Ice Cutting - A Historic Libby Camps Winter Tradition

Ice cutting at Libby Camps is a time-honored tradition dating back to the first ice house in 1890 when the camps were founded. Born out of necessity due to the remote location of the camps, the ice house was perhaps the most important single element in the camps during those early days; acting as refrigeration for all things perishable in between those long journey’s back to town. Back then we used an old hand saw, which still hangs on the front porch of the main lodge today. Resupplying the camps was difficult in those days, and those winter months were often used to stock up on things such as flour, barrels of cured meats, and grain for the summer cow using a team of horses that would haul a sled into camp via an old tote road. The camps were on an island then, and a two-day trip up the river in the summer if the water pitch allowed for travel.

Libby’s stopped having an ice house when Matt Senior’s father Allie Libby died in 1959, but began again in 1968 with the advent of the snowmobile and a road within a few miles of camp. Matt was 13 when ice cutting started again and explains that they had to learn how to do it all over again.

“We had an old EZ-6 Homelite chainsaw that weighed about 25 pounds and we would cut near the middle of March. We ended up cutting for days to get a small amount of ice since it was too thick at that time of year to cut all the way through (sometimes up to 4 feet). A few years later we started cutting in January before all the snow came and the ice was easier to handle and was a better quality.”

When Matt and Ellen were in college, they decided to buy Matt’s mother Elsie out and had their first solo ice cutting in 1977 with the help of family and their college buddies. Ironically the best saw we have today is a Husqvarna chainsaw Matt bought in 1980. It is made of tough materials and can take the water hitting the engine at temperatures sometimes hovering well below 0. We also now attach an Alaskan saw mill to the blade making it easier to cut square blocks and making it easier to operate with 2 men.

While having an ice house today is more of a nod to our storied past than a necessity, we still hold our annual ice cutting event every January to kick off the opening weekend of our winter season. Each year we gather the troops, which typically consists of a rag-tag group of guides and a wonderful group of volunteers, and cut between 450 and 550 blocks of ice weighing on average 80 to 100lbs. Blocks are cut, cleaned up, and hauled to the ice house near the lodge by snowmobile, where they are stacked high and packed with a gracious amount of sawdust so that they will last through the hot summer months. There are always three or four blocks left over from the previous year that we haul out and put on display as a testament to just how well this insulating method works! Throughout the Spring, Summer, and Fall seasons, we take these crystal-clear blocks of ice out one by one, clean them thoroughly, and distribute them to the YETI coolers that we leave on the front porch of each quest cabin, making it available for your personal use. So the next time you pour a cocktail over ice on the front porch of your cabin, know that the history of Libby Camps is all around you – even in your glass!