The Winter Office Staff Retreat

Posted By: Jan

March 26, 2014

All summer our staff drives buses, leads hikes, chops kindling, maintains generators, washes sheets, prepares hors d’oeuvres, mops floors, and an endless stream of intricate and sweeping tasks that keep our lodges running smoothly and in observance of our mission.  We hike, we camp, we collect berries and stand in awe seeing rainbows or northern lights. In the winter, most of our staff take wing to far off corners of the globe, working in Antarctica or Africa, then coming back to Denali for the brilliant summer season.  A small cohort of winter staff stay on at our office at the park entrance area, answering phones, paying bills, hiring summer staff, and ordering.  Owners Simon and Jenna Hamm, knowing how prolonged the winter can be at 64°N, began to scheme a retreat for the year round staff members living at the park entrance area. 

On March 16th, with a few clouds hugging the mountains that the pilots at Talkeetna Air Taxi termed “fuzz”, we took off.  In two small planes outfitted with skis for landing on snow, our party of 9 (including Simon and Jenna’s two children and a guide from Alaska Mountaineering School) landed on the Ruth Glacier on the south side of Denali.  We unloaded 1000 lbs of gear, skis and food into the deep snow and bid farewell to the planes for a week.  Our retreat was the Don Sheldon Mountain House, an hexagonal hut 14’ in diameter located on a rocky outcropping jutting into the giant Ruth Glacier at 5,600’ elevation.  It was built in 1966 and is equipped with a white gas stove for cooking, a wood stove for heat, and sweeping views of Denali, Mount Dan Beard, Mount Silverthrone, and many more craggy, daunting peaks than can be named here.  Looking out over the crevassed surface of the glaciers surrounding us, we breathed in the cold, clean air of the place, strapped on our telemark skis, and began to ferry our gear.

Over the course of the coming days we fell into a happy routine.  We would emerge from our tents or snowcaves and walk to the hut for breakfast (oatmeal or dehydrated hash browns-certainly not our normal Camp Denali and North Face Lodge locally sourced cuisine!).  We had outdoor classes on glacier travel and crevasse rescue techniques (afterall, anyplace we skied away from the hut was a glacier, and you need to travel roped together for safety!).  We went on skiing excursions away from the hut and practiced our telemark technique on a nearby hill.  In the evenings we came together for a meal, games, and reading. 

Surprises abounded, such as Teresa discovering that the snowcave Martha dug was so much warmer than sleeping in a tent she actually got too hot at night!  Or that, while we didn’t need to worry about bears sniffing out our food, the local ravens were so adept at finding mountaineers’ food caches that we came back from a ski trip to discover they had opened a zipper on a duffle bag and pulled out small gear items from inside it!   We celebrated a birthday and schemed about future possible climbs and trips in the area. We found that none of us really like powdered scrambled eggs but everyone likes Caramello bars.  We were in stitches laughing during charades as Jenna mimed the hydrological cycle and slithered about the hut floor “forming a glacier.” We were completely dwarfed by the mountains around us, happily jabbering words like “Areté” “Nunatak” and “Bergschrund”, glacier feature names that are also cabin names at Camp Denali.  We were spellbound, and happy.

At Camp Denali and North Face Lodge, our coworkers are both our neighbors, and our friends.  Perhaps not many people can imagine an office retreat where required packing items are crampons, ice axes, a 0°F sleeping bag, and white gas.  But we love being outdoors, we love each other, and we love this home we call Denali. Summer and winter brings us close to the land and the park we are grateful to call home.

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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.