Saturday, July 4, 2015

Back from Backpacking in Katmai National Park

View of Mt. Griggs from the Baked Mountain Huts
We just got back from a week of backpacking in Katmai starting in the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and hiking over Katmai Pass to Katmai Bay where we were picked up by a small plane charter and flown to Kodiak. I've wanted to visit the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, Novarupta, and the Katmai Caldera - the site of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century - since I was a kid.

When I first started planning this trip last year, I thought we would do the typical backpacking trip into/around the valley and back to Brooks Camp, but at some point last winter while I was looking at a map, I got the harebrained idea to hike over Katmai Pass to Katmai Bay on the Pacific Coast. Katmai Pass is one of the lower passes of the Aleutian Range. It was a well-traveled trade route for Alaska Native peoples for thousands of years, but the trail itself was buried by ash and pumice during the eruption in 1912.

As our trip got closer I started to wonder what I had gotten us into and if our friends would ever want to go on a trip with me again if it turned out badly. However, we are all experienced backcountry travelers, were well-prepared, and we were incredibly lucky with the weather, bugs, and bears. It was warm, and we only had brief periods of rain and wind (and a tiny bit of hail). It did snow on us when were were at/near the Katmai Caldera, but you can't expect any less in the mountains in Alaska, even in summer.

The Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and even Katmai Pass and Katmai Bay are landscapes like no other. I've read and read about the 1912 eruption, looked at hundreds of photographs in books and on the internet over the years, and studied the aerial imagery before our trip, but nothing prepared me for the massive amount of pumice that blanketed the landscape on both sides of the pass. It was truly impressive.

Here are just a few photos of our journey.

Novarupta - source of the largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century
Ryan on the rim of the Katmai Caldera
Keller's plane (Deckload Aviation)  picking us up at Katmai Bay


  1. Hey I ran across your blog doing a Google search. We're doing this trip this summer pretty much exactly. How long did it take you guys? Any noteworthy obstacles? Any info would be much appreciated!

  2. That's awesome - I was hoping this would be useful to someone! We we left Brooks Camp on a Sunday and got picked up in Katmai Bay on the next Saturday, so six days, five nights. We spent three nights at the hut. I'd say the only noteworthy obstacle was crossing the Soluka River...for three hours. It was really fine for us because it was such a nice day and the water was very warm. If the water was cold and it was raining, it would be pretty miserable.
    If you leave another comment with your email address (I won't publish it), I can send you an email with more info. I just don't want to publish either of our emails to the public.

  3. Hi Molly, my friend and I are also doing this trip in July. Sounds like you had pretty good weather?? How long did it take you to get from Katmai Pass to the bay? Or did you go from the bay up? Also, do you think the Anaheim and/or Katmai River are pack-raftable? Thanks! Joan

  4. Hi Joan,
    We had great weather. From the pass to the bay was about a day and a half. Did you find my other blog posts after this one? They have more detail about each day of our trip. The Katmai River is definitely not pack-raftable...ankle deep at most where we crossed it. I don't know where the Anaheim River is. I'm happy to answer more questions after you read my other blog posts!