Deirdre Denali - Bliss In A Whiteout In The BWCAW

Hello! Who are you and where are your hiking roots?

Hey there! I’m Deirdre. I live in the San Juan Mountains in a tiny house with my husband and our dog. We live a very rural lifestyle and have become very self-reliant, getting into homesteading a bit and doing whatever we need to do in order to maintain a lifestyle that lets us live freely.

I think when most people learn those things, they assume I jumped on the tiny house craze and just enjoy a good hike, when the whole story is actually a lifelong dream of very specific goals.

I was raised in Minnesota by a father who was a mountaineer and photographer, and a mother who loved nature passionately. My older brother was a professional mountain bike racer from a young age. And me? I was always somewhere off by myself exploring. Our family split time between northern Minnesota and the mountains of Colorado. 

I remember often being dropped off at trailheads to hike while my family did other things more in line with their passions. In hindsight, this was quite dangerous and even neglectful, but it did teach me to be independent, crave solitude and get to know the wilderness in a quick and hard way.

One of my first memories of hiking was when I was about six or seven years old or so. I was dropped off in Rocky Mountain National Park. It was the Bear Lake parking area I think, because I hiked Flat Top mountain.

It was the first mountain I hiked completely alone. It was a cloudy morning and I didn’t see anyone until I was above tree line. Once I was up there, I met a really nice couple and they shared some food with me. I watched marmots on the tundra and it was beautiful. I felt calm and peaceful. I didn’t know that it wasn’t normal for a kid that age to be out hiking alone. I felt safe.

I always had a camera, a backpack with the 10 essentials and a general idea of what I was going to do. It’s amazing how much my life now is so similar to my childhood adventures. I always dreamed of living in the mountains and being a photographer. With a lot of work, those things happened very naturally.

What’s your Story From The Mountain?

When I think of all the hikes that have changed my life, the list is immense. There are too many experiences in the wilderness that have impacted me in profound ways. But, there is one backpacking trip that really influenced the path my future took on.

Me and my boyfriend (now husband) decided to go backpacking in Superior National Forest in early February of 2016. We had explored the BWCAW (Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness) thoroughly as individuals and together and were very much looking forward to the forecast of tons of snow and extreme drops in temperatures. 

We backpacked in quite a few miles and set up camp as the sun was beginning to transition from daylight to that wonderful golden glow of evening. Clouds were descending on us and snow began to dump from the sky, truly socking us in.

We had visibility of less than 200 yards and that distance quickly dwindled. As night moved in, wolves started to howl in the distance.

We had visibility of less than 200 yards and that distance quickly dwindled. As night moved in, wolves started to howl in the distance. Something that is always magical and enchanting. I have since heard wolves many times, but on that snowy night, it was my first time. Laying in my sleeping bag, listening to falling snow and wolves, I knew quite clearly that my life would never be the same.

I knew that there was no going back to “normal life”. That I needed to do whatever I could to make that moment in time my new normal. 

The rest of that trip was a reflective and beautiful time of solitude. We snowshoed endlessly and played in the deep snow without worry of obligations or future. We were truly in the moment and it felt like nothing else existed in the whole world. 

Through hiking/climbing, have you learned anything about yourself or nature you’d like to pass on to others?

I think through hiking and exploring I have been able to really get to know myself on a deep level.

I have found a strength in the wilderness that I use daily. A big thing I discovered in nature is my life’s true calling. And that is simply to get people to care about the stewardship and future of our planet and wild places.

I do this through photography and hope that my reach and message will spread throughout my life. People care about what they love, so I am to make people love nature.

There are so many reasons to love it and it’s personal for people. I like to educate with my work in regard to Leave No Trace - if we love nature, lets all take care of it!

What’s your favorite item in your pack?

The best item in my pack is my Cold Case Gear pouch. As a photographer, it is essential that I keep my batteries juiced up. This is a big problem in the cold months, as anyone with a cellphone can tell you.

Cold weather absolutely zaps batteries. Cold Case Gear is a company that creates temperature regulating products that are also really lightweight. The best part of this gear is that my husband invented it!

He actually invented it for me, for my camera batteries, for our winter expeditions. It’s a real product being sold now, so that’s pretty surreal. But as an avid and unbiased gearhead, it would be my most valued item regardless. 

The second best piece of gear I use is a Kula Cloth. It’s basically a pee cloth, but it’s antimicrobial, waterproof and cute. It helps to reduce litter and follows LNT principles. Total game changer if you use TP in the wilderness.

Do you have any advice for other hikers who are just starting out?

Start! Do it now, don’t wait. Whether it’s a walk down the street or a 10 mile hike up a mountain or something much bigger. You’ll get sore. You’ll get tired. You’ll get through it and feel like a better human for it.

I’ve been a hiker at 130lbs, 320lbs and everywhere in between. I have never regretted a single step, even if I didn’t feel like getting out of bed! 

Always do your research - how long is the hike, what’s the elevation profile, where to park and study the forecast. But in general, just do it. Carry the 10 essentials if you plan to go more than a couple miles. And always pick up the trash you find on trail. It’s such an easy thing to do that makes a big difference.

What have been the most influential hiking books, podcasts, or people?

I don’t have a good answer for this. I was so lucky to be born into a family where this was part of our culture.

Where’s your next adventure?

2020 is an absolute epic year for me. I have endless adventures planned in Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. And possibly Montana!

I am slated to publish a coffee table book this year and while many of my photographs for it have already been made, I have really big ideas for a few locations yet to be shot. When thinking up my goals for this year, the thing that I kept saying and writing down was to live big and see it all. While it’s impossible to see it all, I can definitely manage to see a whole lot. And that’s the plan!

I have endless backpacking and packrafting trips on my calendar and I cannot wait to share experience and share them. These places we get to explore are remarkable and wild. I cannot wait!

Where can others learn more about you?

I’m very active on instagram @deirdredenaliphotography

My website is

To inquire on photography classes or guiding please email

You can find me exploring the Southwest often!

Want to share your Story From The Mountain?

Hey, I'm Greg Kamradt, the founder of Terra Mano.

We interview awesome hikers/mountaineers/climbers/photographers and share the stories behind their ambition. By sharing these stories, we want to help others become inspired to reach their goals.

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Terra Mano makes handcrafted maps of American Landscapes.

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