May 21, 2013
On May 6th our opening crew arrived at our lodges in Kantishna. Staff member Lee Drury was part of the crew and describes the first week:
Yes, the Opening Crew, all 13 adults, plus Danika and Silas, are on site and working hard to prepare for the Camp Denali/North Face Lodge guest season to come. We flew over the Alaska Range from Talkeetna in planes equipped with skis for landing on the snow-covered (about three feet of it) Kantishna Airstrip. While the logistics are complicated, total transport required one bus, three airplanes, two snow machines (several round trips to North Face from the airstrip, about four miles), bucket-brigade-type lines for unloading food and necessary cargo, and lots of snow-shoveling.
Once ferried to North Face Lodge from the airstrip, each person had a task, and we all set to it. By nightfall we had heat, melted snow for washing dishes, and a shoveled path to the outhouse; by the following morning limited toilets and showers, and a delicious hot breakfast.
Here at week’s end, it’s clear that work has progressed. Camp buildings and paths are shoveled out, there’s a clear—well, muddy—track plowed from Potlatch to North Face, seedlings bask in the sun, our own sprouts grace salads. A new generator is installed; the new staff cabin boasts completed interior work, the frame for the lodge foundation has been cut, new towel racks are installed in cabins, one quilt is done and work on new curtains has started.
While it is certain that we’re here to work, we’re also having fun. Jerri Cole still holds the distance record for sliding down Camp hill, and staff members have been seen snowshoeing—and even crawling—on rapidly melting snow cover. Sunscreen tubes and bottles (from 33 SPF to 70) hold down the desk in the living room. Early morning forays on skis to Wonder Lake and after-dinner walks round out our days.
Now, at the end of the first week of Opening, the road crew chews through an 18-foot drift over towards Eielson Visitor Center, and Kantishna’s airstrip is still snow-covered—if showing a trickle of water at the edges. Work continues each day here, but whether worked or played, the hours bring happiness at again being together and putting everything in shape for the guests and the summer to come.”
Since last week, the lodge has been moved into place on its new foundation and floor, all rotten logs have been removed and fresh ones have been put in. Most of the finish work (walls, trim, desk, stairs) is done in the new staff cabin. The sewing team has completed one quilt and 3 cabins worth of new curtains. All made possible by our intrepid cook, Sara, who has cooked three delicious meals, fresh breads and delectable desserts for 14 days straight!
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April 22, 2013
In June of this year, nine mountaineers will attempt to become the first all-African-American expedition to climb Denali (a.k.a. Mount McKinley) in Alaska run by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS). Camp Denali is partnering with NOLS during the expedition. Not only is this team unique in regards to the color of their skin, their goal goes way beyond summiting North America’s highest peak. Their ultimate objective is to inspire people of all colors, young and old, to get more engaged in the great outdoors.
The expedition is hoping to produce a documentary on the team’s journey to the top of North America’s loftiest, most iconic summit. The documentary will increase awareness of the importance of exploring natural environments and make clear that it’s time to invite all races, all ethnicities—all people—to inspirational outdoor playgrounds.
As our nation’s demographics change and our next generation—comprised mostly of people of color—take the reins, their comprehension of the benefits of outdoor recreation to their quality of life and to the stewardship of our wilderness is vital, making Expedition Denali an unprecedented opportunity not only make history, but build a legacy.
April 11, 2013
2013 marks the 100th anniversary of the first flight in Alaska. In 1913, a group of merchants in Fairbanks shipped a plane up by steamboat. Two barnstormers* flew the biplane 200 feet above Weeks Field in Fairbanks, going a mere 45 miles per hour. The flight was considered a spectacle, and they sold tickets to the show. 100 years later, Alaska has the highest number of pilots per capita than any other state with 8,550 pilots or 1 in 78 residents.
Prior to the airplane, dog mushing (the official state sport of Alaska) was a major means of transportation. The famous 1,150 mile Iditarod race from Anchorage to Nome commemorates the 1925 serum run, in which mushers delivered medicine to diphtheria-stricken Nome when all other forms of transportation failed. Today, a number of small towns and villages rely on scheduled or charted bush flying services for cargo, passengers, and mail. Many communities have small air taxi services, which help meet the demand for customized transport to remote areas.
In Denali National Park, the first airplane landed in 1924 by aviator Carl Ben Eielson along the bluffs of Copper Mountain**. Between 1925 and 1927, the Alaska Road Commission built two airfields in the area: a 1500-foot strip near Lake Minchumina, built as an emergency landing area, followed by the 600-foot-long Kantishna Aviation Field, “on the left limit of Moose Creek between the creek and Wonder Lake,” which was used by area miners along with an “occasional tourist”. Nearly thirty years after the introduction of aviation in the park, Camp Denali founders Ginny Wood, Celia Hunter, and Woody Wood took a flight to Wonder Lake that would change their lives.
Ginny and Celia were WASPs (Women Air Service Pilots) in WWII. They were trained to fly planes from the factories to training centers and ports of embarkation. They met while ferrying surplus planes. After the war they traveled to Alaska and worked in a number of early tour agencies, flying cargo and visitors to remote locations in Alaska. Ginny once said, “Flying is 90 percent boredom, but in Alaska, 10 percent is sheer terror! You may have to land dead stick on a sandbar or in the tundra. When I first came here there were no airfields, and definitely no wheat fields where you could put a plane down safely.”***
In 1950, Ginny’s husband Woody was a park ranger in Denali and heard about a particular ridge from Superintendent, Grant Pearson, above Moose Creek just beyond the north-western boundary of the park that he thought they should explore. So, one weekend Ginny, Woody and Celia flew their Cessna 170 out to the airstrip at Kantishna, shouldered their rucksacks and set out with Les Viereck, the Wonder Lake ranger. Hiking through low clouds and drizzle, they happened upon an exquisite tundra pond at the edge of the ridge. They asked Les to return on a clear day and let them know if the mountain could be seen from there. A week later Les’s written message back to the park entrance was simply, “WOW!” That fall, they homesteaded 67 acres of that ridge, centered on Nugget Pond, and built Camp Denali. They ran it for 25 years, forging livelihoods out of ingenuity, hospitality, and love of the land.
Camp Denali started arranging flights for guests in 1981. Lowell Thomas Jr. flew guests around the mountain in his Cessna 207 for twelve years. Today, locally based Kantishna Air Taxi provides flight seeing tours around Mt. McKinley and the Alaska Range where you can see the vast scale of the mountains, glaciers, and landscape.
If you are coming through Anchorage this summer, be sure to check out the Anchorage Museum exhibit Arctic Flight: A Century of Alaska Aviation. The exhibit features historical artifacts, video footage and photographs telling compelling stories of survival, adventure and ingenuity. Demonstrating in 100 years, how airplanes have evolved from frivolous spectacle to crucial part of the Alaska way of life.
For more information visit www.anchoragemusuem.org.
*Barnstorming was a popular form of entertainment in the 1920’s where stunt pilots would perform tricks with airplanes, either individually or in groups called a flying circus.
** A pioneer aviator, Carl Ben Eielsen attained international recognition for several polar expeditions. After he was killed in a crash in 1929, the U.S. Congress changed the name of Copper Mountain to Mount Eielson to honor his memory. Eielson Visitor Center, at mile 66 on the Denali Park Road, is also named after him.
***Excerpt from Women Pilots of Alaska: 37 Interviews and Profiles by Sandi Sumner.
It is our pleasure to present Dispatches, a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. Written by members of our staff, Dispatches is an opportunity to peek into the special sightings notebook, brush up on Denali National Park issues, read about our ongoing projects in sustainability, and maybe get a whiff of what’s cooking in the kitchens. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.