Ptarmigan Tracks

The Newsletter of Camp Denali,
North Face Lodge & Parkside Guest House

Online Version 2014

A Summer of Rain

While only the 22nd coolest and the 17th wettest in Denali's 88-year record, this summer will be remembered for a record-breaking, single rainfall event in June. Sometime between midnight and 7:00 a.m. on June 27, 3.27 inches of rain fell squarely on the Wonder Lake area and Kantishna Hills. Intense rain events such as this are unusual for us. By morning, it was, as Coleridge wrote, "water, water every where."

The deluge delivered enough rain to bring area creeks to flood stage. Worst off were the staff and guests of one of the neighboring lodges that became marooned on their flooded property and were evacuated via helicopter to a nearby ranger station. “Dozens Airlifted from ‘Raging Torrents’ at Flooded Denali National Park,” read CBS News’ headlines. Two major washouts occurred at the crossings of Eureka and Friday Creeks on the park road, effectively closing the road beyond for several days.

 Lucky for us, the day was a Thursday and not one of our Monday or Friday “transport days.” We didn’t need to drive anywhere, so we didn’t. And we couldn’t. Not only was our own driveway badly washed out, yards and yards of precious gravel swept downhill and out into the tundra, but the causeway at Wonder Lake was breached in two places, sweeping nearly half of the roadbed into the lake.

With the current reality of global climate change, we are used to unusual and unpredictable weather. Here in Denali it is no different. Record-low snowfall and an unusually warm winter ushered in a warm, dry May. For the third time in 40 years our early crew drove instead of flew into Camp on May 5th. We worried about the possibility of another severe wildfire season until cool rain began to fall in June….and July…and August.

One of the consequences of the rain that will have a lasting effect on the landscape were numerous landslides in the Moose Creek Valley. Not in Camp’s 62-year history have we seen such extensive and sudden landscape change. Several sections of our local hiking trails were demolished, and about a dozen small landslides occurred in a mere, one-mile section of hill slope below Camp Denali. Hillsides along the park road in Kantishna remained very unstable throughout the summer.

The flood of 2014 is fixed in our collective memory, a reminder of the tremendous power of water. Better now is our understanding of just how large and sudden a rain event has to be to erode our hillsides and to overwhelm our roads and trails. To live in any one place for an extended time affords us opportunities to glimpse geomorphic forces that typically operate at time scales beyond our perception. Yet we're left wondering if large rain events and the landslides they trigger will be a more regular occurrence in our climate-altered future. For certain, as far as our weather is concerned, unpredictability is the new normal.

Back to Online Version 2014