Denali Dispatch

It is our pleasure to present Denali Dispatch, a journal of the goings-on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, Denali Dispatch is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation topics, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Denali Dispatch 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.

The Arc of the Seasons

February 14, 2019

by Lilly Schneider

When staff say we work in Denali “for the summer”, it’s a bit of a half-truth. Over the four months we live and work at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge, we experience the tail-end of one winter and the first snow of the next; in between, we experience an arc of seasons as colorful and unique as the rainbows that so often fall across the Kantishna Valley.

When the first staff arrive in early May to pry the plywood off the windows, get the pipes flowing with fresh water, and otherwise make Camp Denali & North Face Lodge ready for another season, there’s often  snow on the ground, and Wonder Lake is a plate of cracking ice. Ptarmigan still have most of their white feathers, snowshoe hares are just beginning to turn brown, and the caribou are molting their winter coats. Thus--in our own winter coats--we begin our so-called summer.

But the snow-caps on the surrounding hillsides shrink by the day, and pink alpenglow on the mountains keeps us up later and later each night. Soon enough, we’re trading our snowboots for rainboots to muck about the trails muddy with runoff. And then, seemingly overnight, the tan and brown landscape erupts into lush green. The mating calls of White-crowned Sparrows drift into open windows. Wildlflowers begin to show their colorful faces all across the Park; for many, spring has truly arrived when the frigid shooting stars bloom pink near the fresh water spring at North Face Lodge.

As spring moves into early summer, tender spruce-tips are ready to be harvested for syrups or jellies. The first brave swimmers test the waters of Nugget Pond. Occasional weeks of rain and fog are dominated by long, warm days perfect for hiking, with a tundra dry enough for a proper nap afterwards. Because it never truly gets dark, the prospect of evening recreation--a canoe paddle on Wonder Lake, a glass of wine on the porch of the Lodge, a walk up Cranberry Ridge to watch the moonrise--is often too tempting to refuse.

On the hottest days, guides replace their thermoses of hot chocolate for guests with thermoses of cold lemonade, and even the most squeamish swimmers find the icy, glacial waters of Moose Creek perfect for a quick dip. As the blueberries that carpet the tundra ripen, bears, birds, rodents, bugs, and every creature in between bow their heads to the feast, and Camp Denali’s bakers turn out blueberry pies, scones, and cream puffs. Over it all the Alaska Range dazzles, ever-white, in the midnight sun.

The long days in Denali are a blessing for all who reside there, but the staff always smile to see the first stars in the night sky. In fall, the Park erupts into a Seussian rainbow of color, and the mosquitos finally abate. As we say hello, then goodbye, to our last few sessions of guests, we prick our ears for a sound wildlife ecologist Aldo Leopold described as “the baying of some sweet-throated hound”: Sandhill Cranes overhead, navigating their journey to the Gulf of Texas. At night, if we are lucky, the Northern lights dance green, white, and purple before our eyes.

As the plywood goes back on the windows, and termination dust--the snow that means the end of the season--creeps lower and lower down the hillsides, we depart, leaving our roads and trails, our little patches of wilderness, to be reclaimed by wildlife toughing it out through the deep winter: the voles, tunneling beneath the heavy snow; the moose in the willow patches, idling for weeks on end, trying to conserve what little energy they have; the bear cubs being born to sleeping mamas in their hidden caves. We will see their stories written across the snow--tracks, scat, broken branches, tunnels, bones: pieces of an ancient puzzle for us to fit together when we return in the so-called spring, ready to revel in the riches of the summer season all over again.

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