Katmai National Park
August 4 - 10, 1988
The first time Susan's brother came to Alaska with a friend, we decided to visit Katmai National Park. We took off with four people in the Cessna 172 in 70 degree weather, flew down the west side of Cook Inlet, through Lake Clark pass to Lake Iliamna and on to King Salmon. We got a lift from there to Naknek Lake and prepared our raft and kayak to launch the next morning. The midges (no-see-ums) were terrible, hovering around us in clouds and crawling into our eyes, ears and nose to gnaw. Sue's brother was amazed that Dennis and I didn't seem bothered by them! Fortunately, we were able to sleep that night in an old Quonset hut. The bugs didn't follow us inside.
We left at noon. We had a Klepper kayak and a little dinghy with a 3-horse motor. Dennis' idea had been that the raft could tow the kayak, but the motor didn't have enough power. Besides, the raft leaked! We had to pull it out a couple of times to patch it. Everything in it got wet.
It was foggy and hard to see where we were going. At one point we almost turned back, but decided to round the next point before making a decision. The fog lifted and we made a long open crossing. As the hours passed, Lyle became more and more concerned. He's not used to the LONG Alaskan days. In Colorado, you have to think about making camp by 6:00 or so in the evening or it will get dark. We were in the middle of a large lake in two very small boats at 6:00 p.m. with the sun still high in the sky. We finally made it to shore and gratefully set up camp, then tried to dry our clothes by the fire. The midges were terrible once again, and this time there was no escape.
The second day on the lake, we tried towing the raft with the kayak, but that was too hard on the paddlers. It rained and rained. We all got soaking wet. I was concerned that Lyle and his friend might be regretting the trip until I heard them singing a funny song they made up about the experience. We got to Brooks Camp about 5:00. A grizzly sow and three cubs walked along the beach as we approached.
After we ate and set up camp, we went into the lodge and sat around the fire talking to visitors from around the world. The man next to me touched my knee as he rose to take a walk with his wife.
"You're soaking wet!" he exclaimed.
"We all are," I said. "We paddled across the lake in the rain today."
I'd resigned myself to sleeping wet for the first time in my life, but the man generously offered to let us shower and dry our things in their cabin while they walked. He and his wife took an especially long walk for our sakes, giving us time to shower and heat our sleeping bags until they were dry and toasty. To this day, I have not had to sleep wet on a camping trip!
In the morning, we walked to Brooks Falls and saw salmon levitating themselves up the falls. We didn't see the bears that typically gather there to fish because most of the salmon had moved upstream where fishing was easier. We did see bears swimming in the river, however! The rangers are very strict with fishermen. If a a bear approaches when a fish is on, they must cut the fish loose. Otherwise, bears will learn that fishermen mean easy food, and that would be dangerous.
It seemed dangerous enough as it was, with grizzlies strolling up and down the beach just yards from the main campground.
We took a bus to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes. Mt. Katmai erupted in 1912 in one of the largest volcanic eruptions ever recorded. Ash filled an entire valley, and water underneath the ash steamed up out of cracks for a several years thereafter.
To return, we paid a man with a boat to transport us back across the huge lake to Lake Camp, where we stayed in the Quonset hut once again and prepared to float down the Naknek River back to King Salmon.
A fox walked right up to Dennis just before we left the next morning. We floated by an eagle nest on top of a tree, with an eaglet perched precariously atop, peering down at us with eagle eyes. It was my first trip to the Alaska Peninsula and my brother's first trip in Alaska. He understood why I like it here so much!
Go on to read Diomede Islands and the Yukon
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony