Trying to raft in volcanic ash
KATIE NICOLATO, U.S. FOREST SERVICE, FORMERLY STATIONED AT KATMAI NATIONAL PARK
We’re trained to save people, but sometimes we have to save each other. That happened to three of us one summer when we rafted a remote river through a volcanic-ash field in Katmai. A pilot dropped us off, and we drifted for a day under clear skies. Then the next evening, 40-mileper-hour winds whipped the ash into a haze. The river thickened into mud, so we slogged through it on foot—ash pelting our faces the whole way—until we found a sheltered bay. Our scheduled boat pickup never showed, so we were stranded with a dead radio and a dwindling oatmeal supply. After two days of seeing boat mirages on the whitecapped lake, we finally heard an engine: A fellow ranger had flown in to save us. He landed and took off on the tiniest stretch of gravel, in fierce winds. I still don’t know how he managed to get us out of there.