Flip-flops at 30 below

Filling with ice

Winter came all of a sudden this year. We saw a few wee chunks of ice in the river on November 1st, nothing bigger than you would put in a G & T. By the 5th it had choked with ice and stopped completely.


A few days later it was -30˚C and a few days after that, we had a huge dump of snow. I was still wandering round the yard in flip flops and jeans wondering what had happened.

30 below. Sun dog over the river

We were out walking when it stopped. It dammed downstream and backed up, flooding over our feet. I managed to capture it all on the GoPro, take a look if you didn’t see it on our Facebook page-

It’s all too exciting and we’ve found ourselves rushing around doing things we thought were a month away. 

Punching ice out of the water hole

We've already been across river and gone 6 miles up towards Dawson, and 7 miles down towards Alaska. For the past two years, we hadn’t even crossed the river here for another week.

Our first crossing of the river

Putting our land trails in for wood cutting

Getting the machine stuck on the bank, as usual

Even been out on skis

I’ve described, ad nauseum, the difficulty of getting snowmachine trails along the river when the ice is jumbled and piled high with pressure ridges. Check out this blog from last year- Journey from hell

Me and Homer negotiating some jumble ice on our crossing down river yesterday

Every year we’ve had to go out with heavy maul axes and knock it down, and bashed our selves and our machines to hell. It’s taken many, many days of hard work to get to town.

Mostly it was like this

This year we have a superhighway. It could have been built by the Chinese Government. The only thing holding us back is our poor dog, who likes to come along but can only run so far, and a large patch of thin ice upriver.

C'mon mate you're slowing us down

We’ll wait for some more cold weather to thicken it up before venturing further as it’s only -5˚c today and we’re being gifted with more and more and more snow.

Testing the ice with an axe

Water under thin ice. Time to shift ass.

Meanwhile, we‘re snowshoeing around the woods looking for building logs for the new cabin we're making. 

Our 3 “sill logs” in place on posts. We’ve flattened the sides and will nail header boards on for floor joists. This will be the base of the cabin

We want dead-standing trees with 20’ of straight length and a minimum 9” diameter at the base. We’ll need 50 in total and thought we’d already got half last year. That turned out to be an overly optimistic assessment.

Lightly coaxing a corner into place with a maul axe

We’ve realised trees that look straight when pointing skywards turn out be gnarled and twisty once you get them on the ground. And bendy beyond any use once you try to mark a centre down them with a chalk line. I’m sure the damn things curl as they fall. So it turns out a good few of our logs are firewood and we’ll need a lot more.

Cutting a notch

We’ve got two very well written log building books, which we ignore at just about every step of the way (see footnote). These fellas know how to build, but they don’t know us.

Rolling a log into place with a cant hook

If I took their advice and waited til we have 50 logs and all the other materials, and have drawn up plans or even decided what it is we’re building, then we would never start. The logs we’ve got would have rotted into the ground and Neil and I would be too old to work on them or even remember where we put them.

Cutting a notch whilst balanced precariously. Yes, this is as stupid as it looks

We don’t know if we’re building a workshop, guest cabin, snowmachine garage, cold store unit, dance studio or dolphinarium. We'll decide when we put the window spaces in. We’re hedging our bets with a door jamb wide enough to drive the machines in and that’s as much planning as we’ve done.

Drilling holes for rebar to peg the wall logs together

We started well, putting in proper foundations with concrete and treated wood pads, then slotting log posts onto lengths of rebar that we had set into the ground. We spent ages getting them square and the same height on our lumpen and hilly patch of yard.

Middle sill log lifted into place with a tripod and chain hoist

I don’t know if the ground froze and shifted, if pixies came out and fucked around with them overnight or if we just got something wrong, but by the time we had set our 3 sill logs, nothing was square or level. We gave up doing things properly after that and started throwing logs up. It is a lot more fun.

The books joke about gaps in the walls so big you can put a rifle through. Might come in handy, though.

Most log smiths put the floor in first, so you have something to stand on whilst you are trying to get heavy logs into place. Again, we’ve been innovative in not bothering. There is a reason. As we anticipate this maybe taking longer than the Alberta – BC oil pipeline, we don’t want the floor to rot whilst we’re working.

Snowshoe weather

Nature is giving us a helping hand and as the snow falls, so the ground gets higher.

We’re not doing full scribed logs (ie, fitted along the whole length) but we are doing scribe notched corners. We had a practise at using our Veritas log scribe making a kennel for Homer.

Using the log scribe

The ease of handling short logs meant we scribed our notches to a high standard. We can’t be assed now as a 20’ log is no fun to lift up and down.

So sadly the dog house will probably be standing long after the new cabin. (I describe how we built it in this blog, if you're interested The beginning of the end)

Our logs are so crooked we’re plugging the gaps in the walls with moss. It’s an old bush technique. It looks quaintly rustic and covers all manner of ills.

Gathering moss before the snow came

It’s free and very light to work with so I did find myself wondering if we couldn’t make a house of moss?

Laying moss chinking at -25C. Horrid job. You have to use bare hands and it freezes immediately

And then this happened.  

It is snowing so heavily today we can’t work on the building. I’m watching it fall on our un-named, unplanned, trapezoid, wonky structure thinking, didn’t those clever folk up on the arctic coast used make houses out of snow? Snow is also free and we seem to have tons of it. At this rate, our new building will be buried so deep it will be lost in the stuff anyway.

An igloo seems as good as any a place to have guests stay or work on the snowmachines. Or even hold a dance class.

Flip flop weather. (And Homer chewing on his moose bone)

So, next week's blog, another one or two painfully scribed, bendy logs hammered and chainsawed into place and then stuffed with clumps of moss?
Or a beautiful domed igloo?
Let’s wait and see.

Footnote- We’re mostly using Tom Walker’s Build the Alaska Log Home and also B Allan Mackie’s Building with Logs. Both have good tips but Mackie is a bit more technical and pedantic than Walker. We reckon the B stands for Bloody. 


  1. You have lots of talent and energy. You have chosen a very challenging place to live. - Margy

  2. I'm seriously hooked. Bring on next weeks news!

    1. We've warmed up so the snow has gone all rubbish and slushy and neither can we get out to get trees so this might be a very long running saga!

  3. Hello I watched your amazing transition from London to Yukon on tv on the telly. Very fond of this idea myself and dreaming about doing it. One thing I wonder though, Why do you keep Homer chained at times? Wouldn't it be nice for him not to have the chain on when spending time in his doghouse? Made me a bit sad. Otherwise happy hunting! Regards Jenny from Sweden.

    1. Hi Jenny. Great to hear from you! And good question. We let Homer loose during the day. But actually he likes to sit in his house when there is snow on the ground as it has straw inside. We do try to have him inside with us but he gets too hot (or gets bored of us!) so he won't stay in for long. We chain him at night only. This is because there are wolves caribou and moose around. We don't want him to be stomped or eaten, or to worry the caribou. Most sled dogs stay chained. This is because they are not pets and will get themselves into all sorts of trouble and fights, but as we only have Homer, he is more like a pet. On the TV show you saw, we had only just got him. He was a working trap line sled dog and not used to being loose, so he was "in training" to make sure he didn't run away. So he was on the chain then, yes, as you saw, but that was temporary.


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