Seward Sojourn

Arriving from King Salmon at Anchorage airport this past Wednesday I found the rental car counter not near the baggage claim where I might expect it to be but actually a bit of a trek across the terminal. It was good to stretch my legs, though, and so I cheerfully schlepped my laptop, backpack, and two $15-at-the-thriftstore suitcases along with me across the departure area, down the elevator (that baggage-eating escalator would have chewed my suitcases up and spit them out while I probably would have incurred some sort of personal dismemberment), across a long corridor, to the rental counter, up another elevator, and out to the cheapest 4-door brand new rental car that MY TRAVEL AGENT could arrange.

There were a couple of errands I needed to run (return rain pants to REI, shop for a few groceries to sustain me over the next few days) and then I was headed south 127 miles to Seward. I had been along this route down Turnagain Arm as far as Girdwood back in April. Now it was serious low tide and the mudflats extended for miles. There are warning signs posted everywhere telling people to not go out on the mudflats due to the dangerous quicksand-like conditions. Turnagain Arm is major “bore tide” country – it is so full of silt and mud that when the tide is particularly low (or “negative”) and about to turn to come into the Arm again, there is the possibility of a large pressure build-up as the unstoppable incoming tide is only temporarily halted by the built-up silt. What then can happen is a six-foot wall of incoming tide water that ultimately breaks through the resistance – this is the bore tide. I have never seen one but apparently it can be quite dramatic. And dangerous.

I didn’t stop much to admire scenic views – I was still exhausted and just wanted to get where I was going which was a Holiday Inn Express room with a balcony overlooking the small boat harbor in Seward. Traffic was light and I cruised across the golden cottonwood- and aspen-draped mountains between which patches of brick-red fireweed spread themselves about. It put me in a mind of the aspens of Cedar Mountain and the cottonwoods along the Virgin River in SW Utah. If this had been Tennessee it would be the maples flaming crimson. Late September appears to be peak leaf-peeping season in south-central Alaska. I don’t know but I’ve been (later) told that both trees grow together on the Kenai Peninsula. I am definitely not a botanist but I originally thought the bark looked like that of a cottonwood but the tree grew straight and tall like an aspen. Then I started seeing aspen bark and was really confused.

View from motel room balcony

Oh! A room of my own! How sublimely decadent this was, after 5 months at Brooks Camp sharing everything from spatulas to stoves to sinks to showers (but not at the same time in the shower with anyone!). I was not very hungry but went out in search of a light dinner. Did you know that halibut have cheeks but salmon don’t? I did not know this. Halibut cheeks are a popular item on Seward menus and so I had to try them, sautéed in a bushel of garlic and a couple pounds of butter. They have a texture somewhat like scallops but the halibut flavor is definitely present. They were quite tasty. I could have done with a bit more spiciness, though, but I guess that might have covered up the taste of the halibut, cheeky little fish that it is.

Orca Voyager

Thankfully NOT the Orca Voyager

Sea Otters in Resurrection Bay

Bear Glacier in distance

Three Hole Point in Aialik Bay

The 6-hour glacier cruise was the next day and the weather was warm and sunny with a light breeze. Woo Hoo!!! I boarded the Orca Voyager – it was not full at all – plenty of room to sit anywhere and move about anywhere else. The ship moved slowly away from Seward and out Resurrection Bay, stopping so we could look at the sea otters lounging on their backs in the water. Our destination would be Aialik Glacier in Aialik Bay, the next bay west from Resurrection. We would briefly be in the open sea along the Alaska coast on the edge of the North American continent as we passed from one protected bay to the other, with the next major land mass being the Hawaiian Islands, 4000 miles to the south. Many of the sea birds and mammals have migrated south or out to the open sea for the winter (dang those puffins), but on the way back we did catch sight of Stellar’s sea lions, whose numbers have decreased 80% over the last 40 years.

Stellar’s Sea Lions lolling about in the sun

We passed a good distance from Bear Glacier, the largest glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. Aialik Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in the park. All these glaciers come off the Harding Icefield which itself takes up some major acreage of the park. At Aialik we were less than a mile away, listening and watching as ice calved off the glacier front and crashed into the sea, sending up rolling waves that gently jostled our ship. “Welcome to the Pleistocene!” is how our tour guide put it as he turned the ship and slowed the engine, and then his narration ceased for 20-30 minutes or so, leaving us all to our own thoughts, listening to the creaking, breathing sounds of the glacier.

Yours Truly at Aialik Glacier

Aialik Glacier

Sea kayakers at Aialik Glacier

Departing Aialik Glacier

“Fun with the crazies outside on the back of the ship” is what we called ourselves, the small group of, well, crazies, who stayed outside in the wind and waves and sunshine on the return leg. Whenever a particularly large wave hit the ship broadside we got sprayed with saltwater, laughing and hollering “Wheeeee!” as we rolled along the Alaska coastline. I met other crazy people from Florida, Knoxville, and (believe it or not) St. George.

“Back of the Boat crazies”

Passing back up Resurrection Bay I was pretty sure the cormorant-guano-covered rocks I was looking at were pillow basalt, formed as magma erupted under the sea during tectonic activity millions of years ago. I haven’t had time to research this fascinating geology of the area but will do so when I get back to Utah and am unemployed and have lots of time on my hands.

Suspected pillow basalt

The next day my agenda included the Exit Glacier area of Kenai Fjords National Park, a short drive from Seward. This is the only place in the park where you can walk up to the edge, or toe, of the glacier. There are several hiking trails – I chose the lower mile or so “Edge of the Glacier” trail to quickly get up close and personal with the ice. The trail traverses the lateral moraine in a narrow valley – rocky rubble scraped up and pushed to the side by the glacier as it advances and left in place as the glacier retreats. There were glacial striations on every exposed rock surface and I was able to recognize the pitting and cavities in the rock caused by “plucking” as the glacier advanced over highly fractured bedrock. I was enjoying myself so much that by the time I got onto the Harding Icefield Trail it was 2:00 PM, a little late for this old girl to cover the 8-mile round-trip distance to the ice field and back. So I hiked up the trail for an hour or so and took my time coming back down. There was quite a bit of foot traffic about, and even though the visitor facilities had closed the previous weekend there were 3 or 4 rangers on roving patrol, this being their last weekend of the season, one week later than Katmai.

Exit Glacier with an outwash stream

Striations indicating movement of glacier across rock surface

Sign indicating location of edge or toe of glacier in 1917

Check-out of my motel was noon Saturday, which was nice considering my flight from Anchorage to Las Vegas leaves at 12:55 A-freaking-M tonight (or, more precisely, Sunday morning). I would fire MY TRAVEL AGENT for this infraction but he has done such an otherwise great job arranging my trip logistics that I guess I will keep him on the payroll. After leaving Seward today I stopped at the AK Wildlife Conservation Center near Portage, ate my Safeway wrap in two stages at different rest stops along the highway, returned my car, and now await my departing flight. I should touch down in Vegas around 9 AM Sunday, with my chauffeurs Jeani & Bruce eagerly awaiting my arrival.

I’ll post some more pix (of the screamingly awesome autumn colors on the Seward Highway Scenic Byway – I haven’t downloaded them yet) after I get home and have slept for a week.

As we were taking off from Lake Brooks for King Salmon via Park floatplane earlier this week, I felt an underlying sense of sadness and slight unease to our departure. We were all commencing our own individual journeys now, to familiar or new places and exciting adventures beyond Katmai, but we knew we were leaving behind the three Park employees and their pilot whose plane was lost in August and had not yet been found. As we got into the Park plane and arranged our headsets and seatbelts, we listened with added attention to our pilot Alan’s pre-flight instructions as if our lives depended on it; where the ELT was, how the satellite radio worked, where to find the fire extinguisher. We patted each other’s shoulders, reassuring without words because none were needed. We were all thinking the same thing. We had climbed into our plane much as Neil, Seth, Mason, and Marco must have done with theirs. We put our faith in our pilot that we would land at the float plane dock in King Salmon unscathed but we also knew there were no guarantees. So for the 25-minute flight I gazed out my window, watching for wildlife but also considering what a small maroon single-engine float plane might look like in that vast Alaskan landscape of mountains, tundra, streams, rivers, and lakes.
As soon as we unloaded the plane Alan was off again for Brooks Camp, to load the next threesome or foursome of Park rangers along with boxes and packs of belongings. I think he made four round trips that day. Later, several of us drove the short distance to the post office to mail stuff home and close out our PO boxes. For a couple hours in the late afternoon the dorm halls were pretty quiet – naptime! I personally was exhausted.
For dinner I was craving a good cheeseburger (no, no, not salmon!!!). Probably 30 people got together around 6:30PM and took over the dining room of KingKo, a local restaurant across the street from the dorm. I had a great time sharing a couple of pitchers of beer but eventually I went back to my room as some of the others drifted into the bar to play pool, foosball, and shuffleboard. I was still exhausted.
I left for Anchorage the next morning around 9:30. All the interpretive staff who were not leaving that morning came over to the airport (also across the street from the dorm – King Salmon is NOT very big) to say final goodbyes to Phil, Jacqui, and me. It was a sweet and funny gesture as we stood around the tiny terminal laughing and joking. Soon our flight was announced and I was waving goodbye to my summer at Katmai.
We all had made quite an impression with our carryings-on in the terminal – as we were lifting off, a fellow in the seat behind me inquired if I was someone famous! I had to admit that I was famous for being completely unknown, and he commented that yes, on second thought, I did look famously unfamiliar. As we burned a path through the sky at 10,000 feet, I worked my crossword puzzles in relative obscurity, marvelously content to have had my Katmai experience and looking forward to a few days in Seward but happy, nevertheless, to be on my way home.Clothes have been packed into suitcases; uniforms and books have been boxed up, ready to be shipped home or to the next park job. Cabins have been swept, dusted, and mopped; stoves and refrigerators have been wiped down; dishes have been put away on the shelf; counters have been cleared and cleaned. The water in the campground has been turned off and so has the electricity to the bear-resistant fence. The visitor center merchandise has been put in storage and the “Closed for the season” sign placed in the window. The maintenance staff will stay until November to hopefully finish up projects started this summer. It is the final night for the interpretive staff at Brooks Camp.

We had a delicious pot-luck Thanksgiving dinner last night, and a great end-of-season slide show. Our ten-day warm spell of clear skies has disappeared with an east wind moving in, blowing its way steadily through the gap in the Iliuk moraine of Naknek Lake. Autumn is here for sure on the Alaska Peninsula. The cottonwood trees are ablaze with yellow on the mountainsides and there have already been extra blankets on beds.

The plan is for the park plane to take us all (in shifts) back to King Salmon tomorrow. I will spend one night in the NPS dorm and then Wednesday will catch a PenAir flight to Anchorage. I am looking forward to renting a car and driving the 127 miles down the Seward Highway to – you guessed it – Seward! – and staying three nights in a motel overlooking the harbor before flying back to Utah. I have a reservation for a 6-hour glacier cruise through Kenai Fjords National Park which will be so amazing!

So we leave Brooks Camp to the brown bears for now, to wander at their leisure around the empty cabins and lodge and ranger station. They will continue to fish at the falls, the lower river, and the beach, and as the number of spawned-out dead and dying salmon floating downstream with the current slowly diminishes, the bears at Brooks River will then lumber slowly away, perhaps glancing back into the water now and again, as they leave the river to dig their new den site and begin their winter hibernation.

Reading over my last blog entry, I noticed something I had written that would make any self-respecting geologist cringe. I will now attempt to correct this glaring discrepancy.

Sitting there nestled below the peaks of Trident volcano and Falling Mountain with Mt. Mageik off in the distance was Novarupta itself, steam curls rising from the center of its plug of dark rhyolite lava

Novarupta (lower right)

Well, the plug certainly looks dark from a distance but it most definitely appears lighter up close.

Rhyolite boulder – note banding

Rhyolite, the extrusive igneous rock of which the Novarupta plug is composed, is really light in color due to its high silica content.
In the grander scheme of all things igneous, we have two types of rock: extrusive (aka volcanic) and intrusive (aka plutonic). Extrusive rocks are extruded from depth and cool above ground and generally cool so rapidly that little if any crystal formation occurs (a familiar example is obsidian). Intrusive rocks cool underground and have PLENTY of time, up to millions of years, to cool slowly and so crystal formation has plenty of time to occur (a familiar example is granite). These two types of rocks are then categorized by how much silica they contain. The more silica an extrusive rock contains the more explosive it is – the magma that blew out of Novarupta in June 1912 was some serious rhyolite and was so explosive it blew up to 20 miles into the atmosphere.

Up to 75% silica<——————————->55%(or so)silica

rhyolite (Novarupta) —- andesite/dacite —– basalt (extrusive)
granite ——————— diorite ————— gabbro (intrusive)

Notice here that rhyolite and granite have the same amount of silica in their chemical compositions. Alert readers of this geo-blog may wonder “Then why doesn’t granite explode if it contains the same amount of silica as rhyolite?” It must have to do with the amount of gases that are contained in each rock type and the amount of pressure built up in each due to the presence of these gases. Silica by its very crystal structure is able to contain more gases and so is more explosive. But here is the clincher – the Novarupta dome is still rhyolite yet it had ‘de-gassed” at the end of the eruption and formed the rhyolite lava dome. So perhaps granite has somehow become gas-poor (over those millions of years?) while maintaining its high silica content just as the rhyolite in the Novarupta dome had become gas-poor over a much shorter period of time.

Robert ascending Novarupta

Me at saddle w/ Novarupta in upper left background

Day One
Somehow I was really lucky, once again. After a Katmai summer of rain and clouds and generally dreary weather, and several unsuccessful attempts to backpack out to the Valley of Ten Thousands Smokes, I finally was able to reach my goal of hiking up the Valley and reaching Novarupta. On the last possible backpacking weekend of the 2010 season the volcano gods and goddesses (and weather nymphs) saw fit to honor us with a ripping high-pressure system over the entire Alaska Peninsula (and as I write this on 9/18 the system is into its ninth day). I haven’t seen so much clear sky since I left Utah in late April.
Apparently Jeanette took it to heart that I had “Things left unfinished” since just a couple weeks earlier it looked like this geo-traveler might not get out to Novarupta, the site of the world’s largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century. So we put together a 2-night, 3-day backpack trip and were determined to go. Jeanette had been out there a couple weeks previous and knew the river crossings and where to get water. We would take whatever came along be it cold or wind or rain or all three. We really never expected to have glorious sunshine the entire time we were out. But there you go… We didn’t expect anything and got the best we could possibly get. It just goes to show.
After work last Friday 9/10 we got a ride out to the Three Forks visitor center, site of the melted pants. Robert, a Student Conservation Association volunteer working on a soundscape project, was also able to join us. We played some cards and each won a game. What an equitable party this was turning out to be! The plan was to head out early the next day.
It must have been around 3 or 4 in the morning on that moonless night when I woke up and stepped outside onto the porch. It wasn’t particularly cold, maybe in the low 40’s. There were no clouds. I looked up and stared at the sky, counting 1.7 billion stars at least – I know I must have missed a few, though. I just stood there gazing up, trying to take it all in. I found the North Star at this 58 degrees north latitude, and saw the few constellations I recognized (Cassiopeia, Orion, the Big and Little Dippers). The Milky Way seemed to take up half the sky. I was in awe, wondering “What is out there???” I have seen some pretty spectacular night skies in the southwestern US but nothing ever compared to this. I was unable to see any northern lights this far south – solar activity has been somewhat low lately and you had to be at least near the latitude of Fairbanks to view them. But I was not disappointed since the night sky itself was all I really needed to see. Northern lights would have been the icing on a chocolate truffle-filled cupcake of a night sky.
The next day (Saturday 9/11) we headed out early on the Windy Creek trail, our packs as light as we could make them. No cute little boxes of wine this time (although the next day we would wish we had brought some, of course)! The Windy Creek trail took us off the low mountain on which the visitor center is situated (the mountain is actually a terminal moraine, remnant of the last glacier to recede from the western Valley somewhere around 10,000 years ago). After walking for about an hour we were at the creek. At the 2 creek/river crossings in the Valley (Windy and Lethe) it’s best to exchange boots for sandals, since the water is generally at least knee deep, the current flows fast, and there aren’t any rocks to hop. This is glacial meltwater! Windy Creek flows clear but, as we knew, further into the Valley the River Lethe does not.
It was a glorious day! We couldn’t believe our good fortune with the sunshine. The rainbow prism we saw in the sky over Mt. Katmai this morning gave us all a good feeling about the weekend’s weather.
Six Mile Campsite

We walked and walked and talked and talked. We stopped to snack after about 4 and ½ miles, and filled our water bottles with snow-melt cascading off the Buttress Range at the 6-mile campsite. We didn’t treat it but just filtered it through Jeanette’s bandanna to get rid of any silt. The Valley is wide open so we could see all the way to Broken Mtn., and then as we rounded a curve in the trail at the base of the Buttress Range we lost sight of Three Forks behind us and Baked Mtn. came into view ahead. This was our goal – the USGS research hut is located halfway up Baked Mtn. We would spend our 2 nights in the dusty shelter of its plywood walls. At the 6-mile campsite, if you are heading out into the Valley, you merely pull away from the Buttress Range and just head in the direction of whichever mountain is your goal.

Baked and Broken Mtns.

Preparing to Cross River Lethe

River Lethe has an ominous sound to its name. I think that was the intent when it was named back in the early days of exploration after the volcanic explosion. There are 2 choices to consider when crossing the Lethe – a narrow “jump spot” over a deep canyon in the ash, or a wider, shallower braided area where the water is silty and the current is fast and you use your hiking poles to probe the river bed before you step. We checked out the jump spot first. I was ok with the width but there was a vague discomfort level I just could not overcome. One misstep and I’d be toast. So we (mostly me but Jeanette and Robert would go with my decision) opted to cross at the wider braided area upstream. This crossing in itself is not a walk in the park either, by any means, but I felt more at ease here and so it was a go. We did fine, keeping a wide “John Wayne” stance and taking small steps. I celebrated by having a snickers bar on the other side.

View Back Down VTTS

After crossing the Lethe it is definitely a long pull up the Valley to Baked Mtn; even though the elevation gain is gradual you still are going UP. It is a long view, too; it must be at least 2-3 more miles from the Lethe crossing, and you can see pretty much every inch of those miles. Baked Mountain OVER THERE would take us several hours to reach. I took just a few pictures because I wanted to reach my goal as quickly as my boots would carry me. The Valley floor is like a desert pavement in most places – the fine-grained silt and ash particles are easily blown up and away, leaving the coarser sand and gravels. There are fossil fumaroles or steam vents everywhere on the Valley floor – large and small areas of orange-brown-yellow-pink-stained sandstone and lithified ash that preserve the color of whatever minerals were present in that ash and also in the groundwater when the 2000°F pyroclastic flow blasted its way down the Valley during the explosion of Novarupta in June 1912.
Walking became slightly more difficult as we started up the steeper slope of Baked Mtn. The slope is soft, ashy sandstone and there isn’t much vegetation or soil formation to stabilize anything. Nearing the hut we had a choice of straight up or not-quite straight up the slope! So we chose straight up and switch-backed our way, sliding sideways with every step along the soft slope towards the hut which had not come into our field of view during the entire hike.

USGS Research Hut on Baked Mtn

After cresting a hill we were there! We had reached the USGS research hut on Baked Mtn. It had taken us all of 8 hours, my 20-something hiking buddies Jeanette and Robert hanging all the while with this old girl. All six of our feet were achingly tired and the first thing we did was take off our boots and put on sandals. We had arrived. It was absolutely worth the effort. And the sun was still shining.

Room with a View

That evening we heated water on a small Jet-Boil stove we had borrowed, cooked and shared dinner contributions of couscous, dehydrated stew, and scotcheroos, went outside to watch the sunset behind the mountains, and, in the light of our headlamps and using a crate for a table, played some cards again in which each of us won a game.

Day Two
We arose for a breakfast of oatmeal (with added trail mix) and tea – isn’t that the standard trail breakfast for those who travel light, who don’t bring a skillet, bacon, eggs, pancake mix, and coffee?

Mt Griggs and hut

View from Ridge above Hut

We put together lunches and were soon ready to pay our tribute to Novarupta. Jeanette thought it might be nice to hike up the ridge from the hut to the top of Baked Mtn. for whatever incredible views were there. She thought she might be able to get a better view than from the saddle between Baked and Broken Mtns., the usual route to the vent. I was not sure I’d make it to the top – it looked pretty sketchy to me, with its sheer cliffs and steep slopes of shale and ash. But I’d go as far as I could for a view. It didn’t take me long, however, to figure out I would NOT be making the ascent to the summit, so I decided to return to the hut and take the low route between Baked and Broken Mtns. Jeanette and Robert (I made sure she didn’t go alone) would continue on the route at or near the top, and if it looked as sketchy to them as it did to me, they would turn back and follow my same route to the saddle overlooking Novarupta.

Mt. Martin steaming above Mageik glacier

Hike to the Saddle

Baked Mtn Ridge

It took me about an hour to walk up the valley to the saddle. Now and then I could see Jeanette and Robert as tiny specks on the horizon of the ridge. I kept on, up and down the ridges and swales of the eroded valley floor. It was easy to pick a route through the ups and downs – again, I could see all the way to the saddle and just walked in that direction. Eventually the steepness increased as I walked up the slope of the saddle, still in ashy sand. There was a bit more scrubby vegetation here than in the Valley proper and so it was nicknamed “the lawn.”
At the top of the saddle I paused before looking over. WOW!!! Sitting there nestled below the peaks of Trident volcano and Falling Mountain with Mt. Mageik off in the distance was Novarupta itself, steam curls rising from the center of its plug of dark rhyolite lava. It is 1200 feet in diameter and 400 feet high – a tiny pimple on the landscape of the surrounding mountains but a giant among them. I was alone – Jeanette and Robert had not come down yet – and so I stood there and looked around at the scene before my eyes. I moved up the saddle 30 or 40 feet to a flattish spot with even better views, and sat down for lunch. I took a panoramic video, back and forth and back and forth. I could see the jagged peaks of Mt. Katmai in the distance behind Broken Mtn. but my eyes kept returning to Novarupta in the haze.

Novarupta Vent (center of photo) from Saddle

Novarupta Vent

Flat Stanley had come all this way for the view, too.

Soon I saw Jeanette and Robert coming up the valley towards the saddle – their route up Baked Mtn. had been quite sketchy and so they’d come all the way down past the huts and taken the route up the valley. The slope from the saddle down to Novarupta was pretty steep and would be a real trial to get back up, but I had come too far to stop now! OK then, off we went, Jeanette and Robert running while I gingerly picked my way down. It was probably a mile or so at most to reach Novarupta from the saddle.

Robert and Jeanette on the Saddle; Mt Katmai in distance

Being there was really sweet. I didn’t climb to the top – really loose volcanic rubble is not particularly my favorite hiking surface, so I was content to stay at the base investigating the mineral discolorations in the rock. Robert “Novarupta Ninja Climber” Finer scrambled to the top and disappeared over the steaming rim for a few minutes and then made his way back down. Jeanette “Novarupta Tour Guide to the Stars” Meleen didn’t go with Robert – she had climbed up on a previous trip.
When Jeanette and Robert went in search of a stream near “Baby Novarupta,” (there are many small volcanic vents near the base of nearby Falling Mtn) I stayed back; I would meet up with them as they passed below the vent on their way back to the saddle. I enjoyed just sitting and watching two lone hikers pass into the Valley without seeing me. I noticed how Falling Mtn. must surely have been blown apart by the blast of the eruption since one entire side of it is gone and it is in such proximity to the vent. Parts of Baked Mtn. had also been blown apart by the blast which was 10 times bigger than Mt. St. Helens on 1980.

Me At Novarupta

Hiking buddies Jeanette and Robert

“Novarupta Nina”

Baked Mtn seen from Novarupta

Nina, Jeanette, and Novarupta from the saddle; Trident volcano in distance

Soon it was time to go. Jeanette and Robert were all down (the old “up”) with exploring but this old girl needed that energy for the climb back up the slope to the saddle. I figured it would take me at least an hour of slipping sideways through the sandy ash. I found that I at least had forward momentum as we zig-zagged up so that was great! Finally we were at the saddle, and we took a break and some final pictures of Novarupta and Mt. Mageik in the late afternoon sun. It was smooth hiking from there back to the hut, and it was then that we thought how nice a glass (or plastic cup) of wine would have been, to celebrate our accomplishment. We also played cards again later after dinner and each of us won a game for the third night in a row.

Back at the hut

Earlier, I had gushed on effusively about the night sky, and so we sat out on the ridge above the hut, watching the sunset turn to dusk and then darkness along the mountains and Valley. The stars came out one by one and then BOOM!!! There they all were, with the Milky Way stretching its arms across the sky from Mt. Griggs on one side of the Valley to Mt. Mageik on the other. Again I got up in the middle of the night to look at the sky and the stars once more, marveling at the immensity of it all. And I again wondered what is out there, all those millions of light-years away.

Watching the sun set

Moon setting over steaming Mt Martin

Day Three
The next morning it was time to leave, but we were not sad because our time at Novarupta and the Valley of 10,000 Smokes was over. We rejoiced that it had happened.

So we had our breakfast of oatmeal, trail mix, and tea, cleaned up, shouldered our packs, and headed down the Valley, reversing the route we had taken 2 days before. We made good time going downhill and reached River Lethe in half the time it took to get from there to the hut.

We forded without difficulty, had a snickers bar, and took our time moving across the Valley, bypassing 6-mile campsite for water at 5-mile which is closer to the trail. We stopped to investigate fumaroles and took more pictures of each other.

View across the Valley

Mt Katmai and Knife Creek glacier

Taking a look down the Lethe from an ash hill

Early Autumn in the Valley of 10,000 Smokes

Windy Creek

Mt Katmai in distance on left

There was a soft breeze blowing from up-canyon, just enough of a tailwind to scoot us along our path back towards home. “Get along, little rangers” the wind seemed to be saying. “It’s time to go.” Windy Creek felt wonderfully cool on my hot tired feet and I could have walked the entire 2 miles back to Three Forks in its clear water. As with the entire trip, Mt. Katmai stood cloudless in the distance, watching over our little troupe of hikers.

I myself felt a real sense of accomplishment, knowing that if getting to Novarupta were easy, everyone would do it. And I thank my lucky Alaska night sky stars that I could and did.

Katherine Hanson

Hey there, I'm Katherine Hanson, the curator of, a site dedicated to uncovering the hidden gems of the USA. With a passion for exploration and a love for discovering the beauty in every corner of this vast country, I'm on a mission to share the best cities, national parks, historic landmarks, and entertainment hotspots that the USA has to offer. From towering mountains to bustling cities, there's so much to see and experience. Join me as I embark on adventures and uncover the wonders that make America truly remarkable.
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