Ptarmigan Tracks

The Newsletter of Camp Denali

Online Version 2023

Summer Roundup: Beavers, Art Heists, & Road Rallies

The opening crew arrived via skiplane on May 8th to above-the-waist snow. Fortunately a ski mountaineering party soon happened along that, in return for a hot meal and a night on the lodge couches, grabbed shovels and unearthed the lawn so spring could play catch-up. Other opening projects included upgrades to solar inverters, and a new cabin porch. With the start of the season came further energy-saving upgrades, including an electric baking cabinet and more induction cooktops to better harness our abundant solar power, as well as a passive-solar water heater for the laundry.

As summer got underway, all that snow seemed to give rise to an abundant green-up. Going on three-years without a trim, the Kantishna airstrip was starting to feel a little narrow, so Camp partnered with Alaska D.O.T. to airlift in a brush-mower and beat the jungle back. In hindsight, we might have missed a golden opportunity there. Our operations crew waged a daily, season-long campaign to keep beavers along the park road from damming culverts and washing out the roadbed. Next season we might see if we can persuade our beaver friends to gnaw back the runway overgrowth and not the roadside drainages.

Serendipity struck in August when dear friends and past staff Ree Nancarrow and Sharyn Gerhardt paid us a visit. Ree is known to many as the artist behind the commissioned art quilt, Seasons of Denali, in the Eielson Visitor Center. It came up in passing that since the road closure, Ree’s quilt had been securely crated and stored away inside the shuttered visitor center, much like the closing scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark. The park was very much wanting to recover it and restore it to public display, but had no easy way to do so. Having the artist, and road access, and the blessing of the park, it was suddenly clear what that day’s mission was to be. Following a mirth-filled heist and getaway which we’re calling Eielson’s Eleven, we’re pleased to report that Seasons will once again be, deservedly, on public display.

As summer entered the home stretch, word came that there might possibly be a window of mere hours to transit the construction site at Pretty Rocks as the contractor blasted and constructed ramps to bring a crane across the slump. The Camp team immediately swung into gear and within a fantastically short time had a new, 4WD passenger van, outfitted
for the Paris-Dakar rally, and staged for the crack of the starting gun. Huge thanks go out to Land Cole who made the delivery drive on a perfect late-September day, incidentally becoming the first person to drive the length of the park road in over two years. Sincere thanks also go out to the Park Service, Federal Highways, and the contractor, all of whom came together to enable this one-time opportunity. And as for the colors of available vans in Anchorage on hours’ notice? Well, we’re accepting nominations for a suitable bird-themed name!

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© Simon Hamm