Ptarmigan Tracks

The Newsletter of Camp Denali and Parkside Guest House

Online Version 2022

Looking Back - 70 Years

In the fall of 1952, Camp Denali’s inaugural newsletter was addressed “...to those of you who were our guests, to those who just came up to find out what was going on on top of the ridge, and to those of you who dropped in to look, then stayed to help us haul logs, hack out a road, and build.” Sent as a holiday letter, our founders highlighted notable visitors, special wildlife sightings, and ambitions for the coming seasons.

This year, we celebrated Camp Denali’s 70th season. Homesteaded in 1951, Camp Denali was the realization of a dream for three young friends who believed in the intangible values of wilderness and community camaraderie. Celia Hunter, “Woody,” and Ginny Wood shared a love of the outdoors and a can-do spirit. They often said of their collaboration that whatever Ginny dreamed up, Woody could build, and Celia could pull off.

And building Camp Denali was no small undertaking. Supplies were loaded on train cars in Fairbanks for a four-hour train ride to Denali. Another four or five hours and ninety miles along the only mountainous, gravel road into the park finally led to a steep, rugged ¾-mile driveway. Bulldozed by a Kantishna miner in the fall of 1951, considerable manual labor was required to complete the access. Supplies were largely backpacked up the impassable driveway the first summer. “Luckily,” writes Ginny, “in lieu of burros, we had Les Viereck…and Ted Lachelt,” for whom packing heavy loads was seemingly “a labor of love, for no one would ever have worked that hard for wages!”

By early July, four housekeeping tents had been built and were sold at $10/night double occupancy, all comfortably equipped with cot bunks, “a Yukon wood stove, table, benches, down sleeping bags with removable liners, cooking and eating utensils and a two-burner gasoline stove.” By mid-summer the founders also realized there was another market, writes Ginny, for “hardier souls traveling on a shoestring, who arrived…with their rucksacks and hiking gear, prepared to rough it… So we established Bedrock and Harpan, tents pitched on the ground and furnished with a Yukon stove, cots and mattresses. The charge: $1.00 per night per bed.”

Particularly notable in 1952’s summer recap is how extensively our founders relied on air transportation. The first visitors arrived by plane on June 16, only three days after our founders arrived, “right behind the snowplow that blasted through the last drift June 13.” Although visitors found their way to Camp by a variety of means, “including their own weary feet, horseback, a bulldozer, and a hearse,” writes Ginny, aircraft flew in the majority of the summer’s visitors, landing either in Kantishna or by floatplane on Wonder Lake. Friends and neighbors Dick and Jeanne Collins, from Lake Minchumina 40 miles west of Camp Denali, became regulars, stopping in to lend a hand or to make deliveries. They “became so adept at dropping us notes and packages from their Piper Pacer we hardly had to stir off the front porch to retrieve them,” writes Ginny.

Airplanes and their pilots were instrumental in building Camp Denali in 1952; likewise, 70 years hence they quite literally enabled us to operate and sustain our business. Our hats are off to the staff at Denali Air, our 2022 (and 2023!) air taxi partner, and to our founders, whose resiliency, adaptability, and resourcefulness continue to inspire us to expect the unexpected and to welcome each new challenge with curiosity and grace.

Back to Online Version 2022

© Camp Denali Archives