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.


January 31, 2019

by Lilly Schneider

Climbing the Camp Ridge—1500 ft in just under a mile—is a bit of a rite of passage at Camp Denali & North Face Lodge. From the ground, it’s tough to tell how steep it is, just as the powerful rivers that braid through the stone and gravel riverbeds of the Park may look like trickles from afar, and the 12,000 foot peaks of the Alaska range look reasonably sized (spoiler alert: they aren’t) beside the Great One. Many of our staff are veritable mountain goats (or Dall sheep, if you will) but I’m more of a stop-and-smell-the-wild-roses kind of a hiker, and I’ll admit I wilted a fair amount on that first summit.

But if I’ve learned anything from my time in Denali National Park, it’s that summertime ain’t no time to quit. While the sun shines up to twenty hours a day, plants and animals are all seeking and soaking up as many nutrients as they can. And us human beings? We come to load up on wonder. When I made it to the top of that ridge, bedraggled and shaky-kneed as a newborn caribou, I found a massive cairn formed by thousands of hikers who’ve made the same trek over the years, and I placed my own stone into it. And at that moment I felt, more powerfully than ever before, what I so often now feel at Camp Denali: a happy collision of joy and gratitude for this magical estuary of a place, where human beings and wilderness meet in harmony.

At Camp Denali & North Face Lodge, the beds are comfortable, the food fantastic, the staff friendly, the amenities all around top-notch--but the greatest joys and challenges here are often offered by the wilderness that is, after all, the foremost reason guests travel here from all around the world. Residing in such a place means understanding that we share this land—with animals, plants, and the powerful forces of water, weather, and ancient glacial and tectonic activity that so stunningly shape the landscape.

The bus ride in is long, but once you’re here, you can head out towards breathtaking vistas right from your own front door. Less than two miles from the lodges is glacially-formed Wonder Lake, over 200 feet deep at its deepest part; Camp Denali & North Face Lodge is the only lodge permitted to keep canoes there. On hot days (or cold ones, if you fancy) you can jump into Nugget Pond—Camp Denali’s original water source—to cool off; or, if you’re out hiking, into any of the numerous kettle ponds that dot the landscape. Just make sure there isn’t a moose already bathing in there.

Throughout the summer, the myriad wildflowers that grace the tundra are joined by all kinds of berries, culminating in a riot of blueberries, more than enough for everyone, from bears to birds to backpackers. Bend down to pick one, and you’ll discover a whole new world of plant life, lichen, fungi, and small animal activity. The spongy tundra is so soft, you might not want to get up anytime soon. That’s okay. Because looming over it all is the Alaska Range, crystalline, on clear days, against the blue, blue sky. In offices, people glance often, so I’m told, at the clock. In Denali, we look just as often towards the mountains. They never look the same twice.

Alaska has always been a place that challenges the human spirit, and the body. Yet people visit, and return, and sometimes decide never to leave, because such wondrous things are to be found there. The price of the effort you exert--whether by climbing a mountain, straying out of your comfort zone, waiting patiently to sight wildlife--so often returns to you in spades, when you gain that mountaintop view, cross that river, spot that rare wolverine. It’s a remarkable thing to stand in the Alaskan wilderness, mountains in every direction, and know that there’s a bed out here that’s waiting for you to fall into it, exhausted and happy, at the end of every long day.

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