Way out on the Alaska Peninsula where volcanoes melt into the sea is a landscape both dramatic and serene. We’ll spend a week hiking from the volcano to the rough Bering Sea and will end our adventure on the beach with hundreds of walrus. What more could you want?
500 miles west of Anchorage where the Alaska Peninsula tapers to a thin volcano-dotted line between the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea lies an incomparable wilderness. Active volcanoes dominate the skyline. Smoking peaks shrouded in ice and snow tower about the flat and narrow coastal plain riven with springs and creeks and lakes of every shape and size. In this landscape of cinders, glaciers, storm-lashed beaches, and rocky cliffs is an ecosystem thriving with life. Creeks fill with salmon each July and bears grow to enormous proportions feasting on them. Moose are abundant and waterfowl are everywhere. And the tundra is rich and complex with wildflowers and lush grasses waving in the wind.
The trip starts at Sandy Lake in the shadow of the volcano. From here we’ll walk east to the foot of the mountains and then will have time to climb high on its flanks. If the weather cooperates we could glimpse the massive glacier which sits in the caldera. It is the only glacier in North America to have an active volcanic vent spewing steam and cinders onto the ice!
After exploring the glacier and volcano it will be time to hike to the coast. As an exploratory route, we don’t know exactly what we’ll find but most likely a combination of short tundra, gravel bars and tall-grass tundra. There will be some alder thickets and river crossings. It’s about 30 miles from the glacier to the coast. It is all downhill and could be a challenge if we get caught in the alders but it looks like lots of open country and river flat hiking.
On the Bering Sea Coast, where black sand beaches stretch beyond the horizon, is one of the most reliable places in Alaska to observe and photograph walrus. Cape Seniavin hosts hundreds, and often thousands, of walrus every summer. Large groups of bull walrus haul-out on the beach to rest between feeding trips in the rich waters of the Bering Sea. The sandy bluffs of the cape provide an ideal vantage for watching and photographing these exceptional animals as they come and go through the surf.
After a strenuous backpacking trip it will feel good to stroll down the beach from our camp at the creek’s mouth to the walrus colony where we can observe these enormous beasts. If we walk a little further there is also a nesting colony of birds on the cliffs. The richness of wildlife and the wilderness coast make this a great place to end our trip.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet your guide in King Salmon for a pre-trip meeting in the evening.
Weather permitting we fly from King Salmon, south along the Bering Sea Beach and then when Veniaminof looms large above the left wing, we head inland and land on the wind rippled Sandy Lake. Fishing here is excellent so we’ll likely spend the night lakeside before starting our hike.
We start the hike with a climb up and out of the Sandy River Valley leaving behind the beautiful lake and the fish and the bears. We’ll hike about 6 miles to the base of the glacier which pours from the summit of Veniaminof Volcano and will try to position ourselves for a hike on the mountain the following day. Depending on the weather, there could be some significant stream crossings of the Muddy River this day.
Clear weather is rare in this part of the state but we’ll keep our fingers crossed for it. Today we have an opportunity to climb high onto the volcano. If everything aligns perfectly, we could get a view into the ice filled caldera and see the volcanic vent spewing steam and ash onto the ice which surrounds. We’ll have a day of adventure no matter how far we go!
Down the Muddy River to the Coast. It is all downhill, and with luck the walking will be firm and flat. It is about 25 miles from the glacier to the beach so these will be long days of walking. As we get closer to the coast the weather and the wildlife will change. It will be fun and interesting to see the volcano grow small in the south and the bluffs of Cape Seniavin grow closer on the coast.
We have the morning to visit with the Walrus and enjoy the coast. Mid-afternoon we can expect the plane to return for us and take us back to King Salmon.
Charter flights beyond King Salmon, Alaska
Professional guide service
Wholesome, delicious, and mostly organic food while in the wilderness
Repair and safety equipment including satellite phone, first aid kit etc.
Non-camp lodging (lodging in King Salmon is on your own)
Non-camp meals (hotel and meals if/ when there are weather delays are your responsibility)
Personal clothing and footwear per our Equipment List
Select Rental Gear is available from Arctic Wild
Gratuity for guide
Though the temperatures should not be extreme, averaging 50 degrees. We can expect wind and storms and sun and rain and fog, possibly all in the same day. The area is known as the “birthplace of the winds”. Travel delays due to weather are likely. Rain and strong winds are assured.
Where the Sea Breaks its Back by Cory Ford; Birthplace of the Winds by Jon Bowermaster; The World of the Walrus by Peter Knudtson; Walrus Conservation Information; Walrus Biology Information; Grizzly Maze by Nick Jans; The Bears of Katmai by Matthais Breiter. More Alaska reading is available from our Bookstore.