Spring Break in Denali

Posted By: Sarah

March 20, 2012


Each September, the cabins at Camp Denali are boarded up and shut down for winter. Usually they don't see a soul until May.  Not this year.  Our small winter staff just returned from a wonderful week experiencing winter in the heart of Denali.

The epic adventure began last Saturday. Our plan, weather permitting, was to fly out to Kantishna on ski planes. Waking up that morning, all that was in sight was blue skies and sunshine. We couldn’t wait for the adventure to begin.

We had been planning for several months. The logistics were similar to what happens each opening in early May at the lodges: a small crew flies out to a stark, snowy landscape and goes about the task of opening the lodges and preparing for habitation. But in March, the conditions are much harsher with snow depths of two to four feet, temperatures dipping down to -20 degrees Fahrenheit, and bitter winds of up to 30 miles per hour. Because of these factors, we would have no plumbing and no power. Our drinking water would come from the spring at North Face Lodge (as long as it wasn't frozen), wash water from melting abundant snow, and cooking would be on a propane stovetop and oven.

One of the biggest challenges was figuring out food and meals for ten people. We were operating on weight restrictions since we had to fly in and out.  So our plan was to bring out fresh food (produce, meat, cheese, etc.) and dip into the supply of dry goods that were left behind in the fall at the lodges. One way we ended up lightening the load was to dry food prior to our departure. For weeks in advance we had dehydrators humming away with apples, peppers, bananas, strawberries, onions, and pineapples. 

And then there was the gear! We had high hopes of the three sweet S's of winter: skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. With such cold temperatures, we’d have to cover everything from our nose down to our toes against the severe cold of winter. The cabins we would stay in would be heated exclusively by wood stove. The packing list included lots of warm socks, long underwear, hats, gloves, mittens, a warm coat, sweaters, neck gaiters, toasty sleeping bag, and the occasional hand warmer. We would be ready for anything and everything. 

As the plane took off in the morning, packed with all our gear and food, we caught a glimpse of the mountain. So began our winter expedition into one of the most beautiful places in Denali, Alaska, and the world. 

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Denali Dispatch

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.