Aniakchak: from sea to shining sea . . . via a volcano crater.

Perched between Bristol Bay/Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska sits a 6-mile wide crater formed 3500 years ago in a violent eruption, after which the mountain caved in on itself and formed a huge crater.  Initially water-filled after the first eruption, the damn ultimately broke and created a rift in the crater through which the Aniakchak River flows today: "the gates."  Subsequent eruptions, the most recent ocurring in 1931, have formed multiple craters-within-the-crater and a very unique volcanic landscape ripe for exploration.

I have long wanted to explore the Aniakchak Volcano and it's namesake river, and took the opportunity in July of 2012 to hike in with Paul, Erin, Chrissy, and Ray to meet up with Phil, Toni, Jeremy, Jamie, and Chris who would arrive a day later and continue their trip on to Chignik while the rest of us had to go back to work.

The trip started as many great trips do: quality time in bush Alaska.  In this case, it was a PenAir flight to Port Heiden where we would pickup the fuel we'd called in to reserve and be on our merry way.  Of course it didn't go as smoothly as we would have hoped, but ultimately fuel was obtained and we had a very entertaining few hours hanging out in downtown.  Nothing like lonely rural Alaskan men to make a girl feel like a "10" - suffice it to say our group drew a crowd :)

When we finally got started, day 1 was a hike up ATV trails toward the crater wall . . . a long slow climb :)  We made it into the tundra and had a nice camp, thankful that the wind and rain had been kind to us (unlike friends who'd gone last year and hiked in wearing drysuits).

Erin and Chrissy slogging up the side of a volcano
On day two, we continued up to the crater and then descended into the caldera for a ~6ish mile walk across the center of the earth over to Surprise Lake, where we setup camp . . .
It's a big world out there - looking toward the Bering Sea

Did I mention it was Chrissy and Ray's honeymoon?  

Nearing the crater . . . Erin, Chrissy, and Ray


Ray, Port Heiden, and the Bering Sea

And then the world started steaming . . . guess we ARE walking up a volcano!!

Erin making it look easy . . . more volcano steam

Our first look into the Caldera - Surprise Lake in the distance, the 1931 crater in the foreground - what a sight!!

Another crater view from the top . . . such cool terrain!

Paul on the caldera edge . . . should we have brought skis?!?!?

The 1931 crater
So, we made it to camp, setup along the lakeshore with a nice open view to the caldera and spent the next (rainy) day running the Class IV rapids of the gates and generally enjoying our new home.  The next group of 5 showed up that evening, and so we had a nice snack of Paul's freshly caught fish and our otherwise tasty freeze dried meals :)

The next day dawned sunny and we all split up for our preferred type of exploration.  Chrissy, Phil and I decided to hike to the high point of the Crater, Black Nose Peak, and see what we could see.  So, through the gates and down valley we went, seeing from the map that the backside of the peak looked much kinder than the front. 

Me & Phil, what a stunning day!

View of Aniakchack River from partway up Black Nose

Chrissy May . . . love the volcano action for creating nice walking surfaces!
Me, Phil, and an ever-improving view!

Cmay coming up to the crater's edge . . . in the wind!

Looking down on Surprise Lake and home . . . helluva view even with the clouds in the crater!

Vent Mountain - nothing like a volcano within a volcano to let you know you're in the raddest place ever.

Phil and me . . . view didn't get old :)

Windy, cold, still going up :)  Rad terrain and colors though . . . kind of wondering at this point if we'd lost our minds.  

Cold, windy, foggy, happy :)



Phil glad to be back in vestiges of sun!

Did I mention the wind?!? 

And then back down . . . snowy crater walls in the distance.

Yeah for getting out of the wind and back into the sun!

From there, we ended up running the gates again and then doing a 2-day float down the river to Aniakchak bay.  Thank goodness Katmai Air was reliable and made it over the cloudy pass to get us!!!