May 19, 2015
Just because it is light out does not mean it is daytime. Just because it is dark does not mean it is time for bed.
It seems a common reaction of the average working individual to look at a calendar and double take: “How is it May already?” The reaction is not necessarily a surprised one (as the person is likely well aware of the month), but rather simple disbelief that time can pass so quickly.
In Alaska there is one sure thing that will remind you of the time of year – the sun. It makes larger arcs in the sky each day from the winter to summer solstice. It can hardly be said that the sun “rises in the east” and “sets in the west” in Alaska. In winter, the arc starts just above the horizon in the southern sky, and each day becomes a little wider. Eventually the arc begins and ends in the northern sky when summer arrives.
My cabin has big windows on all sides, and the sun rises and sets in each and every one of those windows at some point throughout the year. When winter takes hold, the sun only glows from behind the mountains out of my south-facing window. Twenty-two days after the solstice, not a day sooner, it will finally break through the low passes in the range, flooding my cabin with sunlight in five-minute spurts before disappearing behind a mountain’s peak. By February, I can no longer work comfortably at my east-facing computer desk in the morning. The dawn beams come streaming through that window rather than from the south. By March, it is impossible to block the glare on the TV coming through the west-facing windows in the evening. At that point, I know spring has arrived. The sun signals summer when in the early hours of the morning, still the middle of the night for that matter, the sun’s rays burst through my north-facing window. It becomes near impossible to sleep through the constant daylight shining right into my eyes. Even with curtains, the light will find the cracks and remind me that summer is here.
People often ask how I deal with the darkness in winter. What they should be asking is how I deal with the constant daylight in summer. Each pose challenges for the psyche, but I fully embrace both. It gives me energy to watch the sun work its way through the sky, making dramatic changes as seasons come and go. Winter offers peaceful twilight, allowing for quiet evenings in front of the fire. As daylight creeps back, the long to-do list that piles up starts being checked off. Why not chop wood at 11PM when the bugs are put to bed and the sun is still high in the sky?
Before I know it, the sun isn’t coming up until my drive to work in the fall. Soon I do not have to use my sun visor on the highway on the morning commute, which means winter is arriving once again.
May 06, 2015
“Fun Hog” month is how we refer to March in Denali. It is the long anticipated arrival of spring for year-round residents. Spring in Interior Alaska does not evoke birds chirping or tulips popping out of the ground; there is likely still over a foot of snow and nobody flinches if daytime temperatures don’t make it above -20°F. The arrival of spring here means only one thing for certain: daylight. The sensation of going to bed and rising with the sun is one that has almost been forgotten. For Alaskans, it is time to cash in vacation days and go play.
For my first winter camping trip longer than a weekend, I could have done without the -30°F thermometer reading when my musher, 10 sled dogs, and I hit the trail. The two-week adventure would take us from the entrance of Denali National Park to Kantishna and back. For someone who spends all summer inside the Park, it was an incredible thing to see Toklat River frozen rather than flowing, Eielson Visitor Center blanketed in snow, and an empty Park Road. For the most part, the winter skiing & mushing trail stays off the road, wandering its way through the river valleys instead. Every once in awhile, we would hop onto the road for a low, straight stretch. It was surreal to see a 30MPH sign sticking out of the snow, signaling cars that hadn’t passed that way in months.
I would have written it off as a ridiculous notion if three years ago someone told me that I would seek out and be thrilled by a winter camping trip where temperatures stayed below zero, 15-30 miles of skiing per day would be involved, and better yet, I would be sleeping in a tent in winter, not a cabin. But I found myself with a smile on my face, in nothing but a base layer at -10°F relaxing in the sunshine. I was looking at Denali with a bluebird sky backdrop eating a well-deserved Snickers after skiing up and over Stony Dome. I had spent the last several hours skiing after a team of sled dogs going faster than reasonable for pulling 500 pounds of sled, musher, and gear.
I have camped more nights than I can count in wilderness all over this country, but no trip quite compares to stepping out in the morning to rosy, snow capped mountains, frozen landscape, and nothing but deserted horizon.
May 22, 2014
I am sitting at my desk, every file I use is packed in the banker box next to me, waiting to be loaded on the van that will make the 90 mile trip into Denali National Park tomorrow. My most pressing dilemma at this point is when to turn off my computer. With one hour to go in the workday, I have started making a list of important items that are likely to be forgotten, not packed and sitting in our winter office as we drive away west into the Park.
This is both an anxiously awaited and dreaded day for our year-round office staff. In one regard, we will be relocating to an office with a panoramic view of the Alaska Range and Denali (when the skies are clear). A home-away-from-home, living at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge is far from a hardship; handmade quilts on all the beds, exquisite meals prepared by our top notch chefs, and a vista that is breathtaking even after the 34th time seeing it out of your cabin window.
When viewed in a different light, this transition is taxing on ones patience, endurance, and personal relationships. My biggest concern going to bed last night was that I had not finished making the final curtain in my cabin. This wasn’t an issue all winter, but now the sun is shining 20 hours a day. The thought of leaving it undone as my partner continues to live there all summer drove me from bed. I poured myself a cup of tea, got out my sewing machine and went to work.
It is always surprising the things that come to light when faced with the reality that yes, you will be moving to a remote location for the next 3 months. If you forget your favorite t-shirt in your dresser, that is where it is going to stay until September. At least I didn’t forget to pack my pink floral letter opener, something that brings a fun flourish to my day when opening up mail. The stapler on the other hand can be left behind; there will be one waiting for me at my desk on the other end of the Denali Park road.
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.