Monday, July 31, 2006
OH THE POWER!!!
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.