Trip Number: 13018A
Staff: John Kolman
- See the world’s largest concentration of grizzly bears fishing
- Backpack in the volcanic Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes
- Marvel at gorges and slot canyons carved through volcanic ash and rock
- Campground fees, all meals and snacks
- Round-trip flights from King Salmon to Brooks Camp
- Shuttle to and from the Valley of 10,000 Smokes
Photo: John Kolman
In a state known for its superlatives, Katmai National Park stands alone.
It is home to the largest protected brown bear population in the world, the
largest lake within any unit of the National Park System, the spawning ground
of literally millions of salmon, and the location of one of the largest volcanic
eruptions in modern times. But mostly Katmai is known for its bears. We will
see bears in Katmai, perhaps even before we make our way to our camp! Because
of the abundance of food and the management of the rangers, the bears in Katmai
Park are uniquely unafraid of and uninterested in humans, and will allow people
to approach (and photograph) much more closely than bears elsewhere. The Park
Service has set up a system of walkways and platforms to allow us to safely
watch these magnificent creatures feeding on salmon as they make their way up
and over Brooks Falls.
But there is more to Katmai than bear watching. We will head into the rugged
wilderness and have the opportunity to see the park in a quieter, more pristine
setting, traveling into the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. In 1912 a volcanic eruption
covered a valley with 100-700 feet of volcanic ash and debris. The valley no
longer has “10,000 Smokes” created by steam from the cooling lava,
but it has a surreal landscape of great beauty.
The valley area is desert-like, so the most notable features in the valley
will be the colors and the geology, rather than the wildlife. Rivers have carved
dramatic gorges through the ash. Although there are as many as 17 active volcanoes
in the park, none is presently erupting. We will visit lakes at the base of
the larger volcanoes, which are carved by glaciers. We will also visit the Novarupta
Caldera area, where active fumaroles steam and warm spring areas form bright
green oases in the desert-like environment of the valley. Please understand
the weather in Alaska is unpredictable. It may rain, it may be windy, and we
may have to modify the following itinerary. In order to see such an extraordinary
place it is necessary to take some chances.
Photo: John Kolman
Day 1: Fly from King Salmon to Brooks Camp in Katmai National
Park. View bears at Brooks Falls and stay in the NPS Brooks campground.
Days 2-7: Take shuttle to Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes and
begin our seven-day backpack. We plan to backpack at a moderate pace, covering
six or so miles per day. There are no trails in the area, and river crossings
are not bridged. Be prepared for wet feet. Our current route calls for a trip
of approximately 30 miles, starting along the Lethe River and heading toward
the lakes at the base of Mt. Mageik. We will circle around the Novarupta volcano
and Broken Mountain areas, hiking alongside the Knife Creek Glaciers and looking
up at Mt. Katmai (elevation 6,715 feet). Depending on the strength of our group
and our final itinerary, we may have several layover days during the loop. Possible
optional side trips include a trip over Katmai Pass, a summit of Mt. Griggs
or Mt. Mageik, and exploration of the areas around Mt. Juhle, Mt. Ikagluik,
and the Ukak River.
Days 8-9: Return to Brooks Camp and stay in NPS campground.
Hot showers are available! We'll have more bear viewing, an optional day hike
up Dumpling Mountain, and optional fishing (fishing is GREAT this time of year).
Day 10: On our last day together, we'll fly from Brooks Camp
to King Salmon.
Our trip starts in King Salmon, Alaska. You should plan to arrive early enough
to be ready for travel on the morning of day one. Most participants will choose
to overnight in Anchorage and take the morning flight to King Salmon as accommodations
in King Salmon are limited.
Accommodations and Food
Photo: John Kolman
In Brooks Camp we will be staying at a National Park Service campground, which
is provided with an electric fence (to discourage bears) and storage cabins
for food and gear. While backpacking we will store food in bear-proof containers
and avoid bear trails. All meals and snacks are included in the trip fee, beginning
with lunch on day one and ending with lunch on the last day. As usual on Sierra
Club outings, all members help with cooking and cleanup chores. Any special
diet requirements should be discussed with the leaders well in advance to be
sure they can be accommodated. Trip members and leaders will all share in carrying
trip food and equipment.
This trip is rated as moderate in difficulty. The elevation gain and loss
generally will not be more than several hundred feet per day, though optional
day hikes may involve more climbing. Additionally, we will have several unbridged
river crossings. There are no trails in the valley, so our travel will be cross-country.
There is a real possibility of strong winds called williwaws blowing through
the valley. When hiking on a windy day, goggles and a bandana may be useful.
In order to see the bears, we must be in Katmai at the same time as the mosquitoes
and the black flies (known as white socks). It is strongly recommended that
participants use mosquito head nets and mosquito repellant. Rain is likely at
any time, and the temperature can range from the 40s to the 70s.
Equipment and Clothing
The Sierra Club will provide stoves, cooking pots and utensils, water purification
tablets, cooking tent, first aid, repair kit, food, and an emergency-only satellite
phone. Participants are expected to bring the following:
Photo: John Kolman
Backpack: Good quality, large volume, internal or external frame, and a pack
rain cover. Must be able to accommodate a bear-container.
Tent: Free-standing three- or four-season with full coverage rain fly. Must
be able to withstand high winds. We prefer that people share tents to minimize
pack weight and the impact of the group.
Sleeping bag: Down or synthetic. Should realistically be comfortable down to
25 degrees. Should be in a waterproof stuff sack.
Sleeping pad: Either inflatable or closed-cell foam type.
Hiking boots: Must be well broken-in to avoid the most frequent first-aid problem
on Alaska trips: blisters.
Rain gear: Two-piece (jacket and pants) of good quality (Gore-Tex or equivalent).
Useful for wind as well as rain protection. No lightweight plastic. No ponchos.
Clothing: Wool or polypro pants and shirt. No cotton jeans. Two sets of polypro
underwear tops and bottoms. Three pairs of socks. Warm jacket or vest, wool
gloves and cap, and mosquito headnet.
Miscellaneous: Basic personal hygiene and first-aid items, eating utensils (cup,
bowl, and spoon), one-quart water bottle, insect repellent. Optional: camera,
lightweight binoculars, small day pack, pocket knife, bandanna, and hiking poles.
A more complete equipment list will be sent to participants. Your backpack
should weigh no more than 35 lbs without group food and gear. You will be expected
to carry food in a bear-proof container and some group gear.
- Trails Illustrated map of Katmai National Park. It is waterproof and
costs around $14.95 Amazon.com and from many local outdoor stores.
- Bodeau, Jean, Katmai National Park and Preserve
- Bohn, Dave, Rambles Through an Alaskan Wild: Katmai and the Valley
of the Smokes.
- Pratt, Verna, Alaskan Wildflowers.
- Smith, Dave, Bear Basics.
- Hoshino, Michio, Moose.
- Breiter, Matthias, The Bears of Katmai.
- McPhee, John, Coming into the Country.
Photo: John Kolman
The proposed Pebble Mine -- a large scale, open pit, strip mine -- would literally
be on the doorstep of Katmai National Park. The mine threatens the salmon that
are the underpinning of the Katmai ecosystem. The Environmental Protection Agency
has warned that the mine could have devastating consequences for rivers and
streams, and wipe out habitat for fish. By visiting Katmai we will have a better
understanding of what is being threatened. The proponents of the mine point
to the jobs that would be created. Our visit will support sustainable ecotourism
jobs. Participants may have conservation stories from home and will be invited
to share hometown issues with the group.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
John Kolman has been backpacking Alaska and the west for more than 30 years, including four recent Sierra Club Alaska outings. He is an avid runner and has completed over 20 marathons and is active in many Chicago area runners' groups. He feels that running though a Chicago winter is a great preparation for any weather Alaska can throw at you. Besides running, his hobbies include photography and cooking. Currently, John works as a software engineer for a Swiss-based company.
Gary Aguiar fell in love with Alaska on a 1983 trip to the Alaska Range, east of Denali. On that trip, it rained 12 out of 14 days, and the group ran out of food a day before the bush pilot returned to pick it up. Needless to say, Gary developed a healthy respect for Alaskan weather on that trip.
Not all Alaska trips are like that, of course. Since then, he has led a number of Sierra Club trips to Alaska, developing trips that include day hiking and a casual travel itinerary so people of varying abilities can experience the Alaskan wilderness. Gary owns and operates a small environmental engineering firm that has been cleaning up contaminated groundwater in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 20 years. In addition to hiking in Alaska, his recreational interests include long-distance running and open-water
swimming in the bay.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips