Denali in All Seasons

Posted By: Sarah

April 05, 2012

Visit Camp Denali and North Face Lodge in the summer and discover a place of beauty, adventure, and wonder inside the heart of Denali National Park. Visit in winter, as our winter staff recently learned, and discover a landscape offering new perspectives and possibilities. In winter, everything is covered in white, the animals are scattered (or snoozing!), and the people are few. What once was green tundra or rushing water is frozen and covered with snow. Every direction provides an adventure. We spent the week experiencing the seldom-visited season of winter inside Denali. 

When we arrived in Kantishna, we encountered more snowfall than typical with drifts of up to five feet in places. Notably, the first task was to access the buildings! Breaking trail in winter is no easy task. It’s a full body workout where in one step you might sink a few inches and the next a few feet. Upon arrival at Camp Denali, we shoveled out a few cabins, outhouses, and trails to set up a comfortable home from which to base out of for the week.

With a fire roaring in the cabin, we headed out to explore. One classic, strenuous summer hike is up Camp Ridge, where (weather permitting) you get a clear view of Mount McKinley and the Alaska Range. In winter, this familiar route provided a new challenge; we spent several hours breaking a trail with snowshoes up the ridge. Upon reaching the top, the views made it all worthwhile. As in summer, the mountain played “peek-a-boo”, shrouded in clouds at times, at others taunting us with glimpses. When it appeared, the effect it had on us was the same: we stood speechless, in awe of “the great one”.

While it seemed as if there wasn’t a single soul for miles, we did have company. The park rangers were out to break trail and patrol with their dog teams. There were also a few people on private tours and winter expeditions. Three of our staff members (Anne, Jan, and Martha) skied to McGonagall Pass overlooking the Muldrow Glacier at 5,600 feet. The trip entailed a three-night journey through the foothills of the Alaska Range. They camped in temperatures dipping to -25ºF at night and ate countless Snickers bars along the way.

Features that provided great traveling were the waterways. The summer swimming and fishing destinations at Moose Creek and Wonder Lake were frozen, ski-able expanses. We also checked on all the buildings to make sure that the winter had not wreaked any havoc. Despite the efforts of a persistent pine marten, the cabins and rooms stayed in tact. For 60 years, winter has tested the cabins at Camp Denali, and each May we return to find an enduring landscape.

The rest of the week was spent sledding, skiing, snowshoeing, building snow forts, reading by the fire, gathering for communal meals, and sharing our stories from the day. By the time the week was over, none of us wanted to leave. We had become familiar with this landscape in a new season with its wind-sculpted snowdrifts, scattered animal tracks, and newly established ski/snowshoe trails. We learned that the cabins still stand in the midst of a harsh winter; that the mountain still evokes marvel; that wildlife as small as a ptarmigan or as big as a moose still roam. No matter the season, Denali is a magical place.

“We can’t tell now what coming seasons will bring, but we can be sure of hard work, fun, friendships, and the knowledge that we are helping appreciative visitors to enjoy the park.” –Camp Denali Founder Ginny Wood, 1954

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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.