Mount Edgecumbe, a beautifully symmetric volcano on Kruzof Island is one of Southeast Alaska’s most dramatic landmarks. Anyone who has been to Sitka, or even seen a picture of the little seaside town, is familiar with the impressive snow-capped peak, rising 3,200 feet above sea level. Climbing the volcano has, for many years, been a favorite summer adventure with Boy Scout Troops from Juneau, and this year at least three troops made the trip.
Troop 11, sponsored by Resurrection Lutheran Church, took six boys and three adults over on Memorial Day weekend.
We traveled to Sitka on the fast ferry Fairweather in only four hours and spent one night in the U.S. Forest Service campground at Starrigavan Bay, only a quarter mile from the ferry terminal.
The next day, we traveled by charter boat to the USFS cabin at Fred’s Creek where the trail to the mountain starts.
Approaching Kruzof Island by boat, the mountain looms majestically in the distance, and everyone thought “we are going to climb that?”
The boys spent a day exploring the beaches near the cabin and playing on rope swings and a hammock made by previous campers out of lost fishing gear. The cabin itself is a convenient spot to stay and has bunks for six people. Despite this, the boys all camped outside and we used the cabin as a kitchen. There was abundant firewood and a good source of water nearby. The geology of area is completely different from Juneau and reminds me of Hawaii, with large black lava flows right in front of the cabin.
The next morning was clear and sunny and we headed up the trail at 7 a.m., hiking down a pathway that was originally constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. It is now maintained by the USFS and is in excellent condition. The trail follows about five miles of gently sloping terrain which crosses wet muskeg and gnarled forests.
It was at the base of the mountain that we first hit snow and from there it was two miles of steep climbing to the summit. There was exposed gravel which looked like it would be good footing, but it was covered with small pebbles of very light pumice, which proved to be treacherous underfoot. Yet even in the snow fields the trail is well marked by large posts. The fastest boys reached the summit by 11:30 a.m., followed by the 12-year-olds and the 56-year-old Scoutmaster at about 12:15 p.m. We spent about half an hour on top, looking around the caldera, taking pictures and enjoying the 360 degree view.
Troop 11 climbed the mountain five years ago, also on Memorial Day weekend, and on that trip one of the older boys hiked the whole thing in snowboard boots packing his snowboard. We all thought he was crazy until we got to the top and looked down at the long snow-covered slopes. Then we all wished we had brought snowboards or skis, too! Fortunately, rain pants worked almost as well and we were able to slide down, riding them like one would a sled.
We all brought rain gear this year and once again there was enough snow to slide like penguins down a steep gully right next to the trail. What took two hours to go up, took roughly 15 minutes to slide down. Then, it was back on the trail and the group was home at the cabin by 5 p.m. The next day, we left the island at noon and it started sprinkling on the way to Sitka.
What a difference a couple of days can make. When we got to the ferry terminal it was overcast and the mountain was completely obscured by clouds.
Troop 6, also from Juneau, arrived on the ferry — the same one we were planning to return on.
It rained on them steadily for their whole trip. They summited in the fog and quickly returned because it was so cold.
Troop 55, from Juneau, came the following week and had good weather and a great trip.
We were extremely lucky with the weather, but the Troop 6 experience the following week underscores why the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared” is always a good idea when planning any outdoor activity.
The Mount Edgecumbe trip is a wonderful introduction to the Boy Scouts High Adventure program. High Adventure trips, catered to older participants, are usually multiday trips that require months of planning, fund raising and training. For example, in the last five years we have sea kayaked to Pack Creek, explored the caves of Prince of Wales Island, hiked the Chilkoot Trail and canoed 200 miles down the Yukon River.
The main expenses on the Mount Edgecumbe trip are the ferry to Sitka and the charter to Kruzof Island, and the only required training is basic scouting outdoor skills and being in good enough shape to hike 14 miles in a day.
It’s not likely many boys can say they have climbed a volcano, even a dormant one that hasn’t erupted in 5,000 years.
The Boy Scouts are open to all boys age 11 to 17. For more information go to http://scoutingalaska.org.
• Keith Pahlke is a scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts, Juneau district.