Artist Alone in Denali


Temperatures dropped in the night the porch thermometer read 37º at 7:00am, dappled sunlight glowed on distant peaks, a strong wind pummeled the clouds. We loaded our packs, mine heavy with everything Bob and I shared the first week, plus a towel and items for a shower. We hiked to the top of the hill for our respective buses, Bob heading east to the park entrance to drive home, mine west to the Toklat ranger station for a shower and to charge dead camera batteries. Shivering as wind cut through our jackets, we felt cold.

We said good bye, climbed into our respective buses and rode off in opposite directions. Immediately I began to re-work my plans. I couldn’t accomplish what I needed using the bus with the unwieldy pack, especially in poor weather conditions. Both of us working as a team achieved success the first week. I reasoned if the sun came out or the mountain (Denali) cleared, I’d be handicapped by bus schedules and awkward gear. I had time alone to think and devised a plan; after showering I will ride the bus back to the cabin and reorganize, carrying only the barest necessities for short daytime bus excursions. If the weather improved or the mountain were visible, I will drive my truck and camper. My vehicle has everything I need to be protected from the elements giving me the option to wait hours for the light. The biggest issue was a shortage of fuel, it was essential to make every trip count and be judicious in calculating consumption.

At the Toklat ranger station I met the Eielson Visitor Center maintenance man, Bart, who told me that a front was moving in and the mountain could clear by evening and it was predicted to be sunny the next day. My spirits rose as I hurried back to the cabin. I loaded the truck and headed to Eielson for the evening passing another group of buses parked in the driveway with tourists picnicking, some walking curiously toward the cabin. I was glad to be on my way out of there, on own away from the noisy chattering crowd of sightseers.

It was wonderful to be on the park road alone, peaceful without much traffic. I saw a few bears in the distance and a fox on the road toting a dead squirrel. The weather at Eielson grew worse but I was snug cooking dinner in the camper and stayed late watching the landscape, heading back to the cabin after all the buses were gone. Clouds thickened and lowered as darkness fell that night. As I fell asleep I hoped Bart was right and the mountain would show itself in the morning.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Hello Gail, I’m engrossed in your blog about your residency at Denali. I’m applying this year and love the short, sweet blog posts while you were there. Wondering what kind of camper you had with you. And I also am in need of quiet and less noise than the chattering of sightseers in exploring for art inspiration.

    What would you say is the best advice you could give an applicant? Appreciate a few thoughts.

  2. I drive a Ford truck with a Lantz camper fully self contained, we were just under the 20′ size limit for the Denali Road. I stayed at the John Muir cabin, just one or two buses a day drive down and didn’t stay long. Otherwise I had that whole section of the park to myself, bears even walked through. Good luck with your application. No advice really, it is just the luck of the draw to be chosen.

Speak Your Mind