Denali's Big Rainstorm

Posted By: Jan

June 30, 2014

It’s been a fairly cool and rainy summer overall for us here in Denali.  Our annual precipitation is generally only 13-20”, which is about as much as Tucson, Arizona, so calling it “rainy” here is only relative.  Typical of mountain weather (we are only 30 miles away from the base of the highest mountain in North America, after all!) an average summer day in the Park has some rain, some clouds, and some sun.  We’ve had a few snow squalls in early and mid June, which don’t last long and are also not much of a surprise to those of us who have lived and worked here for many years.

But last week certainly bears mentioning.  All day Wednesday we had light rains, and that night the skies seemed to open up.  We had hard rains for about 24 hours which totaled 3.3” at the Wonder Lake weather station that the National Park Service maintains.  On Thursday morning we awoke to the highest river, pond, and stream levels anyone at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge has ever seen.  A waterfall was flowing down the hillside out the south end of Nugget Pond at Camp Denali.  Moose Creek, not far from the lodges, was so high it was bringing down spruce and balsam poplar trees into the creek and washing them downstream.  We feared for our roads, of course.  Our operations staff went right to work using a loader, bulldozer, and F-800 truck to haul loads of gravel. It was “all-hands-on deck” amongst our staff to use rakes, hoes, and shovels to repair the trenches on the sides of our driveway to Camp Denali. More rain came on and off the following two days.

At three sections along the Denali Park Road there was significant damage.  The photo attached shows owner Jenna Hamm at the north end of Wonder Lake on Thursday morning, where the road washed out and was repaired shortly by Park Maintenance staff.  Two creeks further down the road from our lodges in the Kantishna Valley were in worse shape: raging and swollen with piles of debris washed down from the mountains. The guests and staff of Denali Backcountry Lodge, about 4 miles away from us down in the Kantishna Valley, needed to be evacuated by helicopter. 

Because our buses go in and out of the park every Monday and Friday, our schedule was relatively uninterrupted.  The worst of the rainstorm damage was on Thursday morning, normally a day of scheduled hikes for our guests.  Instead of long hikes, our guests took time to explore the area and see the effects of high water and erosion on the landscape, as well as watched a movie on backcountry travel in Alaska, attended special programs by our naturalists and enjoyed steaming cups of hot tea and coffee nibbling cookies in front of a fireplace while the rain came down and crews worked around the clock outside.  The next day our buses were able to take our guests back to the Railroad Depot and pick up our next guests on schedule.

‘Expect the unexpected’ could well be said to be a theme with the weather of Denali.  A bluebird sky day may see a heavy thunderstorm and hail at 3pm, or vice versa.  As our former owner Wally Cole says, “There’s no poor weather, only poor clothing.”

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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.