February 28, 2013
On our last full day at Camp Denali, I chose to stay in my cabin while Frank went off hiking and bird watching with our friends. I relished the opportunity to lie in bed and commune with the mountain, which was "out." I had seen it out in so many different scenarios- when I went to the “house out back" in the middle of the night (bright as day!) and it was bathed in a pink alpine glow; or when I woke up at 3:30 in the morning and it was unmasked in its full glory. Some things cannot be conveyed by mere words.
This last day, I had a great breakfast and packed a sandwich and some snacks so that I could just give in totally to enjoyment. Through the window I could see the mountain, with clouds wafting across its face from time to time, and the other times shining in blinding yellow-white light. I napped and ate and watched the mountain some more.
And somehow in the silence a most profound thought awakened in me. It was as if the mountain was transmitting: "You know what? Look at the size of me and the size of you- a little different, yes? Relatively speaking, I am permanent and you are like chaff in the wind, here for a century if you're fortunate. So I really don't need you to 'protect' me. What I require of you and the other humans is that you wake up and recognize where the true power lies. Appreciate the force that created me, that created you and all life, and respect that."
I will carry that thought with me for the rest of my life. Thank you, Alaska!
“The ‘Great One’ Speaks” is an excerpt from Audrey Peterman’s book Our True Nature: Finding a Zest for Life in the National Park System. Audrey and her husband Frank visited Camp Denali in 2012. She is a national award-winning environmentalist. A native of Jamaica and a citizen of the US, she and Frank co-authored the book, Legacy on the Land: A Black Couple Discovers Our National Treasures and Tells Why Every American Should Care. Since 1995 she has visited more than 160 of the 397 units of the National Park System and is an advocate for their continued protection. For more information on Audrey and her books, visit www.legacyontheland.com.
February 22, 2013
Alaska is a land of contrasts. We are “resource”-rich. Our economy depends largely on revenues from non-renewable resource extraction: oil, natural gas and coal. And Alaska is “wilderness”-rich. Our temperate rainforest, subarctic and arctic ecosystems are fully functioning and largely intact. Last summer, a million and a half visitors traveled here to experience our wilderness and wildlife. The struggle to achieve a balance between these land values is keenly felt throughout the state.
This struggle is currently being played out in Southwest Alaska at the site of the proposed Pebble Mine. The mine is centered on the major watersheds of Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay is the world’s most productive fishery for all five species of wild salmon. The resources Pebble hopes to extract include gold and copper. The Pebble Limited Partnership plan calls for strip mining an area over 186 square miles in size. That’s over 20 times the size of ALL of the current mines in Alaska!
The stakes here are high. The world’s most productive fishery, and one of the last remaining wild salmon resources, could be forever diminished in order to obtain a finite resource. The fishery brings in $310 million annually to Alaska. If managed correctly, it should continue into perpetuity.
The mine would be one of the most massive works of man ever constructed. Toxic tailings would be stored behind earthen dams built to 750 feet high, a storage unit larger than the Three Gorges Dam in China. The tailings would contain sulfide wastes which, when exposed to air, turn into sulfuric acid. These wastes have no half life, and will never break down. This means they need to be stored underwater forever in order to keep them from leaching back into the environment. Brentwood Higman, in the book “A Long Trek Home” states “In geological terms, forever doesn’t even make sense!” Read the webpage by Ground truth Trekking on the project.
Could earthquakes damage the storage dams? Could funds for storage and maintenance run out? Does in perpetuity make sense for hazardous materials? Compare the Hanford Nuclear site along the Columbia River in Washington State. Though now decommissioned, it now takes more personnel and funds to secure the wastes and cleanup than the plant cost previously to operate. What is the ultimate price of extracting these limited resources?
For a comprehensive article on why Pebble Mine is a dangerous idea, consider reading Ted Williams article from the Incite section of Audubon Magazine.
February 14, 2013
This Valentine’s Day we’re reminded of the romance of the tundra. The mountains, wildlife, and natural scenery have provided inspiration to a number of artists trying to capture the beauty with each word, shutter click, or stroke of the brush. Artist or not, Denali develops a passion and love for the natural world in every person. It also ignites a love in one another. Among the community and camaraderie of fellow travelers: friendships develop, families get closer, and in some cases romances bloom.
At Camp Denali and North Face Lodge, it’s not uncommon to find a guest celebrating their anniversary or honeymoon. A stay offers the opportunity to enjoy daily adventures in Denali through hiking, biking, and canoeing together. The evening affords time to relax by the fire while gazing at the stunning Alaska mountain range. The beautiful setting has even inspired marriage proposals, as we found out last summer. One particular evening during the sharing of the day’s highlights at dinner, a couple of guests announced their engagement. Cheers erupted throughout the dining room.
As a staff, we often get asked if our summers are anything like the movie Dirty Dancing: full of excitement and romance (and dancing). While we do have the time of our lives living in a spectacular setting with wonderful people, and sometimes even have a few nights of dancing, it’s not quite like the movies. Dating in such a remote setting can be challenging. A “date” often entails going on a hike, canoe, or bike ride. With fifty people in our small community and most staff members having a roommate, say goodbye to privacy. And if things happen to not work out, there is nowhere to run. But even with all the challenges, a number of couples have developed relationships that last.
The lodge has been the setting of a few staff weddings throughout the years. A couple of summers ago, two staff members held their wedding up on Camp Ridge at Pika Hut. Nearly 30 staff members attended the celebration in the small hut. All the cake, food, and flowers were backpacked up the steep 3 mile trail to the hut for the “I Do’s”. Other locations that have inspired weddings and proposals include the greenhouse, Cranberry Ridge, and Potlatch (Camp Denali’s main dining/living room). This January, staff members Marshall Ambros and Megan Mulcahy (pictured) got engaged! What started as a day hike a couple of summers ago has led to the promise of endless hikes and adventures together.
While some might choose to mark Valentine’s Day with flowers, teddy bears, and chocolates, we like to reminisce about the things that romance us back to Denali year in and year out. The smells and colors of the wildflowers, exciting encounters with grizzly bears, delicious meals, cozy cabins, and yes, the camaraderie with our fellow travelers and staff, in all its forms.
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.