Denali Dispatch

Denali Dispatch is a journal of the goings on at Camp Denali.


Written by members of our staff, this journal is an opportunity to peek into life in Denali: notable events, wildlife sightings, conservation issues, recipes from our kitchen, and insights into the guest experience at Camp Denali. Dispatches will carry on through the winter, when we hope to share stories of snowy ski adventures, deep cold, and the events of a small Alaskan community.

Living Our Mission, Part 1 of 3: Excellence

December 20, 2018

By Lilly Schneider

Frankly, and I say this with love, the staff at Camp Denali are a bunch of overachievers. It’s not enough they’ve spent ten hours cooking world-class food for a hundred people, or taking guests on the best hike of their lives, or cleaning the community spaces until they’re sparkling--oh no; now that they’re off work, they’re going to learn to make blueberry jam from berries they picked themselves, or build a shelf for their cabin, or stay up half the night creating an elaborate murder mystery for the annual staff party. When do these people sleep? And why are they so excellent at all the many things they do?

Camp Denali exists today because the three original founders--Ginny Hill, Celia Hunter, and Morton Wood--found a place they loved and wanted to share it with people. They were the first in a long line of people who gave their summers, their sweat, their hearts to Camp Denali. By working hard, and working well, we ensure that their dream lives on.

Every staff member brings a hearty work ethic and a range of talent and skill to Camp Denali. But their commitment to a job well done extends beyond individual pride. There’s a deeply satisfying tangibility to working in such a tightly-knit community so far from civilization: every day, you see how the work you and your coworkers are doing makes this experience possible--and wonderful--for guests and for each other.

Our staff goes to considerable trouble to make their way to places like Denali National Park. They don’t only come to have fun. They come for the chance to be grateful--to be humbled before the majesty of some of nature’s most breathtaking unspoiled landscapes. At Camp Denali, you are also given endless opportunities to be grateful for the smaller stuff--a fresh meal in a clean bowl, a towering woodpile, a hot shower and a dry towel, fluffed and folded, placed there by a series of people who are or may become some of your dearest friends. Taking care in every task is how we all take care of each other. It is the very fabric of daily life here, and it all adds up to something big and rare and vitally important that seems to shrink when you try to describe it, just as Denali never looks as big in photographs as it does in real life.

Every now and then, staff and guests are invited to watch grainy film footage of the founders building Camp Denali from the ground-up. My favorite part is the long shot of the three of them carving out the driveway from the tundra, first clump by clump, with pickaxes, and then with an Oliver loader and wobbly road-grader that were their pride and joy. They didn’t have running water back then, or much shelter, or a proper kitchen; they hadn’t built those things yet. Remembering how hard they worked to build this place for everyone who travels to it, a post-dinner-shift or early morning walk up or down that long driveway suddenly seem less of a chore and more of a privilege. That, really, is the secret of why we all strive do such excellent work: for all we are given in return, it seems the very least we can do.

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