The Insider's Guide to Denali

Posted By: Jan     All Posts by Jan  

October 06, 2014

There are always things that those who live in a place know that those who visit oh-so-wish they knew!  I’ve compiled a short list that you, if you’re thinking of visiting us in Denali, may want to know!

#1 The weather is unpredictable.  The longer I live here, the less I know about what the weather is going to be on a daily basis.  Bluebird mornings yield to thunderstorms by 3pm, snow falls in July, cold, hard rains give way to sunshine within minutes. If it’s glass calm at Wonder Lake it might be a gale force wind at Highway Pass.  We are only 30 miles away from the summit of the highest mountain in North America, and the weather does what it will!  There is no “best” month for weather, every day is a season in miniature!  Pack your long johns, ski hat, and gloves as well as a pair of shorts, sunscreen, and maybe even a swimsuit!

#2 Wear light colored tops and dark colored pants.  Now that seems like a random suggestion. Do we have fashion police here in Denali?  Actually, many people swear that mosquitoes are attracted to dark colors.  And given that in nature most of the animals they feed on, moose, caribou, and beaver, have dark colored hair or fur, that anecdote may be true.  If you’re coming to Denali in blueberry season (late July-mid September) be sure to wear dark colored pants, for obvious reasons, when we sit down in a berry patch to eat our lunches in the tundra!

#3 BYOB!  Our meals are exquisite and all-inclusive, but we don’t hide the fact that we don’t have a liquor license. You are welcome to bring your own bottle.  We do have wine glasses, ice, and bottle openers.

#4 Getting up in the middle of the night can be a good thing!  Think that needing to make an outhouse run in the night is a bad thing?  Not necessarily…in the land of the midnight sun our sunsets and sunrises are at odd hours.  For example on July 1st sunrise is at about 3 am, so you might catch the most spectacular pink alpenglow on Denali then!

#5 Bring binoculars!  Denali is not the Serengeti, it’s a sub-arctic ecosystem with many wide, vast landscapes punctuated by a distant grizzly bear or small band of Dall sheep high on a mountain slope.  The freedom to roam is what makes Denali such an awe-inspiring part of America’s last truly wild places.  It’s best to bring those binocs to decipher if indeed that distant lump is a bear or a boulder.

And that’s just the beginning of helpful tips!  Read more on our website FAQ page here.

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Berries, Berries Everywhere!

Posted By: Jan     All Posts by Jan  

July 26, 2014

It’s almost time!  Time to grab your blueberry pail, a pair of pants you don’t mind getting stains on the knees and bum, a bandana to keep the rogue mosquito from flying into your ear, and a friend or two, and head into the berry bushes!  Denali has multiple species of edible berries: nagoonberries, crowberries, soapberries, cloudberries, blueberries, currants, and three species of cranberries, to name a few.  All are food for the voles, bears, foxes, and birds of the park, but are thoroughly enjoyed by the human residents as well!

I begin thinking about blueberries in June, when the plants produce the small, delicate, pale pink and white cup-shaped flowers which will become berries in a month or two.  The flowers are so tiny (about the size of my nail on my pinkie finger) that it used to be thought mosquitos were the main pollinator.  Such a lovely tale…but alas, not true.  Denali’s major pollinators are bumblebees, flies, butterflies, and moths.  Once a flower has been pollinated, the petals fall away and the ovary swells into a small green berry.  In late July and early August the blueberries begin to turn blue and build up sugar content, “hoping” to lure a seed dispersing animal into eating them.  Bears, birds, and other critters amble by, gorging on the ripe berries and dispersing the seeds away from the parent plant, sometimes miles away, in a conveniently nutrient-rich pile!

Our berries in Denali are aided in their growth by our near 24 hours of sunlight at 63 degrees north latitude.  They are not as sweet or as large as the commercial blueberries you buy in stores, but, boy, do our berries have flavor!  They are also powerfully packed with antioxidants and vitamins.  Every summer I try to spend as much of my free time sitting in blueberry patches, filling my buckets to fill my freezer for the long Alaskan winter ahead.  The berries go into my pancakes, smoothies, pies, and desserts throughout the year.  Our staff here at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge collect the berries to be made into jams and syrups for guest use in our picnic supper while driving into the park and sourdough pancake breakfasts.  And some of our staff pick and can the berries to give to each other as gifts during our annual “Christmas” in early September!

Believe it or not, there is a “code of ethics” to picking berries.  You begin by picking as far away from the lodges as possible, leaving the berries closest to the cabins and the trails for our guests.  Secondly, you pick every patch thoroughly….leaving only a few berries on each plant would tempt someone else to that patch, while a bare patch symbolizes “look someplace else!”  Pick only in dry weather to avoid soggy, smooshed berries. Be gentle when picking.  Getting some leaves and sticks is inevitable, but let’s not grab the whole plant!  And of course, be mindful of bears.  Never crowd them away from their berry buffets!

At the end of a good day of picking I feel happy and satisfied to have spent my time under a broad Denali sky, sometimes with the Alaska Range over my shoulder, smelling the sweet aroma of Labrador tea as it wafts up from the tundra and knowing I have an ever increasing larder to get me through the winter.  When I close my eyes at night I see images of round blueberries hanging off the low branches in front of me, just like you continue to feel the motion of waves after a day of playing in the ocean.  The sights, smells, tastes, and sounds of Denali come so vividly alive in those fleeting few weeks of summer when the berries are ripe.

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Denali's Big Rainstorm

Posted By: Jan     All Posts 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.