won that year’s National Outdoor Book Award.

Proenneke spend the better part of thirty years living at his homestead at Twin Lakes. Only at the age of eighty-two did he decide to come back to civilization and live out the rest of his years with his brother, Jake, in California. Richard Proenneke died of a stroke in 2003 at the age of 86. He left his cabin to the National Park Service. In 2007 the site was included on the National Register of Historic Places. It has been well taken care of by the National Park Service and remains a popular attraction for visitors in the Twin Lakes region of Lake Clark National Park.

  • Carol Rix

    do you build ranch homes for handicap accessible? In Asheville, NC

    August 23, 2015 at 8:42 am
    • Good morning. I’m sorry that I’m unable to assist you with General Contracting services in the Asheville, NC area. I’m sure that you can find a reputable Licensed Contractor in this location to help you. Ask around, like you would for most items you’d purchase for yourself. A Realtor may be a source of information, but asking around enables you to you have several names to interview and get references.
      I can certainly help you with the Grade Stamped White Pine logs for your home when you’re ready.
      Thank you for visiting with us, Ron

      August 23, 2015 at 9:54 am
  • What a fascinating story! And what a character that fellow was.
    Rather reminds me of some of the people I met in Vermont in the early 70’s…. doing the “back to the land” thing.

    August 26, 2015 at 10:38 am

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