August 21, 2023
The students from Laguna Blanca School and Bella.
From the Endeavour’s wheelhouse, I watched the six high school students – all of them 17 years old – and their science teacher walk down to the dock in the Kodiak marina toward the boat, clutching their duffle bags in their arms. They looked nervous.
They were from Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara, California. None of them had been to Alaska before. We were about to head out to do a benchmark study – basically a census – in the wilderness.
For our study, we had picked Kukak Bay on the Alaska Peninsula, in the Katmai National Park and Preserve, roughly 30 nautical miles across the Shelikof Strait from the Kodiak archipelago. Three unnamed, glacier-fed rivers flow into the bay, one of them with an extensive tidal flat. The six-mile-long bay has two islands. We would end up focusing on Aguchik Island, toward the southwest end of the bay, close to the tidal flat. I had anchored there before.
Mount Katmai, a large volcano (one of five in the area) is about 25 miles to the west. The peak of the volcano was estimated to have been 7,500 feet before a massive eruption in 1912 – the largest in the world in the 20th century. The volcano spat out 30 times the magma of the Mount St Helens eruption. Afterward, thousands of fumaroles started to vent steam, creating the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. Today the rim of the caldera is at 6,716 feet. The Hallo Glacier is about six miles to the north.
The kids had packed light and they stowed their gear on their bunks. The provisions were already on board. I assigned two of the students to deck crew. Coached by Sarah, my crewperson, they untied our lines, pulled in the fenders, and we were off.
-- Bill Urschel
Kukak Bay is northwest of Kodiak Island, on the Alaska Peninsula.