Monday, July 31, 2006


Well everyone my season here at Katmai is drawing to an end. I however still had one goal I had yet to accomplish before I left this amazing N.P. I still needed to journey to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and see that amazing volcano Novarupta. So after work on Thursday the 27th I embarked on this epic journey with my constant sidekick and roommate Pete Bruno. After our 23 mile drive out to the Valley we were dropped off at the Windy Creek trail head. From there we made our way through an overgrown forest of cow parsnip and various trees to the 1st of our many river crossings in the Valley. For those who have inquiring minds you might wonder why I would include some mysterious plant named COW PARSNIP. Readers beware that this plant is the stuff of legends and nightmares. This most unholy and foul plant (whose roots taste deliciously like licorices) secretes a substance that when it contacts the skin makes it photo reactive. In other words your skin is now covered in the equivalent of -75 SPF sunscreen. That’s right there was a minus sign (du du dum). Effectively anywhere this plant touches skin it will get very bad sunburn. Luckily the magical powers imbued on us as Rangers protected us from this terrible peril. Bust I digress. The Valley is actually a very beautiful place with tons of red-orange color, yet very deceptive on how large an expanse it contains. What may seem a mile to the trained eye is actually 3 miles. Pete and I did not mind since we believed we could make the treacherous Lethe River crossing in a few hours. Due to the fact that we had neither been to the Valley we followed a trail or footprints when we could find them. However as the hour grew later we had more and more trouble finding footprints which made us wonder if we would find the crossing before dark. The night may only get twilight still in July, but that is still remarkable hard to follow footprints. Finally after much wandering and debating we arrived at the Lethe river crossing. Now let me just say that crossing the Lethe at Midnight is not the greatest idea even if it is not 40 degrees and 25 mph winds. The Lethe River is a glacier fed river with a temperature around 32 degrees year round. The Lethe is more well know for the many victims it was claimed. The Lethe crossing is the only crossing for the river since it is the only area that is not a carved out gully. If you should happen to slip, fall, and be swept down stream there is no hope of you surviving the many dangerous twist and turns. We made it across with only mild hypothermia and continued out journey up baked mountain to the notorious huts. No I don't mean any STAR WARS reference, but the Baked Mountain Huts which were previously the site of a USGS research station. Speaking of Science Fiction/Fantasy, I would like you to form a mental image of Gandalf the Grey's tall, slender form in his loose robe with his wood walking stick and odd hat. Now that you have that picture add some color to the robe and hat, a backpack, and brown hair instead of white and you will understand what my hiking partner looked liked. :) Ah the little things. We stayed the night in the huts after my roommate scared the only other occupant at 1:30 when we arrived. Even after such treatment this young man left us rain water that he had collected during the previous week’s storm. With rest and some water in our packs we continued on to see the Great and Powerful Novarupta, by way of summiting Baked Mountain. Novarupta was the site of the largest eruption in the 20th century and dwarfed the Mt. Pinatubo eruption (for those that remember) in the Philippines. Surely this must be an amazing site! While to me this was quite awe inspiring you cannot help, but relate it to the Great Wizard of OZ and that maybe its all some trick. To prove it was real, I climbed to the top of the lava plug and was treated to a few fumerals which are practically all that is left of the 10,000 smokes. Having accomplished this task it awed me to know that such a small thing once held such incredible power. Even though it was terribly destructive it created something very beautiful and allowed me to have such an interesting job. We stayed out last night at the huts alone. The silence was so amazing, but I was perturbed. I was frustrated b/c I was not able to test that old expression of "being so quite you can hear a pin drop". Instead I sufficed with dropping a rock just to hear something besides our breathing and movement. The next day we made great time and might have set a record for returning from the Baked Mtn Huts to Three Forks Cabin in 4.5 hours. I hoped you have all enjoyed this story and the pictures that will come soon.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Stars will Come Out Tomorrow (Bet Your Bottom Dollar)

Today was a beautiful day! The East wind stopped blowing so now we can operate at normal status. Usually we work out of the VC (Visitor Center), but on East wind days it is too dangerous for pilots to land on Naknek lake. Instead pilots land on the nearby Brooks lake. For who ever is on the D schedule that means that instead of working in the VC your happy job is to spend most of the day up at Brooks lake giving bear orientations on the beach. With that clarified let me tell you about my July 22. My day started moderately early at 7 am in order to get prepared to meet planes at Brooks lake at 7:45. I enjoy bear orientations b/c they give me the chance to meet lots of interesting people. Sometimes we are lucky enough to give orientations to influential or famous people. I have met several people from National Geographic, Discover Channel, high level government officials, and the man who broke the sound barrier (Chuck Yeager). After giving several orientations through the morning, I saw a most unusually colored plane land up the beach. Normally I did not think about it too much more than wonder where this new plane was from and where its occupants might call home. The plane held people from all over the world and a family from Mass. Normally this would not cause too much excitement for most people, but it turns out that the world travelers were a film crew and that the family was none other than Animal Planet's Jeff Corwin and family. All very nice people, but sadly I did not ask for a picture since it would be rude and against my job position. As awesome as it is to say I gave them their bear orientation this was not the end of my day. After a day of orientations and "Roving the Falls" talking to people, I got off work to go eat a well deserved meal. After making delicious pasta with baked salmon marinara I started to sit down to my dinner. However, the squirrels under my cabin were making such a racket I got up and started stopping on the floor to hopefully get some peace. Finally...Quiet! Just as I sit down I hear another noise. I look towards the floor under my sink and just in time to see the pipe under my sink move! Thinking to my self in dismay: "That has got to be the largest squirrel ever or there is a bear under the cabin." I moved to the window on my door and could just make out a big blonde behind. I started stopping on the floor and kicking the door to move it from the pipe it was obviously digging around. After a few seconds it moved enough for me to get the door open a crack and start banging on the front step. Word to the Wise: I am a trained semi-professional do not ever try to attempt these actions in the presence of a bear (It might decide to fight back). When it moved a few feet from the door I came running out on the step and started yelling at it like it was a big dog that was being naughty. Apparently my voice must sound scary b/c it bolted. I notified the "authorities" aka an on duty ranger and helped track down the bear to determine if it was leaving the area and try to match its identity for later records. Now think about how boring it must be when you sit down to eat at home :) All I can say is this place is wonderful! Other things that make my day: I had a couple today that I gave an orientation to that came up to me later to tell me what a wonderful day they had experienced. They were retired and had wanted to visit this place for 15 years. After all that time they were finally able to afford to come out for the day and they thought it was the best thing they had ever done in their lives. That ladies and gentlemen is the definition, which I could not explain better, to why I work in Katmai National Park. I hope you have all had a wonderful summer. Mine is sadly coming to an end, here at brooks camp. In two weeks, I leave to go visit some professors in Fairbanks and visit Denali National Park for a few days before returning to Tennessee. With a little bit of luck there will be a blog about this place next year (except I will be a paid ranger)...(cross you fingers).

Monday, July 17, 2006


For all those who don't know my older brother Ryan has finally gotten engaged. He became engaged on July 4th to Tara Allmond. I was not very surprised, but I am grateful that it takes the pressure off of me. :) Now Ryan can have all the fun questions concerning grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I hope he is not upset that I posted this blog about him and Tara, but it was the only way to tell them congratulations since I never can find thier email addresses. Congratulations Ryan! I am glad that you and Tara are getting married. I only ask that you get married when the whole family is in town. (The King family travels alot) Everyone wish him good luck on finishing his masters and starting his doctorate this fall. Congratulations again to Ryan and Tara....yeah!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Good 'ol Days

Now that we are in the middle of the busy season things have become hectic. People are getting cranky, populations of people and bears are on the rise, and Rangers tolerance of stupidity lowers. It seems like only yesterday I arrived and I realize that soon I will have to leave this great place. For me I am looking at returning to school for one last semester before graduating. But I remember that when I first arrived at Brooks camp one among us decided to forego his graduation walk to help us travels the path of Ranger. In honor of the walk that he missed we, his proud fellow (male) rangers, decided that he should go through Katmai's illustrious initiation ceremony. However to be initiated by the Katmai Polar Bear Swim you cannot travel that road alone so several of us volunteered to help him celebrate his achievement that he left behind. Tim "Tickles" Chu was accompanied by Matt King, Pete Hamel, Pete Bruno, Greg Fahl, and Shane Harrington. To set the scene: It was a warm 43 degrees outside with a 3-5 mph wind and the water was a balmy 32 degrees. Oddly enough on this nice May afternoon we were not that cold...until we ran into Naknek lake. Due to inappropriateness I cannot show some of the funny photos which contain my roommate trying unsuccessfully to hold up his thermal pants. We ran out about 350 yards to get waist deep so we could dive into the water. By the time we dove in head first our feet were numb. Once we reached the beach we could not feel our feet. Several of us were sweating not from exertion, but from being hot since we had gotten so cold. Luckily we only had mild cases of hypothermia. :) Just imagine we were freezing while most of you were sweating outside.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Hi Ho! Hi Ho, its off to work I go!

Depending on how your letter falls you will be working different shifts through out the day. One of the many shifts I work is the VC or Visitor Center. This shift is very important. When working in the VC your main job is to give a bear orientation to everyone who visits Brooks camp. To the left is a picture of me in one of my many bear orientations. We have so many people coming in during July that we might be giving two orientations at a time and having orientations run back to back for a few hours. The orientation consist of a ten minute video followed by a talk given by a ranger highlighting a few special points about what to do around bears in the park. Besides giving these orientations Rangers, answer questions and run a register. By the way, we do take Visa and Mastercard since we use an old swipe carbon copier. :)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Close Encounter of the Furry Kind!

Thanks to comments and requests I will elaborate on my July 3rd adventure with bears on the corner.
The setting: North is the road that leads to camp. East leads out to Naknek lake via brush then beach. South is the edge of the corner and the Brooks river. West is the road that continues on to the bridge.
The Situation: July 3rd 5:45 shift ends in 15 minutes. I just finished an eventful end of day hour long bear jam. The nice thing is that I am about to get off shift and a sow with her spring cub is out in the river fishing. The bridge has been closed again. One man comes up to watch the sow before going to dinner. Of course this would be the time when the mighty beasts would head in our direction. As training taught me I pulled off the corner with my 1 visitor to allow the bears room to pass us. Before going 10 yards my radio sqwuaks out a warning that a large male sub adult is on the trail heading in my direction. Realizing the gravity of my situation and wanting to avoid a potential confrontation. I decide our best course of action would be to exit stage right for the lake and walk around the bears along the beach. The brush makes for slow traveling so I turned after 10 ft to check on the bear's location. Shocked and awed would not even begin to cover what I beheld. Not only had the subadult already covered the distance to stand where we had left only moments before, but the sow followed by her cub were rushing at the sub adult. I bid the visitor to walk with a little more purpose (we cannot run in Brooks camp). The next thing I know I see the sow growling inches from the sub adult's face before she clocks him with a Chuck Norris style round house front paw to the head. Needless to say this action (and obviously impressive fighting skill) led the sub adult to do what its short life experience had taught...FLEE. The best exit for the sub adult happened to be toward the beach and us. Seeing this I pushed my visitor out of the way while I used a tree as a spring board to clear myself of the brown blur. Fear can make people and animals do many things...some stupid and some smart. Fear urged this bear, after his initial 10 yard sprint, to decide it would be best to change tactics and circle around us. Smart for the bear, but horrible for us as I realized he was trying to push us toward the sow and spring cub. As the gap between us and the 3 bears narrowed to 10 ft or less on either side I saw my opening for freedom. However, leaving a visitor in shock was not an option. I moved back to my frightened visitor who was trying to stay back from the sow and did not realize the sub adult was coming up behind us. I grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out to the trail while keeping an eye on our furry friends. Having avoided any problems we made our way down the trail to camp. My shift being over, with a wary eye on the bears, my only thought was to regret not getting a photo. :) I did not see the visitor on the trail the next day and was told that he went to the bar where he stayed for a long time, before going to bed and catching his flight the next day. To the right is a picture of the one punch machine gun and her cub.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Old Man and The Sea! Well, The River at least. :)

Hey everyone! July 3 was probably my most eventful day here in Katmai so far. I started my day by working the falls platform and was treated to several bears catching fish. One bear even had an unusual way of summoning the fish to him. He would stand on the falls and bob his head! It did however seem to work remarkable well since after every 3rd bob the fish would jump into his mouth. Sadly he would only have time to tear some skin off the salmon before a larger bear would approach and steal the fish. The younger guy would actually challenge back, but seemed to forget that growling involves opening the mouth and thus results in loss of the fish. Later when I was working the corner I got pinched between a sow with a spring cub and a sub adult male. The sow actually growled at the sub adult then smacked it in the face. Interestingly it head it straight for me and a about getting the ol' heart pounding with adrenaline. As fun as all that was it was still not the highlight of my day. Later at 8 pm I bought a fishing license and by 9:15 I finally hooked a slamon in the mouth. I was able to bring it in after a 20 minute fight. Picture it: I am knee deep in the water fighting this grand fish in a back and forth battle to see who is master of the river. In the end I was triumphant and brought in a 8 pound Sockeye salmon. It was amazing.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Lets hear it for your 2006 Interp staff!

From Left to Right: Me, Lily Williams, Pete Bruno, Rachel Jencks, Greg Fahl, Shane Harrington, Sabrina Diaz, Pete Hamel, Amy Stasch, Pat Chapin, Tim Chu, Tim Downey, Nikki Questor.

I will be updating this page in the next few days with details about our rag tag group.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Crazy Days Ahead!

July starts tomorrow and is the busiest month for us here at Brooks Camp. The Sockeye Salmon are running in increasing numbers and the bears are starting to fish at the Falls. Besides an increase in the number of bears, the population of people will double to 300 plus people a day. Let’s just say that it will be interesting trying to manage hundreds of people and over thirty bears.
Typically a day for me can involve staffing the Visitor Center, the corner, the lower platform, the falls platform, or giving a cultural walk. The Visitor Center is a combination of NPS store, information, and bear orientation for incoming visitors. The lower platform is often referred to as the "bear traffic control tower" since the position watches bears to avoid bad situations along with opening/closing the bridge. On the falls platform a ranger cycles people in and out while keeping the number of people on the platform to 40. The cultural walk is an interpretive stroll to the cultural site giving information about the area, its early inhabitants, and the areas cultural importance to the Americas (Bering Land Bridge people). Last, but not least and my personal favorite is dubbed the corner. The corner is all about fun, excitement, something new, and an adrenaline rush. Not all feel this way about the corner, but I do....and will until a bear scares the crap out of me by rushing me. :) The corner stops visitors when the bridge is closed b/c of bear traffic jams aka a bear is on the trail. What makes this interesting is that sometimes bears come from all directions to trap you and/or force you to move to a new location. Interesting enough 3 days ago when working the corner I was watching one bear blocking our path back to camp when a sow with her cub (403 nicknamed Eggberta) stepped from the brush 8 yards away. I was able to safely get everyone back up to the platform on the other side of the bridge. I enjoy the challenge that is presented by managing the bears and people, but my job is more about managing people. Let it be said that bears may look like cute animals that remind people of a dog with human qualities, but they can be extremely dangerous. Many people seem to forget that distinction. Point in case: We ask people to not carry food around with them. The other day (before the salmon run started) a bear seemed to be particularly interested in one gentleman.
Ranger: Sir, That bear seems mighty interested in you. Do you have any food on you?
Visitor: No.
Ranger: Sir, are you sure you don't have any food on you.
Visitor: Well... I only have a little smoke salmon and some tuna.
Ranger: You do understand that IS food, sir.
Visitor: But it’s only a little.
Also the bug population of the park is starting to increase. Namely the mosquito population. Fun fact: Alaska is home to 27 species of mosquito. Once, in a highly infested mosquito area of Alaska, a scientist slapped another scientist on the back and counted over 270 mosquitoes from the single swat. As for myself, I have come to identify 5 separate species by sight and movement alone. For these reasons I pray to have a slight breeze to keep the mosquitoes away.