Firefighters climb renamed mountain

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2005

ANCHORAGE - If you've driven through Kenai on a clear day, you've no doubt seen the mountain without giving it a second thought.

On a map, you might have seen it as "Peak 4070" - its sharp outline visible just to the east of Mount Redoubt.

But that mountain isn't hiding in Redoubt's shadow any longer. In fact, thanks to a group of Kenai firefighters it's about to stand alone.

Few have forgotten where they were on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, when those horrific images entered America's history. The terror attacks left nearly 3,000 men, women and children dead, and the toll included many who were sent in to help, including more than 340 firefighters.

"I mean, September 11th was a travesty - it's something we'll never forget - but something we're all trying to deal with as far as healing I guess," said John Harris, a Kenai firefighter.

For some, that healing meant plaques, memorials and even investigations. In Alaska, a group of firefighters had a different idea altogether.

"My dad actually came up with the idea. He said, 'Name a mountain,' and we all laughed until we thought, This is something we can do. ... It'd be a forever thing," said Kenai Fire Chief Scott Walden.

They quickly discovered that to give a spot on the map a new identity you need more than just a good idea and a thumbs-up from the city of Kenai.

For starters, you need a name. At least that part, for them was a no-brainer: Mount St. Florian.

A third-century officer in the Roman army, Florian is said to have saved an entire town with a single bucket of water. Eventually breaking ranks and refusing to execute Christian locals, Florian himself was set on fire and killed. Firefighters had their patron saint.

The Kenai firefighters presented their idea to the Alaska Historical Commission.

"One of the things we heard, memorials are awarded only a five-year period after death. We said, 'Florian has been dead for 1,200 years,"' Walden said.

"The board looked at the guidelines, and liked the fact that the firefighters had so much support from the community," said Joan Antonson in the state Office of History and Archaeology. "Without that, I'm not sure it would have gone anywhere."

On Valentine's Day 2002, with the commission's blessing, a decision was made by the U.S. Board of Geographic Names that Peak 4070 had a new name.

For Harris though, it wouldn't be enough. As a climber, Harris made the summit of 20,320-foot Mount McKinley in 2001 and quickly set his sights on Mount St. Florian, elevation 4,070 feet.

"The difficulties in this mountain is access. It's across the inlet," Harris said.

He tried three years ago to reach the top, only to be turned back by avalanche conditions along the route. Fellow firefighter Sam Satathite was also on that trip.

"There's always concern - we'll take it as it comes and decide if every step is worth it," Satathite said.

This winter, the pair went back to try again, hoping for a better snowpack but knowing the amount of winter daylight and temperatures wouldn't be in their favor.

"January, February is the optimum time to do this mountain - not only for the mountain but the approach," Harris said.

They were challenged by whiteout conditions on this trip, but the weather improved by the fourth day and they made it to the summit about 1:45 p.m. Jan. 31, under blue skies with a stiff north wind.

The view from the summit was spectacular.

"It was a beautiful view up there - a great accomplishment for us considering it honors the fallen firefighters," Satathite said. "All in all, a great day."

This summer, the Kenai Fire Department plans to add signs at the Mount Redoubt overlook, telling how Mount St. Florian got its name and how to spot the peak in the skyline.

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