More than 70 years ago, Don Sheldon and his legendary partner, explorer and cartographer Brad Washburn, began their ten-year odyssey to map the vast and unexplored Alaska Range. This feat was achieved through Don’s inventions, airplane modifications, and innovative landing tactics for dangerous snow and ice conditions.
Across this expansive mountain chain, there was only one location, a solitary rock outcropping, suitable as the control point for their epic endeavor. Amazingly, the elevation of the rock outcropping is at a height so that anyone can acclimate within one day. In addition, this particular location enjoys a natural microclimate, which is relatively warm and predictable year-round.
Don’s vision was to share this awe-inspiring Denali “wonderland” with the world. While Alaska was still a territory, and decades before Denali National Park came to surround the outcrop, Don recognized its unique, strategic value. So, he filed for and secured a land patent with the US Federal Government for what is today the foundation stone of Sheldon Chalet.
Don, and then with his wife Roberta, operated a thriving and versatile bush pilot business across Alaska in the lowlands serving native villages, remote miners and sourdoughs, as well as in mountainous areas supporting and enabling important first ascents and scientific expeditions. It featured eight top-of-the-line specialty aircraft suited for many different types of conditions and destinations. But, Don’s dream was bigger.
In pursuit of Don’s dream, in 1966, they constructed the historic “Mountain House” on the rock outcropping; a prototype for a larger chalet. This hexagonal building became a basecamp for many first ascents of area peaks as well as less strenuous trekking and skiing. It even drew many leisure seekers who simply wanted to adventure in place through watching the marvelous geophysical events occurring every day across the boundless, sweeping amphitheater.
Everything was going well; a growing family of three children and continued expansion of their operations. Then, tragedy struck. Cancer. Don was taken from his family and friends in 1975. He was only 53. With Don’s death, his vision for a larger chalet also died.
Thirty-nine years after Don’s death, in 2014, Roberta passed away. Their children, Kate and Robert, inherited the rock outcropping. Together they decided to honor their parents by fulfilling their parent’s dream of a larger chalet in the incomparable amphitheater.
After several months of piecing together information and studying the 48-year-old Mountain House for design clues, they settled on a steel and glass design. They were certain it reflected the spirit and wishes of their parents.
Only a few weeks following preliminary design completion, Marne, Robert’s wife, discovered a set of timeworn blueprints dated 1968 for Sheldon Chalet. Stunningly, the 1968 blueprints were almost identical to the “new” plans! Now, armed with full confidence in their mission, construction of the Sheldon Chalet began in 2015.
It was built over three years. Two seasons were dedicated to the base foundation and the last year was given to completing the vertical structure and interior and exterior finishes. The rebirth of a new vision had come to life!