By Jenna Hamm
This summer marked Camp Denali’s 60th season. While 60 years is hardly considered history in many parts of the country, here in the Last Frontier, it is. We kicked off this anniversary by luring 28 former staff and friends to join our first session’s guests for a reunion and celebration. Former staff delighted in being able to pack their sack lunches after breakfast and be out hiking in the park until dinnertime, eating delicious dinners and not having to wash the dishes! But most of all the reunion highlighted how the lifestyle at Camp Denali and North Face Lodge is just as meaningful as the opportunity to live in this incredible place.
Camp Denali was founded in 1952 by three friends with adventurous spirits and the idea that some visitors to Alaska were seeking “experiences genuinely Alaskan.” Celia Hunter, Morton “Woody” Wood, and Ginny Wood homesteaded the land as a trade and manufacturing site in 1951 and opened their doors to the first guests the following June. Their success over the next 23 years proved Ginny’s speculation that indeed visitors to Alaska wished to “become ‘sourdoughs’ and catch the spirit of the bush country”—even if it meant “living without running water and electric lights, and taking the mosquitoes with the scenery.”
Ginny and Celia purposefully kept Camp Denali small. The fragile tundra put real, practical limitations on infrastructure. “The land told us what we should be,” Ginny is fond of saying. Guests and staff encouraged them to buck tourism's trend towards biggering and remain intimate and personal. In the process, they soon realized that they had developed not just a business, but had “created a way of life.”
When Ginny and Celia sold Camp Denali to Wally and Jerryne Cole in the fall of 1975, Camp had grown from an original four tent cabins to 12 log and frame guest cabins and a full-service lodge complete with homemade meals, hot showers, and naturalist-led hiking. Under Wally’s and Jerri’s 33-year tenure, Camp evolved into a 50-person seasonal enterprise, encompassing Camp Denali, North Face Lodge and Parkside Guest House. The scope of our current operation would have been hard for our founders to imagine as they hacked Camp’s driveway out of the tundra with hand tools in 1951! However, our lodges have remained small, and the “way of life” we continue to foster is an opportunity to live apart from the mainstream in a small community of dedicated, hardworking people in a landscape beyond compare.
Illustrations by William D. Berry and Amanda P. Devine
P.O. Box 67
Denali National Park, AK 99755
The enthusiasm of our staff is often what makes the guest experience so memorable. If you know of someone who would be a good fit for our organization, encourage him or her to view the employment pages of our website, www.campdenali.com. General staff positions are available for the 2013 season, as well as the following professional seasonal positions:
**Registered Nurses are encouraged to apply for any of our positions.
Denali is what America was; it’s the old and new, the real and ideal, the wild earth working itself into us on days stormy and calm, brutal and beautiful, unforgiving and blessed. It’s where we came from, long before agriculture, television and designer coffee, before our goofball ideas of having dominion over all living things, before our modern, paradoxical definitions of progress and prosperity, and too much stuff; it’s the lean, mean, primal place buried in our bones no matter how much we might deny it, no matter how fancy our homes, how busy our routines, how cherished our myths. Denali resides in each of us as the deep quiet, the profound moment, the childhood lost and found again, the open space and rare chance to be observant, truly alive.