The Newsletter of Camp Denali,
North Face Lodge, and Parkside Guest House
On a summer day in 1958, a small airplane banked low over Camp Denali – a signal for Ginny Wood to drive Camp’s Jeep down to the Kantishna airstrip to fetch the arrivals. This particular plane, a red, black and white Cessna 180 nicknamed “Charlie,” had arrived indirectly by way of Paris, Gibraltar, Marrakech, Dakar, Timbuktu, Zanzibar, Addis Ababa, Riyadh, Rawalpindi, Kabul, Tehran, Istanbul, Damascus, Cairo and Tripoli.
Thus began Camp Denali’s most fortuitous association with Lowell and Tay Thomas and their family. Already a veteran of 11 expeditions, a B-25 instructor during WWII, and a personal (and lifelong) acquaintance of the Dalai Lama, Lowell and his family moved permanently to Alaska in 1960 where he served in the state senate as Lieutenant Governor and became a noted philanthropist and conservation advocate.
From 1981 until 1994, Lowell regularly flew Camp Denali guests around the mountain on scenic tours when not supporting climbers and assisting rescues on Denali. Many guests and staff were treated when Lowell would fill the back of his plane with ice cream and fly it over the range before it could melt. A pilot’s pilot, Lowell logged more than a million air miles, made a record 13 landings at 14,200’ on Denali, and survived seven forced landings, yet never put a single scratch on an airplane.
Blue skies and tailwinds, dear friend.
In 2015’s Ptarmigan Tracks we missed honoring someone instrumental in Camp Denali’s early years and a strong voice for Alaska land and wildlife conservation, Florence Collins. Florence died on November 4th last year at the Pioneer Home in Fairbanks. Longtime resident of Lake Minchumina, a road-less community 40 miles west of Camp Denali, Florence’s plucky spirit and inquiring mind were a good match with our founders.’
Florence married Dick Collins, the FAA station manager at Lake Minchumina. Together they led a subsistence lifestyle, which meant cultivating a giant vegetable garden, hunting, trapping and picking berries to survive. All the while Florence maintained her involvement in conservation and long advocated for the sustainability of subsistence resources as chair of Denali National Park’s Subsistence Resource Commission.
Longtime Camp Denali friend, Hildi Schläpfer, of Kloten, Switzerland, passed away November 5th, not long after her 100th birthday in June. After visiting Alaska and Camp Denali in the late 1970s, Hildi returned in 1982 to volunteer for one month during berry season to pick blueberries for Camp Denali and North Face Lodge. We loved the help and she loved the experience, so it became a mutual affair for 16 summers until her final trip in 1998 when she was 82. Although our guests have long since consumed the jam from berries Hildi picked, we would like to think that the bushes around Camp Denali would remember her gentle fingers.