Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Katmai Caldera

Katmai Caldera
When I was 12 or 13 I got a good look at the Katmai Caldera on a crystal clear day from a small plane on a flight from Kodiak to King Salmon. I've always been fascinated by volcanic eruptions, but that dark turquoise lake made an impression on me and I haven't been able to get it out of my head since then. From what I had read and heard from others, hiking to the caldera from The Valley of Ten Thousand smokes is challenging, although not technical. From the huts it's between 16 and 18 miles round trip and about 3500 feet of elevation gain. I most definitely wanted to get up there, but I tried not to set my heart on it because I knew we could easily be thwarted by bad weather or simply fatigue.

I was not disappointed, however. The first morning we were at the huts the weather seemed decent so we went for it. From the base of the mountain, just getting onto it seemed daunting. We had advice on the route from a ranger though, so we went for it up a steep snow patch. That was probably the hardest physical part of the climb. We then traversed along some squishy pumicey rocky terrain, and then up another rise (though not quite as steep) on a glacier. At that point it started to rain fairly hard, it looked pretty socked in above us, and we seriously wondered whether it was worth it to continue. But at that point we were far enough into the climb that if we turned around, there was no way we were ever coming back. We keep trudging uphill as the rain turned to wet snow. Even when we could see the rim of the caldera, I tried not to let myself believe it was actually THE rim until we were there and I could see the lake myself.

Baked Mountain in the morning sun - all of the light colored stuff is pumice, the entire mountain is covered in pumice!
John and Ryan looking toward Katmai from the pass between Baked and Broken Mountains
Arriving at the daunting base of Katmai
Climbing up toward the caldera rim
So excited to have made it!

It was just as impressive as I had gathered from the airplane, perhaps even more so because the higher peaks were shrouded in clouds. Most of the lake was still covered it ice, but we got a peak at the dark turquoise water. We didn't stay on the rim for long because it was cold, but it was long enough to be in awe.

Our descent went faster than I could have imagined. We sort of skied on our feet down the glacier in the soft melting snow and slid down the pumicey/rockey parts sinking in to above our ankles. It was the trek from the base back to the hut that drug on forever.
Descending in better weather
Sliding/sinking into the pumice on the descent
Crossing the Knife River at the base of Katmai
John hiking with Mt. Griggs in the background
Looking up at a bear running off
On our way back we did see a bear from a great distance, but then it disappeared, and we ended up somewhat running into it later - it was plenty scared of us and ran off.

Overall, and incredible day and I am quite happy to say my feet survived my new boots with no blisters and my legs were still working at the end of the day!

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