Richard Proenneke 1916-2003 (Pioneer, craftsman, focused outward in the Alaskan wilderness)

OK, I am a little behind, but I just learned about one Dick Proenneke, who the story goes ventured into the Alaskan wild and constructed a cabin by hand tools and then resided alone in that cabin for the next 3o years. He recorded much of this with cameras. That alone is an intriguing story of how he maintained his equipment and how it functioned. Save the occasional float plane visit with supplies, I think a couple times a year, Dick was alone. He made the acquaintance of all manner of wildlife, hunted for his meat, grew his vegetables and maintained his world with mind boggling hard work. To read of such an exploit is inspiring at the least. To watch videos of his efforts is humbling.

My dad was a very tough man and quite adept with hand tools. I wish my dad were still alive to watch how Proenneke constructed his cabin. My mom and dad worked a parcel of land in the Oregon Coast Range in the 1940’s and the stories of their exploits always set the bar for me as a young man. My dad and probably you would appreciate the toughness, skills, endurance and courage it took to pull this off, like many pioneers that went before. Richard dropped out, probably like men and women did centuries before. Ol’ Richard here started this venture at 51!!!

Research this man…what an amazing story. I wonder what it was like for the elderly Proenneke to leave that experiment turned success behind. He wrote a journal but I believe it wasn’t for a long time. The mental adjustments, the laser focus to your surroundings, the loneliness. I have gone backpacking alone before (I know…a no no) and found it sometimes frustrating. The reason was I wanted to share every amazing discovery with someone and a picture never did justice. That would have probably passed in time. I cannot wrap my head around the mental adjustments required to live this way let alone the toughness. Awesome story.


Dick Proenneke and his Dutch doors



Proenneke's Hand Tools

Proenneke’s Hand Tools

Proenneke Building Cabin

Proenneke Building Cabin




http://www.epinions.com/content_245809057412 (Good Synopsis)


Proenneke’s  Thoughts (Can You Argue With This?)

“I have thought briefly about getting caught in rock slides or falling from a rock face. If that happened, I would probably perish on the mountain in much the same way many of the big animals do. I would be long gone before anyone found me. My only wish would be that folks wouldn’t spend a lot of time searching. When the time comes for a man to look his Maker in the eye, where better could the meeting be held than in the wilderness?”

“I realize that men working together can perform miracles such as sending men to walk on the surface of the moon. There is definitely a need and a place for teamwork, but there is also a need for an individual sometime in his life to forget the world of parts and pieces and put something together on his own – complete something. He’s got to create.”

“Man is dependent on man. I would be the last to argue that point. Babe brought me things that other men made or produced. We need each other, but nevertheless, in a jam the best friend you have is yourself.”

“I have surprised myself with what I can make with simple tools when a definite need arose. I don’t think a man knows what he actually can do until he is challenged.”  http://wvbackroads.com/Acheive/Proenneke/DickProenneke.html The cabin is on the southeast shoreline of Twin Lakes in the Lake Clark National Park. Trips easy (airplane) to harder (treks) can be had to reach the cabin. This region is N/NE of the Pebble Mine area as a point of reference.

Richard Proenneke: I do think a man has missed a very deep feeling of satisfaction if he has never created or at least accomplished something with his own two hands. We have grown accustomed to work on pieces of things instead of wholes…but there is also a need for an individual sometime in his life to forget the world of parts and pieces and put something together on his own – complete something. He’s got to create…Man is dependent upon man. I would be the last to argue that point…but, nevertheless, in a jam the best friend you have is yourself. (One Man’s Wilderness: The Journals of Richard L. Proenneke 1974-1980, pp. 211 – 212)

35 Responses to “Richard Proenneke 1916-2003 (Pioneer, craftsman, focused outward in the Alaskan wilderness)”

  1. 1 John Ragozzino
    June 19, 2016 at 13:17

    Dick was born in 1916.

  2. 3 Zammo
    May 7, 2016 at 12:48

    He was a truly inspirational man and it is a pleasure to see so many feel the same way. Don’t mind the trolls, they are just like the litter bugs in the Journals, they are there, but not worth reasoning with, sad but true.

  3. August 19, 2014 at 11:42


    • 5 Zammo
      May 7, 2016 at 12:53

      Well if you made money filming yourself doing a dump, then why shouldn’t anyone else make money? ps: Please post a link to your video, I would love to see if more crap comes out your ass than your mouth, thanks in advance.

  4. 6 Diane Crane
    April 14, 2014 at 14:18

    I just finished reading Sam Keith’s book, One Man’s Wilderness. Mr. Proenneke was an inspiration, a sublime craftsman and above all, was deeply appreciative and respectful of his breathtakingly beautiful surroundings. I did not think he was still living, but i was nonetheless curious, so i came to this site. He is one of the five people I hope I meet in heaven. He was a true national treasure. Good night , rest in peace, see you later , sir, maybe I’ll be able to visit your cabin in Alaska when I can travel anywhere just by thinking myself there! Love, Diane.

  5. 8 V.E.G.
    March 31, 2014 at 14:10

    Now, Raymond William “Jake” Proenneke is no longer living.

  6. June 10, 2012 at 10:18

    i really think yu people are takin this conversation on richards life waaay to serious. its a documentary on one man that chose to live his life this way in the wilderness. no one said hes the only one that EVER did this, but he documented his experience livin like this on film . i think its very interestin and im a regular black chic, who stumbled on this surfacin channels . this is my second time watchin it. nope i think this kinda man is non existence now, my father woulda lovvved this he was a ol country boy raised by a german man and he loved building things like this straight from the good ol usa soil. so chill out people and enjoy this mans journey in the wilderness”

  7. 10 Steve
    June 5, 2012 at 20:41

    You people are so stupid. You think Dick was the first person to ever create his own world with his own two hands? Idiots! White Eeropeans like Dick carved this great country that you live in the exact same way. Yep the same people won world war two. And so now you sit around and navel gaze as if this one guy invented selfsufficiency. You could not even figure out how to wipe your butt with out store baught T.P. Fools, retards, helpless, girly men. Could not even change a tire, let alone plant a seed in soil. Hey but I bet you can win a video game, and I bet you can recite every football stat going back 50 years, and I bet you can recite every cool band for the last ten years, and I totally bet that your mall bought jeens fit what that chic that you want approves of. But a guy like Dick same as all of the men that built this country facinates you because your divroced mom never taught you what your father and your grandfather allready knew. Idiot.

    • June 5, 2012 at 21:18

      Well Steve…I imagine you are upset because that individual is so rare these days. I imagine that most, like myself, like Dick because he went for the old ways like our grandfathers (my father too) did. So, let us idealize Dick. We know full well where we sit and we know full well how we got here. That is why we do appreciate the urge to escape and more so those that actually pull it off. Thanks for dropping by.

    • 12 Anonymous
      November 20, 2012 at 00:23

      Thank you for telling everyone they are stupid and that we are idiots. Coming from a GENIUS like you it becomes a joke. What a sad lonely person you are to take out your frustrations by trying to belittle people. Which didn’t work. We only feel sorry for you because you have to call people names to make YOURSELF feel better about your own life. I hope you and your cat share your can of beer together. This site was about a way of life Dick didn’t ask for your approval. Oh Yea you didn’t get that did you.

  8. 14 D R Smith
    May 12, 2012 at 20:57

    To the so called Dick Proenneke jr,
    I have researched this. Mr. Proenneke was never married, and never had children. I’m not sure why you said these things, but shame on you for trying to bring down such a great man. I hope you can sleep at night.

  9. 16 Dave
    May 1, 2012 at 11:29

    HI, you can link to his NPS book that avail for d/l at 50 MB here:
    htttp: // http://www.cr.nps.gov / history / online_books / lacl / proenneke.pdf
    theres also a new version avail from alaska geographic on their site.

  10. 18 carl
    February 1, 2012 at 17:42

    Richard Pronneke was an amazing and creative individual.Master tradesman.
    The only other person that I found as impressive as Richard was Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal,the professional gambler they made the movie Casino about.
    Both Richard and Lefty were masters at their craft. Although Frank had a shadier side to him.

    Both I found to be masters what they did.

  11. June 13, 2011 at 12:36

    It’s June of 2011 and I just saw the stunning Dick Proenneke video. What struck me most was that he managed to find what he loved, do what he loved, and in the process never got wounded, sick, fell off a mountain or the roof. He lived. I felt incredibly lazy watching his matter of fact: I need this, Here’s how I do it, one step after the other in building his paradise from scratch. I figure he was of a type that formed our pioneers after the less perfectly skilled pilgrims, working with grace and the pleasure of solitude and individualism. He had no contests with wildlife, this was no Grizzly Adams, he was of the earth. I’ve read some about his origins and earlier formative life, all fascinating. I wish we could see more of the inside of his house, too. It’s all so brilliant.
    I’m a painter and writer, and focused on my pursuits. In 1993 I turned my back on some high powered careers in other things in NYC and went to the Blue Ridge of Virginia, moved into a c.1850 log cabin on a 60 acre civil war ghosted farm with my Brooklyn cats and a great chocolate Labrador I found in the mountains. I wanted my wilderness experience. Unlike Dick Proenneke’s informed expedition it was wildly unfamiliar to me and a total adventure. It also consumed every minute of every day, with short summers, huge rainfall and bitter winters when 20 below was as common as 15 foot snow drifts against the front door and no electric or phones. Trees routinely downed across roads out and pathways that had to be dealt with immediately. Creekbeds flooded and wiped out access. Small bridges were swept away. Firewood piles narrowed to zero.
    Every morning I’d wake early in the cold, gird my loins, and survey the land for damage and repair and the ecstasy of my own sixty acres of pond, river, meadow, marsh, field, and hills. Birds. Wildflowers brought home to fill the cabin. The taste of new asparagus plucked from a tall stalk which may be the best taste in the universe, and I’d walk munching them like carrots. The berries left by the birds. The incredible quiet. The unmatched night skies. The smell of turned soil. The violent, challenging weather.
    I’m glad I did it, the extent of instruction was nothing short of miraculous. The only down side was that the amount of attention required for living primitive means there’s almost no time to paint or write, though I did that too, I’m sure I must have slept every now and then.
    You sure get to test yourself, and maybe that’s the best part. Coming up short of what I thought I could do, and beyond what I imagined I could. And like Clint Eastwood once said, A man’s got to know his limitations.
    The fabulous example left for us by Dick Proenneke was that he didn’t accept he had limitations and therefore he didn’t. I don’t know why most of us grow up thinking life is hard and a battle and there’s so much to overcome instead of having Proenneke’s philosophy instilled. Now that’s a life. Thanks, Mr Proenneke, for showing how it’s done.

    PS As for the silliness signed by his ‘son’, I don’t believe it for a minute. Some unhappy betrayed wife invented that. She needs to read up on rugged individualism and change her ways.

    Barbara Sparhawk
    Big Sur

  12. 21 jenny
    October 8, 2010 at 17:13

    wow his son puts shit on this brilliant man,i looked up if he had kids,or ever married but maybe i somehow missed it,,”kim”with her responce and others are correct.just because money is all his son cared about,dick got life spot on,its not about money,and i never got paid child support you dont hear me winging for my chld so man up.something we should all do,and this inspires me to tell me i stillhave time,ive lived in a tent for 6 months(but i did go in every 2 weeks about 1hours drive to main city) in my teens ilook back on those memories as the best time of my life except for the abusive boyfriend!!

  13. 22 Pete Baron
    March 27, 2010 at 10:29

    I’ve been watching Dick’s Alaskan oddesey on DVD for the last couple of weeks, and I have to say that I’m impressed by his courage, toughness, and willingness to leave it all behind to live in the wilderness.
    It is an inspiring story. I wish that I had the skills to do what he did, because that type of lifestyle would suit me fine. There’s a certain freedom in it.
    Not having to worry about paying bills, going to work, ect… Your biggest concerns would be storing up enough meat for the winter, having logs to burn for heat, catching fish, growing vegetables, and enjoying nature.
    You’re motivation would be your survival, and your reward would be staying alive and healthy enough to enjoy another beautiful day in nature.
    I think I’m going to go and watch it again.

  14. 23 Mack
    January 27, 2010 at 14:32

    Dear Dick Proenneke Jr.- You are full of it. Dick never married and never had any children.


  15. 24 V.E.G.
    December 29, 2009 at 13:49

    Dick Proenneke has one living brother left, as of 2009, Raymond William “Jake” Proenneke. Proenneke’s remains were cremated per request.

  16. 25 Dick Proenneke Jr.
    December 26, 2009 at 19:14

    It’s funny how you all throw praise on him, but yet you did not know the real Dick Proenneke. The one who did not pay a damn cent in child support.

    Shame on all of you for supporting this dead beat.

    Pay your child support and taxes, and you will be a better man than Dick Proenneke.


    Dick Proenneke Jr.

    • 26 SwittersB
      December 26, 2009 at 19:39

      Well, if true, sorry you have not come to terms with your dad’s choices. And, hell yes, I will continue to heap praise on the man. Frankly, the vast majority of pioneers probably absconded on responsibilities in Europe or the Eastern U.S.

    • 27 SwittersB
      December 27, 2009 at 09:42

      Oh, by the way, as a supplemental comment….why would you assume anyone here did not pay their child support or support the damn government’s bloated appetites? I for one can totally understand why Sr. wanted to escape the precursors to ‘global’ ‘community’ and just plain ‘responsibility’…..as for you and yours, get on with it…….. Life is too damn short to harbor grudges and gripes to the grave.

    • 28 Kim
      March 21, 2010 at 12:24

      Seems to me that if your mother knew where he lived for 30 years she could have obtain child support if she really wanted it. Your a cop out..poor pitiful me..get on with your life at least your father did leave you a few things his DNA and blood line.. are you half the man he was..could you or would you be able to live the way he did..seems not..because money is more important it seems to you..it helps but not that important if you know how to use your head and god given talent..Your brain! Most men at 51 have grown children or at least a few years from being grown. I’d be proud to have a father like him..at least he could have taught me things that were important in life,one is that you don’t need all the material things we have today. And by the way..I’m a woman.

    • 29 Bob Orr
      May 9, 2010 at 00:23

      True I do not know your Father nor do I know you either but I can certainly relate to living a life without my fathers precense or any sort of support and my Father is no longer alive but I would never bad mouth his short comings and would love to have some sort of knowledge and understanding of who my Dad was I have nothing not even a picture So even though my father neglected me and my sisters and lived his own life I don’t fault him perhaps you should come to terms with what you have and what you had in life I know with my own self I wish no ill feelings towards my Father God Bless him and God Bless you.Just remember to each their own.Your Father may have not been the greatest person in the world but who is…..nobody…. but your Father did do something Magnificent and that in it self is worth some form of dignity.He left the world a better place.

      Bob Orr Jr.

    • 30 Jeff Davis
      September 27, 2011 at 17:46

      Word is, Richard Proenneke never married, and had no children. Suddenly, a Junior no less, shows up on a blog? Hmm.

  17. 31 Greg Winberry
    November 24, 2009 at 19:18

    I’ve studied Dicks life. Almost seemed something i had to do. I have two heroes in my life, one being the apostle Paul, the other being Dick Proenneke. When I learned of dicks story I was immediately drawn to this individual.An instant hero. I live in Kentucky, and I have a deep love for nature and the outdoors. I’m married with two kids and we are home owners.We have twelve years left on our mortgage,and after our place is paid off, my dream is to move to Alaska and live out the rest of my life there.Not that I’m trying to copy Dicks life, I’ve always wanted to live in Alaska (who wouldn’t), but Dicks story is definately inspiring. Alaska has truly got to be the most beautiful place God ever created.And Dick has truly got to be one of the toughest men to ever live.

    • 32 SwittersB
      November 24, 2009 at 20:43

      I believe you are quite correct about Dick’s amazing resolve, courage and mental discipline. Amazing on so many levels. I hope you realize your dream to someday! Best wishes on the planning, dreaming and implementation….


      • 33 Aaron S
        July 5, 2014 at 06:45

        I stumbled across these posts quite by accident and found them very interesting. Having read Dicks complete journals provided by Alaska Geographic I don’t understand the fascination of this man. I have read the journals three times and each time became more appreciative of an amazing land and less enamored by what was actually a selfish man motivated mostly by his isolationism. Dick mentioned numerous times that Lake Clark is better seen by the public in film rather than visiting the area…there is no doubt he wanted it for himself. Dick knew he was going to lose this battle but not until the early 80’s did he accept it. Enjoy reading his journals as insight to the beauty of the park but the bottom line is Dick was no humanitarian, in fact quite the opposite.

        • July 5, 2014 at 06:57

          Well, I take him for what he and many like him were…yes isolationist and there is nothing wrong with that save issues of property rights and trespass conflicts. Many, most left the confines of the urban chaos to find solitude and escape the same BS that surrounds us today. He was drawn to the same beauty you appreciate so he couldn’t have been all bad. Part of it for me was some degree of self sustained existence. His ability to construct out of the elements to some degree. My father was like that. Not perfect. But he was never comfortable his whole life in the city, but unable to escape because he made a commitment to family. Dick was probably tainted like many of us with selfish pursuits, mental health issues, faulty social skills. Being motivated by isolationism is not a bad thing. How you treat others that cross your path may be. Thanks for visiting and to have read all that three times is quite scholarly!

  18. 35 Kenneth L whitney
    August 17, 2009 at 13:32

    My all time favorite book to read again and again and again. But each time I read it I wish that an Index existed so that I could quickly turn to subjects of interest at that moment.

    Do you know of anything similar to an Index

    If not, perhaps 26 like minded folks like ourselves each could take one letter of the alphabet and use your site as a central repository to create one.

    Would appreciate your thoughts.

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