Denali Transportation Nuances...the ones you know and the ones you don't

Posted By: Teresa

December 17, 2013

“How will you be arriving to Denali?” For those of you who have made a reservation with us, you are familiar with this question, since it is one we pose to each and every guest. This question serves a vital purpose for our staff, more than simply satisfying our curiosity about the other parts of a traveler’s Alaskan adventure. Ours is a huge state, and transportation time and logistics play no small part in your arrival to Denali. “Will you be arriving from Fairbanks or Anchorage?” “Will you be taking a bus or train?” “Please be aware that if you are taking the train from Anchorage, you will have to arrive the night before and spend a night at the Park’s entrance as the train arrives daily at 4PM, but our buses depart at 1PM. However, if you are arriving from Fairbanks by train the same day it will not be a problem.” “Even though the train does not arrive in time coming from Anchorage, our buses will arrive back at the train depot on your departure day in time to catch the train back to Anchorage.” Are you confused yet? Thought so.

We do our very best to make sure our guests can let go of their logistical concerns of arriving too late or on the incorrect day. However, once you meet our buses at the Park entrance, the fun does not stop there. Over the next seven hours, we travel down the gravel, but spectacular, Denali Park Road. This bus ride is a highlight, and most will agree. You are traveling hour after hour past some of the highest peaks in the Alaska Range, Mt. McKinley included. There is also a good chance of spotting bears, moose, caribou, dall sheep and my favorite, Ptarmigan, mostly because of how people sometimes pronounce it (the Ptarmigan is Alaska’s state bird; the “P” is silent). And how can anyone forget the hairpin turns around Polychrome Pass?

So yes, transportation in Alaska is often something our visitors remember and recall with fond, and sometimes frightful, memories. I do not deny that getting to our lodges in the heart of Denali is a feat, but this is during the summer. Imagine Denali transportation logistics in the winter.

I arrived to my cabin in Denali in May of this year after a 3,100-mile drive from Minnesota. While I thought excitement would be my overwhelming emotion, exhaustion ended up winning out. To my dismay, the 1-mile long dirt road leading to my cabin was blocked by three feet of packed snow. The landlord was not kidding when he said the road was not plowed during the winter. Living on an expanse of tundra looking south at the Alaska Range makes for strong winds and massive snow drifts, and it has been years since the Denali borough found it even remotely worth the effort to keep this specific road open during the winter. Luckily there were 18 sled dogs and three sleds packed into the trailer. 10 hours later, everything had been hauled down the mile stretch to my new cabin in the woods. A couple weeks later the snow melted, and a pothole-ridden dirt road was finally usable.

Alas, it is now winter again and the drifts have returned. Each morning at 7:30AM sharp, I strap on my skis and glide along the trail to where my car is parked. A 15-minute workout in the morning is a lively way to start the day, even when it is 40 below. I sit in a friend’s cabin drinking coffee to let my car warm up, and then I am on my way to the office. While some may find this a bizarre way to live, last night I skied home by moonlight under shooting stars. I am not complaining.

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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.