Our History

"In building Camp Denali, the land told us what we should be (and the staff told us how we should run it!)." -- Founder, Ginny Wood

The Early Years



On a rainy day in the summer of 1951, three friends arrived in the mining district of Kantishna, just north of Wonder Lake and the northern boundary of Mt. McKinley National Park. Celia Hunter, Ginny Wood and Morton (Woody) Wood were seeking some land to homestead within view of the Great One. Their dream was to build a simple, rustic lodge and cabins where park visitors could come and "savor the vigor and freshness of this young country and absorb its spacious tranquility." Hiking up an untracked ridge on a tip from park superintendent, Grant Pearson, they discovered an inviting spot with a small pond and rocky ridge.

Later, when their park ranger friend, Les Viereck, returned on a clear day to report back on the mountain views, he replied with one word etched on a postcard, "Wow!" That fall, Celia homesteaded 67 acres of that ridge, centered on Nugget Pond.  The founders built Camp Denali with locally-harvested spruce logs and reclaimed materials from the National Park Service, often with the serendipitous help of friends and plucky visitors who just "dropped in to look, then stayed to help us haul logs, hack out a road, and build." They ran Camp Denali for 25 years, forging livelihoods out of ingenuity, hospitality, and love of the land.

North to Alaska from East and West

In the fall of 1975, Ginny and Celia sold Camp Denali to Wally and Jerryne Cole. Wally had come to the Park in 1959 from his many-generation dairy farm on the Maine coast to work as a bellhop at the McKinley Park Hotel. He returned a few years later to be the hotel’s manager and in spring 1967 hired Jerryne Berglund, freshly graduated with a nursing degree from the University of Washington, as a tour guide and host aboard the two shuttle buses that offered trips into the park. Married that winter, they eventually made the Park their permanent home and with their two kids, Land and Jenna, operated Camp Denali from 1976 until 2008.

In 1987, North Face Lodge, a hotel that was built in 1973 on the homestead of superintendent Grant Pearson, came up for sale.  In order to forestall unchecked development on this prime 5-acre parcel in view of Denali, Wally and Jerryne enlisted the generosity of numerous former Camp Denali guests for the acquisition of this unique location. For 32 years the Coles, and later the Hamms, operated the lodge with the same philosophy as Camp Denali. 2019 was its final operating season.

The Next Generation

Wally and Jerryne handed the reigns of the lodges to their daughter, Jenna, and her husband, Simon in 2009 who are now its full owners. Jenna spent most summers of her life at Camp Denali—from peeling carrots and panning cookies in the Camp kitchen at age three to becoming a naturalist guide at age19. She conducted her master’s thesis on the ridge above Camp Denali, studying the landscape and climate change she witnessed first-hand.

Simon made his first trip to Alaska from his home in Rhode Island in 1997 with the goal of climbing Denali. Had he only ventured into the tundra lowlands beyond Wonder Lake after his and his climbing partner's successful ascent, he might have been one of those wayfaring backpackers who ended up digging outhouse holes and splitting firewood for the summer at Camp Denali, but that was to wait a few years. Simon and Jenna met in 1998, as field research technicians in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of eastern California. With their children, Danika and Silas, they are honored to be the third generation of grateful inhabitants and careful stewards of this special, peopled corner of Denali's wilderness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Challenge

He has not seen a mountain, who can dwell
Content within its shadow ‘til he dies.

A man who sees a mountain, though he pause,
Continually scales it with his eyes;
And all his life lives fissured ‘til he joins
His vision where the summit cuts the skies.

 

 

 

But he who seeks a mountain on a map
And plans reconnaissance before the rains
Carries the granite peaks within his heart,
And glaciers course like fire in his veins.

 

--Aileen R. Jazza