February 08, 2016
Each year Camp Denali and North Face Lodge’s staff make their way to Denali National Park to embark upon a summer of work and play. Roughly 50 staff members come together and form a community based on mutual respect for, and enjoyment of, remote and beautiful places. Alpenglow is on the skyline and birds are belting out their mating tunes. With a setting like this, what else could follow but love?
It would be too idealistic, even for us, to assume that all loves found in Denali are life-long. Challenges abound. For our staff, who live in a small community, privacy is at a minimum as roommates come standard. If a relationship turns south, you are guaranteed to run into your lost love interest, again, and again. With hurtles like these it may be easy to give up on love all together, but love is a hearty beast. It waxes and wanes and grows in all manner of places and intensities. Some might even compare previous staff relationships to our wildlife within the park. Two words. Seasonal. Monogamy. On a naturalist note our state bird, the willow ptarmigan, also practices this style of love! However you color our love, be it cyclical or eternal, this season certainly saw its fair share of love and commitment for our staff. 2015. The summer of love.
Marianne, one of our naturalist guides, and Sky, chef extraordinaire, were the first of our staff to be claimed by love in 2015. In the spirit of honesty they were an item long before Denali came into the picture, but what better way to plan a wedding than to head to a remote place where there is no internet, and phone calls are made using calling cards? Now that is commitment! The epitome of calm, Marianne and Sky were married this fall in Maine. Marianne wore her hiking boots while Sky smiled from ear to ear.
Next to be carried away by love was Jan, one of our year-round staff members, and Austin, who works for Denali National Park. If you are starting to draw comparisons to the Capulets and Montagues, stop right there! Though these two were separated by distance during the summer, in the end love was triumphant! Austin proposed amongst a patch of fireweed that overlooked Denali in what could only be called a photographer's dream. In the end, love could not be denied nor would it be postponed. Jan and Austin eloped in the fall and were married amongst the first snowfall of the season.
As the summer wore on and colors changed, congratulations and well wishes were in the air. Love is infectious after all. To round out our summer of love Chris and Hannah were the last to bow before its call. As the best things are stereotypically saved for last, Chris waited as long as possible to act upon the ring that was in his pocket. On the very last day of the season, as we waved goodbye to our final guests, Chris took Hannah on a walk. He popped ‘the question’ while they looked out upon the Nenana River. Smiles abounded.
Over the years, each season love has returned with vigor to Denalii, as if it never left. While we do not hire staff based on relationship status, Camp Denali and North Face Lodge have seen their fair share of budding loves and lasting commitments over their 60 plus years of operation. Wedding bouquets have been gathered from ridge-tops and fireweed has graced the top of wedding cakes. We have seen engagements where the only ring given was a strand of grass looped around a fourth finger. Vows have been exchanged surrounded by friends that, throughout the course of the summer, became family. During my time working in Denali I have come to realize what a truly magical place Alaska is. Love will find a way even in a place where the running joke is "The goods are odd but the odds are good!" With a saying like that, I am certainly happy that this year the odds were in my favor.
January 26, 2016
As people around the United States gear up for the Super Bowl, Alaska is preparing for its own brand of competition, dog mushing. Every winter thousands of people take to their sled runners and harness up their dogs to enjoy the winter landscape. While Alaskans cannot claim to have invented dog mushing, the people of the 49th state have certainly embraced it whole-heartedly. Since 1972, Alaska has recognized dog mushing as its state sport, but well before mushing had any official recognition, it was shaping Alaska, one dog at a time.
Even before the first explorers came to North America, canines played a vital role within indigenous cultures. In 1732, when Russian trappers first set foot in what is now Alaska, they found Natives using dogs to move goods to hunting camps and between villages. These same trappers quickly adopted the same practice and began using dogs to hauling furs, supplies and people. As the years passed changes were made. The number of dogs in a team increased and the design of the sleds also began to change. What began as a utilitarian practice gradually started to resemble modern-day dog mushing.
In 1925, it was mushers and their furry companions that braved ground blizzards, deep snow, and unprecedented cold to deliver diphtheria serum to the isolated village of Nome. Setting a blistering pace, the 20 mushers and 150+ dogs were able to relay the medication; traversing the 651-mile route in just over five days. This amazing feat helped to transform mushers into myth and dogs into legend. Well before Balto became a household name, dog mushing was leaving its mark upon Alaska.
Until the mid-to-late 1920s, when airplanes started to become safer and faster form of transportation, dogs were the main method of moving goods and people throughout Interior Alaska. The Alaska Railroad did not fully connect Anchorage to Fairbanks until 1923. Even today, as people drive between Anchorage and Fairbanks on the Parks Highway, they are driving where dogs once tread. It was mushers, delivering mail and goods for the US Postal Service, who pioneered the route that was destined to become the Parks Highway.
Over the years, Alaskan’s love affair with dog mushing has not been without trials. As snowmobiles, also known as “iron dogs”, increased in popularity, more and more people began to forego their dog teams for the easier-to-maintain Skidoos and Bearcats. Thanks to people like Dorothy Page and Joe Reddington Sr. mushing continues to have a foothold in Alaska to this day. While the names “Page” and “Reddington” might not warrant immediate recognition outside of Alaska, it was these two individuals who began to dream of revitalizing the sport. In 1973, their dream was realized when the first Iditarod was held.
Perhaps the largest misconstrued belief about the Iditarod is that it was developed as a tribute to the 1925 serum run to Nome. While the routes of the two events do partially overlap and end in the same place, their influence on each other ends there. What has been termed, "The Last Great Race on Earth", was not created to re-enact the serum run, but rather to commemorate the freight route to Nome, known as the Iditarod Trail, and to pay homage to the role that dog mushing played in shaping Alaska. In the years since the Iditarod began, other dog races have taken hold in Alaska. The Yukon Quest, Kuskokwim 300 and Copper Basin 300 are run every year, just to name a few. Moreover, Alaska has become a “Mecca” for dog mushers and outdoor adventurers alike.
This winter mushers and dogs alike will brave the elements to take part in the sport that has become dog mushing. The mushers that take part in these races are attempting to carve out their own piece of Alaskan history, while the dogs are simply enjoying what they have been doing for thousands of years- running. Each year, as people around the world watch races like the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest unfold, We are reminded of where we have come from. These dog races are run to pay homage to the wilderness that they are run through, and in part to remember the people that pioneered the north long before it was named. But, perhaps we also love these races because they remind us that there is a little something wild in us all.
December 16, 2015
I live in a place that often evokes many questions. Why do you live here? What do you do in the winter? Isn’t it dark?!!! And COLD!??!? When I hear these questions I completely understand the rationale behind them. I might have asked them myself before I moved here, but the reality of what I have found is far from what I expected. In a place know for darkness, my friends and community could not instill more light into my days.
Every year Alaska and Denali experience the waxing and waning of the seasons. In four short months Denali hosts over a half million visitors, over a billion migratory birds and an unknown number of blooming flowers. As fall faded this year many of the birds and people who called Denali home in the summer had already moved south for the winter. As snow began to blanket our landscape, hiking was replaced by skiing, and running shoes were set-aside as dog sled runners took their place. Our northern lives slowed to a pace more befitting the still winter landscape.
As December is here in earnest now, holiday music fills most homes and wreaths adorn the cabins tucked into our landscape. So begins that time of year when, around the world, people come together to celebrate family, friends, and community. At the entrance of Denali the same holiday bustle can be found, but like the voles scampering about in their snowy tunnels underfoot, one might have to look carefully to notice the flurry of activity and preparations.
One first notices the influx of packages at the post office, both coming and going. In a state where indoor plumbing and running water are often optional, Amazon Prime with its free shipping has an appeal that is hard to ignore. Friends depart on trips ‘outside’, a term referring to any place other than the state of Alaska. These trips often carry people to warmer place and familiar faces. Weeks can go by without seeing a particular friend and neighbor. No matter how many weeks elapse in their absence one thing is true; they come back. They come back with stories of families visited but also of how much they missed their Denali home while they were away.
This year Chanukah has already come to an end. I celebrated the Festival of Lights, not because I am Jewish, but because in the North we celebrate light in all forms. On Sunday I stood in a room full of friends, very few of whom were Jewish. Attempts were made to pronounce the Chanukah blessings correctly. Few succeeded. “Asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav” does not roll easily off of the tongue for everyone. In the end, almost nothing was recited accurately or in the proper cadence. Some words were abandoned entirely- sorry “v’tzivanu”- but our recitation was done with vigor and with an appreciation for those people with whom Chanukah and the Jewish faith resonates.
As Christmas approaches I know that these same friends will come together to celebrate a different holiday. We will watch ‘A Christmas Story’, drink eggnog, and stay in pajamas for way longer than is traditionally acceptable. We will think about our family members far away but hold close the community that surrounds us. I live in a cold and dark place. I live far away from movie theatres and shopping centers. My life is not always logistically the simple, but this holiday season I am trying to stop and appreciate the simple things in every day, like Chanukah candles, community and light.
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.