What about flooding?

Many people have asked about flooding in the $125 log cabin build video. Some believe it’s built too close to the river. There are layers to this, so let’s talk about it.

Drone shot

The opening drone shot in the TikTok edit was during a flood. Spring flooding is common in latitudes high enough for rivers to significantly freeze in winters. In Alaska, the period is time when the thaw occurs is known as “break up”. Pretty straightforward; the river ice breaks up.

The timing and character is breakup are different every year. Sometimes the thaw is slow enough that the ice more-or-less melts in place. In the 6 years I’ve been in this part of Alaska it’s only flooded one time. Neighbors who have been here nearly 4 decades tell is it’s the third (fourth?) time they’ve seen similar flooding.

While we prepare for flooding every year, this year was slightly easier to predict. The winter was particularly cold. We had consecutive weeks of -40° temps, and months of sub-zero (°F). Because of that the ice was thicker than normal. This can mean sheets in excess of 3’ thick. That was coupled with an unusually warm spring. In May it reached 80°F. The combination of things ice and fast melting increased the probability of flooding.

The reason it can flood during these events is that the ice doesn’t all break up at the same time. The irregular patterns can cause I’ve dams when the huge chunks float down with a wid5e current of approximately 5mph, and collide with solid ice that still spans the river. This force the ice into pressure ridges which create a kind of ice wall. This doesn’t usually block the entire flow, but it slows it enough that it will back up and start to flood.

The severity of these floods can be devastating along the Yukon watershed. It can be particularly bad in areas with for cliffs, hills or ridgelines in the topography which would also act as dams. Entire villages have been mostly destroyed.

The topography downriver is relatively flat. It is a low flood plain that is miles wide. So when the ice jams the river it has a lot is area to spread out. The volume of water required to fill the valley would be tremendous.

The flooding this can see in that shot wasn’t dramatic. It was basically enough to get the ground wet enough for the mice to panic. It barely reached the bottom of the pilings the cabin rests on, and the cabin has about 2’ of additional elevation. Even if the water reached the floor, it wouldn’t be a huge deal because it’s anchored to the pilings.

It’s certainly possible that seeing flooding here could be much much worse. I can imagine a scenario in which the break up flooding is so high that the multi-ton icebergs and whole trees came over the bank and knocked the cabin off its foundation. But that isn’t our biggest concern.


My overall concerns are less about “flooding” — water coming over the banks — and more about the land falling into the river. Indeed, this has already happened.

After installing the pilings, there was an extended period of time during the summer that the river level was “bank full”. This was a period of 8-12 weeks of unusually high water. During that time, the ground became saturated, raising the water table to the surface. Then the wind started.

During a series of seeing storms, the roots of the tall spruce trees were anchored in semi-liqiid soil. This decreased their holding power enough that many were completely uprooted. Of course this was most common and most dramatic on the banks of the river. After the roots were torn from the earth, the swift water eroded the bank at an accelerated rate. Locals report that this was likely the worst high-water event in six decades. But it wasn’t actually flooding. The bad thing is that we can predict this will happen again, but not whether that will be next summer or the next century.

In addition to the land in general washing away, the garden (hugelkultur) we’d worked hard to build, as well as our main trail, washed away. Due to the timing and extra work caused by the destruction, we didn’t have time to clear another spot and move the pilings to finish the cabin build. The compromise are three-fold:

  1. I reengineered the plans slightly so the cabin could be moved at a later time.
  2. This was always meant to be a guest cabin. It’s common in the North to build a small cabin first, then live in it while working in the main cabin.
  3. Everything is temporary. The river is time washes is all away. Que sera.


An event from last year set a new plan I’m motion which is largely responsible for the Cabinlab project. It’s a huge party if why you’re reading this now.

I was selected in a drawing by the State of Alaska to stake new land in an adjacent river valley. In an opportunity hardly available in the modern world, I was able to go to an area with more moose and bears than humans, and explore the landscape for a spot to inhabit. I spent last winter exploring miles of barely seen country until I found a place I fell in love with. It’s there that I am moving many of my cabin experiments to. I’ll continue to use the existing cabin for hunting, fishing, friends and living. It’s only a couple hours of off-trail travel to get there, which is close for this area.

It’s an amazing opportunity and I’m ridiculously grateful for it. I hope you’ll join me in the adventure. I learned a room from my first off-grid build, and with that success I’m ready to help others work similar dreams.

To follow along, sign up for these forums, or better yet, consider becoming a patron to support the endeavor and get expanded access to the journey.