Ptarmigan Tracks

The Newsletter of Camp Denali

Online Version 2021


1950s-era Camp Denali, Coming Full Circle

Dear Readers, 

Greetings from 1950s-era Camp Denali! Our founding decade was the last time that 1) the Muldrow Glacier surged, 2) Camp Denali was cut off from the Alaska road system, and 3) we rolled out a new business model. Read on to see how we’ve come full-circle.

In March, our feature story seemed a foregone conclusion; after nearly 70 years of remarkable stability, the Muldrow Glacier let rip in one of Denali’s most anticipated cyclical events. A passing Talkeetna pilot observed jagged fissures in the glacier’s surface—heralding one of the Muldrow’s stunning, once-in-a lifetime down-valley surges.

Alas, in August a different event came along to compete with the Muldrow for top billing. Permafrost beneath the “Pretty Rocks” portion of the park road began thawing at a dramatically accelerating rate. On August 24, the National Park Service advised stakeholders that conventional road maintenance could no longer keep up with subsidence. Camp Denali was given 72 hours to evacuate guests, and a few days longer to winterize facilities and evacuate all staff.

Amidst the ensuing crush of logistics and cancellations, word came on October 14 that the road will remain closed at Pretty Rocks throughout 2022 and 2023 to permit construction of a bridge across the Pretty Rocks slump. Road access to Camp Denali and other points in the western park will remain cut off for at least two years.

As daunting as this is, it helps knowing that Camp Denali has been here before. Prior to the 1956 advent of the Denali Highway, contiguous road access to Camp Denali was non-existent. In fact, Camp Denali welcomed its very first guests when an arriving pilot tossed a note from an airplane which read: “I’ve got two live ones for you!” In a return to our roots, we have spent the fall making preparations to run Camp Denali as a fly-in lodge until road access is restored.

In our shift to air access there are two distinct bright spots. One is our recently-completed 90kW solar power installation. Energy independence could not have happened at a more fortuitous time. The other is the tantalizing thought of having the heart of the park largely to ourselves—another parallel to 1950s Camp Denali.

For roughly equal periods, the Muldrow Glacier and Camp Denali have each been characterized by their unwavering steadiness. Curious that both should reinvent themselves in the same year. While we wouldn’t have sought a reason to remake ourselves, the Muldrow is a visceral reminder that unexpected change can be an agent for remarkable outcomes.

2021 Summer Roundup

Special Sightings

© Roger Devore

The Summer of the Wolf

© Martin Grosnick

Muldrow Glacier Surge

2022 Special Emphasis Series

© Roger Devore

Remembering Neal Brown