Why are Volcanos So Cool?
Trip Report: Makushin Volcano
It was nearing midnight and to my disbelief the sun was still fighting to stay above the horizon. To add to that, we had been hiking for 6 hours and dinner was long over due. We needed sleep but how does one sleep in a tent when the lights are still on outside? I laid my head on my pillow reminiscing of the past few hours. Never in my life I imagined tonights bed would be on one of Alaskas most active volcanoes, Makushin Volcano.
A few hours earlier I was working on building a deck with my friend Jeff, when a call came that the weather window was perfect for our planned trip. Fly to Driftwood Bay, hike/slog to the top of Makushin, snowboard down, then meet the plane before inclement weather. Easy right?
Our friend Clint jumped on the chance to fly us out. Lucky for us there were remains of an old WWII airstrip on the bay close to the beach. We loaded up the plane with our extra gear and took off out of Unalaska Airport.
Surveying Makushin just a few hundred feet off the ground.
After landing we "off loaded" our gear packed it up and watched the plane take off. I don't know if you've ever been dropped off by an airplane on the edge of an island on the Norther border of the Pacific Ocean and the Southern border of the Bering Sea. It shocked me. We were out there. No turning back. The moment of realizing this was our 1 of 2 options out of here for the next few days immediately turned into adrenaline! We were doing it!
I think we both were optimistic about the weather window because it hadn't rained for a few days prior to us setting out. Unfortunately, our first objective was to slog through the marsh. Turns out, marshes don't disappear over a few days of absent rain. Thankfully this didn't last long as we found an old military road.
After gaining elevation from the bay we started heading over to a prominent feature (I think it Jacob called it the Sugarloaf) as we searched for a place close enough to the base of Makushin that was reletivly dry and flat.
Finally, it was around midnight that the sun started to lower itself behind the horizon and we were finally set up to stay the night. Mountain Hard Wear makes a really cool tent. IMO
The next morning we took off and after a while we both resorted to hiking in our snowshoes. It turns out much better doing this than post-holing thousands of feet.
The views were spectacular from where we were. Watching the clouds in the valley move and flow like the ocean itself was so beautiful.
After ditching our skies and snowboard at the edge of the rim and making the small trek to the fumarole we were able to relax a bit with the sun shining down on us and the reflection of the snow. It turned out to be a perfect place to take a nap as there weren't any high winds bothering us on the summit.
It was amazing to witness such lively volcano activity. The smell of sulfer coming from inside the earth, or the sounds of the earth hissing and releasing its pressure from within. Even the snow played apart as you could see where the chunks of snow had broken off from the unstable cornice and it dropped into the water below.
We finally started making out way down after out nap and stopped by a small handful of vents. Again, releasing pressure and spraying out so much steam. Literally, breathtaking.
Eventually I strapped on my snowboard and pointed the nose down. It felt so good to make some turns! What a surprise for my body to remember things I had a handful of years prior. I have to say though it was like riding a bike. I believe Jacobs GPS clocked us going over 30 mph on our way down. What a way to head back down the mountain.
After arriving back at basecamp we relaxed in and out of the tent admiring the beauty around us. We were able to contact Clint (the pilot) and tell him all was well with us and give him a heads up of when we were planning on being back on the "tarmac". Jacob did the quick math and figured we would need around 4ish hours to get down there.
Even with a tight schedule to meet back up with Clint we found plenty of oppertunities to stop and take pictures of this magnificent island.
Clint arrived just as planned and we I believe were just a few minutes later then what we were planning. We arrived with huge smiles and tired backs but so full of joy. We had just played on a pretty amazing volcano.
After we took off we had noticed a storm that chased us all the way back to Unalaska. In fact, I think it started raining just after we arrived. High fives and hugs were in place after such a great trip.
This whole thing couldn't have been done without the experience and tenacity of Jacob Whitaker. Thanks again for letting me tag along on your island.
Please check out his website at Aleutian Hiker