nature and wildlife photography by Joseph Classen

Dick Proenneke and Twin Lakes Gallery

Dick Proenneke at his cabin at Twin Lakes, Alaska
Dick Proenneke and his legendary cabin at Twin Lakes, Alaska.
Jospeh Classen at his camp during his solo adventure at Twin Lakes, Alaska.
Joe Classen on his 2012 solo adventure to Twin Lakes.

In September of 2012, my autumn vacation plans for that year abruptly fell through at the last minute. As a result, I found myself hastily scrambling over ideas for a Plan B. As I pondered various substitute adventures I might embark upon, one idea came rushing to the top of the list: a solo wilderness trip to Twin Lakes, Alaska…the dwelling of one of my lifelong inspirations…Mr. Dick Proenneke.

In 1968, at the age of 52, when most people are thinking about things like retirement, Dick headed out to Twin Lakes to begin a radical new life. While living in a small cabin his first year there (“Spike’s Cabin”), he devoted virtually all of his time and energy to constructing his own cabin and homestead. The results of his efforts were absolutely amazing! Mr. Proenneke’s mechanical genius and stunning craftsmanship, as displayed in his cabin, along with his self-reliant wilderness lifestyle, have inspired thousands of people from all over the world. Dick filmed much of the building of his cabin and documented his life at Twin Lakes with an old wind-up movie camera, and he kept detailed journals as well. These have been made into books and the PBS smash hit, and absolutely MUST SEE film, Alone in the Wilderness, produced by Bob Swerer. Click here for more information.

Mr. Proenneke lived at Twin Lakes until he was 82, and eventually died in 2003 at the age of 86. His cabin is now an official Alaska Historical Site. Dick lived an utterly amazing life, a life that for many would have simply remained a fantasy. He was a man who made the willful, conscious decision to truly make his dreams come true…instead of just merely thinking about them.  

My solo trip to Twin Lakes began with a two hour bush plane ride into a vast, four million acre area of extremely remote wilderness. The pilot I hired dropped me off right at the site of the Proenneke cabin! It was awesome to finally see it in person! Wow!!! I could write an entire book about all my experiences out there, but to quickly sum it up, my days were filled with hiking through and photographing some of the most stunningly beautiful land I have ever seen. I spent the afternoons in awe, watching huge grizzly and black bears devouring massive amounts of alpine berries up in the steep terrain. I marveled at the spectacular autumn colors of the trees and brush along the creeks and lakes. The sunsets and sunrises were genuinely a taste of heaven. I spent quality time perched high on mountain ridges, surveying the breathtaking scenes with a heart exploding with gratitude! It was without question one of the most incredible, blessed, truly transforming experiences of my life!

Again, it’s a long story, but the course of my life changed quite dramatically (for the better) after my time spent out there in the soul-stirring tranquility that Dick enjoyed for so many years. I was in that special place of solitude not just to pay homage to Mr. Proenneke’s life, but more so, to do some serious reflecting on my own. Naturally, I took many, many photos during the experience too. I shot these images in HDR (high dynamic range) to give them a look similar to a classic landscape painting. The photos featured here are my favorites. Some of them will also be featured in an upcoming book about Dick and Twin Lakes that Bob Swerer is currently working on. It’s a HUGE honor to be included in the project.

Finally, I also shot a little video footage of my time at Dick’s dwelling to memorialize the experience. It is posted at the bottom of this page, after the photos, for your viewing enjoyment.