Ptarmigan Tracks

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

Online Version 2018

Woody in Memoriam

In keeping with a long-standing tradition, a kerosene lantern shone through the night from a cairn atop Cranberry Ridge this past August, this time to mark the passing of Camp Denali cofounder Morton Wood. Woody, as he was better known, died peacefully at his Seattle home on August 16, surrounded by family and caregivers, at age 94.

In mid-August, dark skies return to the subarctic following a three-and-a-half-month hiatus. Anyone looking out a cabin window at Camp Denali that night may have seen lantern light in the darkness. Whether they realized it or not, they would have been connected by more than lamplight with the man being honored.

Woody helped to shape Camp Denali in lasting ways through his head, his heart and his hands. Anyone who has spent any time here has likely used the signature wooden latches that he made for the doors of the lodge, a building which he also made. Inventive and resourceful, if occasionally stymieing at first try, one soon appreciates Woody’s latches for their simple but elegant functionality which has served well for over 60 years.

Woody arrived in Alaska in 1946 for college, shortly following indelible experiences at war in the Italian Alps as a member of the Tenth Mountain Division. He would later credit nature with “straightening him out again,” and cite the importance of connection to the land, something that we remain grounded by today. It was this connection that caused him, as a young Mt. McKinley National Park ranger, to decline a transfer to Yosemite in 1952 and instead embark with Ginny Wood and Celia Hunter on the creation of Camp Denali.

Woody, together with his wife Martha, made his last visit to Camp Denali in 2014. Until that point he remained able to travel, allowing them to make the trip semi-regularly. We will remember from these visits his genuine interest in each individual staff member, his and Martha’s recorder and dulcimer music, and his breadth of life experience, from mountaineering, to folk dance, to homesteading in pre-statehood Alaska and more.

On their last visit, Woody and Martha gifted us an Earth flag. Atop the flagpole, it reminds us of him, and the many lessons he had to share. It also sustains a cherished connection, much as a kerosene lantern, or a well-worn door latch.

Happy trails, Woody.

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