March 02, 2015
While there are certainly colder nights and more snow in New England than in the Park, winter still reigns, even as more light returns each day. Year-round staff busily work at setting up all the details for the summer. Simon and Jenna flew in to the lodges to see that all was well. Interviews for new staff are nearly wrapped up, and now the tough decisions begin about who to hire. Emails fly back and forth between returning staff expressing enthusiasm in contemplation of another season of work. In the office, reservations flood in, and cabins and rooms fill up for the season to come.
Each year as the summer season approaches, year-round staff compare numbers of guests in the previous season to those booked for the season to come. Last year? Two thousand, four hundred twenty-one guests. That makes for a lot of people ferried from the Park entrance to the end of the road, a lot of world-class meals served, and a lot of questions asked. How do you do this? Do you stock supplies over the winter? How does the food get here?
The simple answers? A knowing smile, no, and the same way the people get here. Truck, Cessna, or, as shown in the 2013 photo from early May, late snowmelt necessitated flights from Talkeetna, over the Alaska Range, and then snow machine to cover the four miles from Kantishna. With supplies. Enough to last until the road opened to traffic.
In another part of the office, Jenna reviews the previous season’s inventory as she ponders prospective orders for the season. Inventory lists show what a successful season looks like, and the revelation is mind-boggling. In 2014, we soaked through 12,000 tea bags. $3,960. As I sit here with my single cup of Earl Grey, I can’t quite get my arms around that number. Marginally easier to visualize are the 1,170 pounds of coffee beans, brewed into my addiction of choice at a whopping cost of $11,466. Then there are those 5,000 (five thousand) pounds of flour for daily bread and yummy cookies. That’s one hundred 50-pound bags of flour hefted in and out of the Warehouse. Hmmm. No wonder our bakers are so fit. And the eggs: 5,400 eggs. Per month. Twenty-eight thousand (28,000!) total eggs consumed.
But the statistic that amuses the most and prompts hoots of laughter is toilet paper. TP. Outhouses and bathrooms require lots of paper, apparently 1,680 rolls of it. The details continue: each of those 1,680 rolls contains 2,000 inches of paper which divides out to 280,000 feet. Taking that another step, you end up with fifty-three miles of toilet paper. Picture a TP trail going eight times up and down the Wickersham Wall. Or covering the trail out and back to McGonagall Pass with enough length left over to make up for the amount that washes down the McKinley River.
Now that is a statistic.
Exuberantly everyone prepares to pitch in with the work, the lugging and hauling, stowing and shelving, dusting and scrubbing. Thoughts spring forward to the guests’ smiles at the first whiff of morning coffee, their joy at finding a basket of Focaccia on the table, and the satisfaction of seeing that little white roll hanging on the wall.
January 30, 2015
Mid-January is the time we hear back from our previous summer staff whether or not they’ll be returning to work for another season at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge. This time of year is also when we will get an update as to where our Staff has scattered to during the Annual Staff Migrations that occur in late fall and spring.
After a long summer working at Camp Denali, our daring staff are more often than not itching to begin a great adventure, return home to visit family, start new winter jobs, or discover more of Alaska. Being that we are isolated from the rest of the state for most of the summer, our staff takes time planning trips to hike, paddle, climb, and generally explore the different corners of Alaska at the end of the season, just like many of our guests do on their vacations. Many summers, staff will borrow, buy, or rent a car and drive to the Lower 48 discovering the wonders of Eastern Alaska, and the Yukon and British Columbia, Canada.
The choices of exploration and winter work run the gamut. This past fall, three of our staff members Tom, Eric, and Tess, drove from Fairbanks to Massachusetts. One of our hosts, Sadie, took a Yoga Instructor course in New England and is now working at a Yoga center in Costa Rica for the winter. Our Housekeeping Coordinator, Kendall, and her husband, Justin, hiked the Camino de Santiago in Spain and are now exploring Central America. Finally, our Executive Chef, Chris, chose to spend his winter backcountry snowboarding on Mt. Baker as he has done in the past.
Another path chosen by our staff is that of working in Antarctica over the “austral summer.” Two of our current staff members, Kristen and Max, are working as cooks at McMurdo Station. This site is a U.S. Antarctic research center on the south tip of Ross Island. The working season in Antarctica matches up well for our staff because it allows ample time to travel in the spring before heading back to Camp Denali in late May.
Each season our dedicated staff members work tirelessly for more than three months providing amazing experiences for our guests. The time of year when they journey south and begin adventures or go back home is a well-deserved and rewarding time. We relish in hearing their plans before departing and look forward to the migration north in the spring when most of them return to Camp Denali, stories in tow.
December 09, 2014
In mid-December a mysterious set of animal tracks appeared along a favorite local trail near our winter office (outside the Park). We call the trail “the bluff trail” because it meanders along the edge of a bluff with a gradual drop about 500 feet to the Nenana River. The area is boreal forest, dominated by white spruce trees and wiggly-trunked aspens, braving the sometimes high winds along the bluff. We commonly see animal sign along there….from black bear scat laden with berries in the fall, to perfect lynx and snowshoe hare tracks in winter, along with the ubiquitous and ever present runs of red tree squirrels and voles. Twice I’ve seen the tracks of wolves…..about the size of salad plates; they couldn’t possibly be confused with even the largest sled dog in the area.
One thing I’ve learned in my years as a naturalist is that sometimes the most helpful description of an unidentified species includes the type of habitat it was seen in. For instance, if someone saw a “big, brown bird”, asking where is was (cliffs, lake, tundra meadow, dense forest, willow thicket?) can help scores in its potential ID. There are outliers, of course, but typically an animal’s habitat falls within fairly narrow parameters.
So, this mysterious animal track.….Austin first spotted the tracks and attemped to describe them to me, and I was flummoxed. It had small feet, only about one inch long, with a very prominent tail drag mark. It had very pointy, clawed toes (like a squirrel’s?) and walked with a gait that was walking, not hopping. I was racking my brain to think what it could be...baby porcupine? (no--still too small and porkeys have rear feet like bears with a furry-looking, large tail drag), a tree squirrel dragging a stick? (no--they hop, and the tail marks swooshed side to side), flying squirrel? (no--the tracks walked around on the ground too much, and they hop, not walk), pine marten or elusive long tailed weasel? (no, they hop...also don't have long pointy toes), Ashley’s dachshund? (no--his feet are obviously doglike with a longer gait and no tail drag). What other small animals inhabit the forest here that could leave such marks? I studied them long and hard, and even took the attached photo. The tail looked to be solid....like a possum tail....not furry. They honestly looked like the tracks of a large, common RAT.
And then it hit me....muskrat!
Yep. Confirmed with track descriptions from a tracking book. Now the only mystery is: what was it doing on the bluff trail!? The nearest lake was perhaps two miles away, and the river was very, very far below. Spruce forest is not the realm of the aquatic muskrat! Many ideas came to my mind…perhaps the family unit had grown too big and this was an adolescent pushed out to find its own way in the world? Perhaps our snowless winter has been producing too much ice that is crowding them out of their lairs? A few days later, our neighbor, Fritz, showed Ashley and Teresa a curious set of tracks near his home. Indeed, they were the same.
One mystery solved, another began.
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.