XIX. MOUNTAINS AND VOLCANOES (Historic Information)
In his nature studies, Ruskin says of great mountains:
They divide the earth, not only into districts, but into climates, and cause perpetual currents of air to traverse their passes in a thousand different states, moistening it with the spray of their waterfalls, closing it within clefts and caves, where the sunbeams never reach, till it is as cold as November mists, then sending it forth again to breathe lightly across the slope's of velvet fields, or to be scorched among sun-burnt shales and grassless crags; then drawing it back in moaning swirls through clefts of ice, and up into dewy wreaths above the snow-fields.
The beauty and force of this description must strongly appeal to those who have visited the stupendous land masses the Fairweather, the St. Elias, the Wrangell, the McKinley, and the Alaskan mountain ranges which extend in an immense semicircle of more than a thousand miles from the Sitkan region to the end of the Alaskan Peninsula.
In their abrupt rise from the sea, in their length as an uninterrupted mountain chain, in their contiguous areas of luxuriant vegetation and utter desolation, in their striking contrasts of volcanic lava and arctic snows, in the extent of their overlying and debouching glaciers the Alaskan mountains offer wondrous aspects of nature, unmatched within an equal area by any other mountain masses of the world.
Nor are all Alaskan mountains of one class or of uniform pattern. The routine tourist sees the forested purple-peaked and snow-touched mountains of the Inside Passage, and the smooth-based, naked sierras of Lynn Canal. Beyond He other and more striking types: the towering summits of ice-clad Fairweather, the jagged-peaked, ice-beset St. Elias Alps, the huge mass of Wrangell, the graceful, rounded green slopes of Kodiak, the symmetrical volcanic cone of Pavlof, and the majestic snow-crowned American monarch McKinley.
It must not be thought that these grand and awe-inspiring mountain landscapes are inaccessible to the ordinary traveller, or even difficult of access. They are all reached in brief time and under comfortable conditions, except Mt. McKinley, of which distant and beautiful views are had from Fairbanks and the Tanana River.
There are four important mountain ranges, supplemented by subordinate groups. Except the volcanic Aleutian Range they are mountains of recent crustal uplift, modified by erosion.
The Rocky Mountain extension crosses northern Alaska as the Endicott Range, nearly parallel with and about 200 miles inland from the Arctic Ocean. It decreases in elevation from about 8,000 feet near the Canadian frontier to 1,000 feet at Kotzebue Sound.
The Coast Range, consisting of the Fairweather and St. Elias Mountains, has a mean altitude exceeding 10,000 feet, and includes within its limits the most remarkable and extended glacier fields in America. Though of higher average elevation than the St. Elias group, the Fairweather Range is of more limited area. Its principal peaks are La Pérouse, 10,740 feet, Lituya, 11,832, and Fairweather, 15,292 feet, all rising, as it were, from the very sea, their steep declivities covered by great glacial sheets. The beauty and splendor of these mountains are beyond description, and in the mind of the writer unsurpassable. Mrs. Higginsen writes of them:
In all the splendor of the drenched sunlight, straight out of the violet sparkling sea, rose the magnificent peaks of the Fairweather Range and towered against the sky. No great snow mountains rising from the land have ever affected me as did that long and noble chain glistening out of the sea.
However, the St. Elias Range is still more remarkable through its combination of glacial fields and mountain masses. There are in this range nine peaks whose elevation exceeds 10,000 feet Augusta, Cook, Hubbard, Huxley, Logan, Newton, St. Elias, Seattle, and Vancouver. Mt. Logan is the highest, 19,539 feet, but as it is not visible from the ocean St. Elias, 18,024 feet, is the dominating feature of the landscape, and is visible under favorable conditions about 150 miles from the sea. Its base washed by the Pacific Ocean, the main peak springs precipitously upward. Stupendous in its environment, as well as in its height, St. Elias beggars description. On near approach its beauty is enhanced by a bordering hem of pure white, the Malaspina Glacier, which follows the shore line for nearly seventy miles. Of St. Elias, Russell wrote:
Névé of Fairweather Range, and Alsek Glacier
At length the great pyramid forming the culminating summit of all the region, burst into full view. What a glorious sight! The great mountain seemed higher and grander and more regularly proportioned than any peak I had ever beheld before. The white plain formed by the Seward Glacier made an even foreground, which gave distance to the foot-hills forming the western margin of the glacier. Far above the angular crest of the Samovar Hills in the middle distance towered St. Elias, sharp and clear against the evening sky. So majestic was St. Elias that other magnificent peaks scarcely received a second glance.
The Wrangell Mountains are a group of irregular volcanic formation, with a mean elevation of 10,000 feet. They are separate from the Coast Range, and cover an area of about one hundred by fifty miles in extent. The main peaks are unsymmetrical lava cones, of which eight, Blackburn, Castle Peak, Drum, Jarvis, Regal, Sanford, Wrangell, and Zanetti, exceed 10,000 feet in height. It is known that there are quite a number of unnamed peaks that are of similar high elevation. The highest two of the known peaks are Wrangell, 14,005, and Blackburn, 16,140 feet. As later mentioned, Wrangell is an active volcano and with its neighbors forms a detached group, doubtless the eastern results of the volcano forces that have played such prominent parts in the formation of southwestern Alaska.
Mrs. Higginson considers the Wrangell Mountain views from Copper Valley "unsurpassed in the interior. Mount Drum, sweeping up splendidly from a level plain, is more imposing than Wrangell and Blackburn (from 2,000 to 4,000 feet higher). Glacial creeks and roaring rivers; wild and fantastic canons, moving glaciers, gorges of royal purple bloom, green valleys and flowery slopes, the domed and towered Castle Mountains, the lone and majestic peaks, cascades spraying down sheer precipices all blend into one grand panorama of unrivalled inland grandeur."
The Alaskan Range forms the southern boundary of the Yukon Basin, and extends from the International Boundary (where the mountains are named Nutzotin) westward, in a semicircle, to the region west of Cook Inlet. The range has a well-defined crest line, from 8,000 to 10,000 feet in elevation, which is unbroken for about 200 miles. Four peaks Foraker, Russell, Spurr, and McKinley are above 10,000 feet, the last-named 20,464 feet, being the highest peak of America.
South of this range are the Chugach Mountains, of which Muir says:
The entrance to the famous Prince William Sound disclosed to the westward one of the richest, most glorious mountain landscapes I ever beheld peak over peak dipping deep in the sky, a thousand of them, icy and shining, rising higher, higher, beyond and jet beyond another, burning bright in the afternoon light, purple cloud bars above them, purple shadows in the hollows, and great breadths of sun-spangled, icedotted waters in front. . . . Grandeur and beauty in a thousand forms awaited us at every turn in this bright and spacious wonderland. But that first broad, far-reaching view in the celestial light was the best of all.
McKinley; the Monarch of American Mountains.
The Aleutian Range, which, extends from Cook Inlet southwest to the end of the Alaska Peninsula, is composed of typical volcanic cones which are treated later under the heading of volcanoes. The mountains only on the west shore of Cook Inlet are of very great height - Redoubt, 11,270 feet and Iliamna, 12,066 feet.
As far as is known, the mountain peaks of Alaska offer no insuperable obstacle to their ascent. Lack of local transportation, however, makes their approach a matter of great expenditure of time and money.
The Duke of Abruzzi's experiences are recounted in his "Ascent of Mt. St. Elias." Dr. F. A. Cook's expedition is described in his "To the Top of the Continent," 1907, supplemented by the story of his companion, R. Dun, in the "Shameless Diary of an Explorer," 1907. Dun tells the story of his Wrangell climb (Harper's Magazine, March, 1909), under the title of "Conquering our Greatest Volcano."
Though viewed by the general public as a semi-arctic territory, yet Alaska affords the most striking phases of volcanic activity to be found in the western hemisphere, whether of ancient or recent times.
Dr. C. Grewingk, the best authority on Alaskan volcanoes, wrote in 1850:
"We know of no more extensive theatre of volcanic activity than the Aleutian Islands, the Alaskan Peninsula, and the west coast of Cook Inlet. Here, within the limits of a single century, have all the known phenomena occurred: the elevation of mountain chain and islands, the sinking of extensive areas of the earth's surface, earthquakes, eruptions of lava ashes and mud, the hot springs, and explosions of steam and sulphuric gases.
An almost unbroken line of volcanic mountain ranges extends from Mt. Wrangell westward to the Commander Islands. There are no less than twenty-five of the Aleutian Islands on which active volcanic action has occurred, leaving forty-eight craters.
The following typical and widely separated volcanoes yet show signs of minor activity, and the accompanying dates are the years in which occurred the last violent outbreaks: Akutan, 1825, Iliamna, 1793, Makushin, 1826, Pavlof, 1825, Pogromni, 1831, Redoubt, 1819, Shishaldin, 1838; and Wrangell, 1819. As elsewhere stated, Bogoslof and Grewingk (New Bogoslof) are yet exceedingly active.
Of the three types eruptive or true volcano, semi-eruptive, and uplift without eruption Akutan, Makushin, and Shishaldin are illustrative examples of the first, while Bogoslof and Grewingk pertain to the last-named class.
Of the Alaskan volcanoes as a whole, Grewingk writes:
There are no descriptions of streams of burning lava. Eruptions within historic times have consisted of ashes, stones, and liquid mud, seldom occurring within the true craters.
Crater of Augustine Peak.
Augustine (Dead) Volcano, Cook Inlet.
He adds that the only lava-made islands are St. Matthew, St. Michael, Stuart Islands, the Pribilof group, and perhaps Umnak.
Colonel Caine says of his visit to Cook Inlet:
During the first three months (June to September, 1902) Redoubt poured forth at intervals dense clouds of smoke and vivid sheets of flame, blackening the usually virgin slopes of snow on its sides with dark-gray volcanic dust. (He adds that according to local reports Wrangell broke out violently at that time.)
Of Pavlof, and the adjacent mountain country, at the west end of Alaska Peninsula, John Burroughs ("Summer Holidays in Alaskan Waters") writes:
The twin volcanic peaks of Pavlof rise from the shore to an altitude of seven or eight thousand feet, one of them a symmetrical cone with black converging lines of rock cutting through the snow; the other more rugged and irregular, with many rents upon its sides and near its summit, from which issued vapor, staining the snow like soot from a chimney. Sheets of vapor were also seen issuing from cracks at its foot near sea level (in 1899).
That this volcano has recurring phases of activity is evident from the statement of Captain Radclyffe in "Big Game Shooting in Alaska," who says that in July, 1903:
Mt. Pavlof suddenly burst out with a series of terrific explosions, which were repeated every five minutes, sending up clouds of steam and smoke, and shaking the ground around for miles.
Of the Aghilan Pinnacles, a remarkable succession of black castellated rocks west of Pavlof Volcano, Burroughs says:
A strange architectural effect amid the wilder and ruder forms that surround them, as if some vast many-sided cathedral of dark gray stone were going to decay in the mountain solitude. Both in form and color they seem alien to everything about them. Now we saw them athwart the crests of smooth green hills, or fretting the sky above lines of snow. Their walls were so steep that no snow lay upon them, while the pinnacles were like church spires.
The twin volcanoes, Pogromni, 6,500 feet, and Shishaldin, 9,387 feet high, are on Unimak Island, at the end of Alaska Peninsula. Of them John Burroughs writes.
Our first glimpse was of a black cone ending in a point. ... It seemed buoyed up by the clouds. . . . There was nothing to indicate a mountain. Presently the veil was brushed aside, and we saw both mountains from base to summit and noted the vast concave lines of Shishaldin that swept down to the sea, and that mark the typical volcanic form. The long, graceful curves, so attractive to the eye, repeat on this failoff island the profile of Fujiyama, the sacred peak of Japan. The upper part, for several thousand feet, was dark doubtless the result of heat, for it is smoking this year.
Mrs. Higginson well describes it:
In the absolute perfection of its conical form, its chaste and elegant beauty of outline, and the slender column of smoke pushing up from its finely pointed crest, Shishaldin stands alone.
One night in 1900 the writer saw the overhanging clouds of Shishaldin all aflame from volcanic action, and again saw the peak s graceful outlines by day, and finds it in form and beauty second, if at all, to the typical volcanic peak of Mayon, in far-off Luzon.
From 1825 to 1829, Pogromni (destroying desolation) and Shishaldin were violently active at intervals, new craters and fissures appearing with masses of red-hot lava, recurring flames, showers of ashes and stones, with other volcanic phenomena. Fortunately there has been no recurrence of violent action.
Bogoslof was formed by crystal uplift in May, 1796, when, after indications of volcanic disturbances, an observer on Unimak saw far out on the sea a black object, and there appeared
Large flames of such brilliancy that on the island (twelve miles distant) night was converted into day, and an earthquake (occurred) with thundering noises, while rocks were occasionally thrown on the island from the new crater.
After three days the earthquake ceased, the flames subsided, and the newly created island loomed up in the shape of a cone. About eight years elapsed before the island was sufficiently cooled to permit its examination.
In 1883 a companion volcano, New Bogoslof now called Grewingk was born. The history of its rapid and extraordinary changes in size and shape appears in the records of the fourteen visits and examinations between 1883 and 1899. When discovered, September 27, 1883, by Captain Anderson, it was then in active eruption, throwing out large masses of heated rocks and great volumes of smoke, steam, and ashes, which came from the apex and from numerous fissures, of which some were below the surface of the sea."
Captain Healy, of the Corwin, four times visited the island. He states that, in 1884,
Both peaks were inaccessible on account of the steam and fumes of sulphur in which they were enveloped. One night the volcano in the darkness presented a most extraordinary spectacle. The summit was enveloped in a bright sulphurous light, which burst forth from rifts in its side and shone out against the black sky, making a scene both beautiful and impressive.
Dr. C. Hart Merriam, from whose comprehensive account these descriptions are drawn, twice visited Bogoslof. Of the island, in 1891, he says.
The shape of the island did not in any way suggest a volcano, there being no cone and no true crater. ... The new volcano was enveloped in steam, which issued from thousands of small crannies, and poured in vast clouds from a few great fissures and craterlike openings. . . . The steam was usually impregnated with fumes of sulphur. . . . Most of the rock was hot and pools of hot water were found on the beach.
Merriam's comments as to the absence of a true crater accord with the theory of Grewingk that
The falling in of mountains on the east coast of Bering Sea, the apparent swelling and bursting of whole sections of islands, are indications pointing to formation of peaks, craters, and crevices by elevation.
Grewingk Island (born in 1883), Bogoslof Group, Bering Sea.
(A third volcanic island was thrown up in 1906)
In 1906 a third island was added to the Bogoslof group, being first seen on May 26. Dr. C. H. Gilbert says of this visit:
"We were astonished to find that Fire (Grewingk) Island was no longer smoking and that a very large third island had arisen half way between the other two. It was made of jagged, rugged lava and was giving off clouds of steam and smoke from any number of little craters scattered all over it. Around these craters, the rocks were all crusted with yellow sulphur.
The new cone, occupying much of the space between the two older ones, was somewhat higher than either, but 300 feet would be an extreme figure. There was no evidence of any crater.
Its bases, undermined by the unceasing action of sea currents and storm waves, its cliffs wasting through wind and precipitation, its external material suffering disintegration by alternate action of superheated steam and arctic cold, and its structural stability impaired by uplifting and shifting internal forces, the entire Bogoslof group bids fair within a century to wholly disintegrate and disappear, as has the adjacent volcanic Ship Rock that antedated Old Bogoslof as an illustration of plutonic action in these seas.
(As this chapter is about going to press, renewed activity of the Bogoslof volcanoes is reported. Prof. George Davidson has received advices from Unalaska (April 10, 1909) that the Bogoslof volcanoes have been unusually active since March 1. Observers at sea have noted great clouds of smoke and steam issuing from the Bogoslof group, while cloud reflections of volcanic fires have been seen at night, fifty miles from the islands.)
Despite its high latitudes and enormous areas of deeply frozen soil, Alaska has many hot springs. Though they are especially frequent in the volcanic mountains of the Aleutian Isles, yet they are found in southeastern Alaska, in the Yukon and Tanana Valleys, on the Seward Peninsula, and elsewhere.
In the southeastern region they occur without exception in granite belts, the water issuing from fracture planes. That opposite the Great Glacier, on the Stikine River, has the greatest outflow, about 1,500,000 gallons daily. Near Bailey Bay, Behm Canal, is found the hottest spring, of a temperature of 203° F., the water issuing in a jet 15 inches high and 1 inch in diameter. The Sitkan and a few other springs are credited with curative qualities, while some have a prospective commercial value for their carbonated waters.
Of the many Aleutian springs the best known are those in the volcanic mountains of Little Sitkhin, the most westerly of the volcanoes, those of the islands of Akutan and Umnak, and the sulphurous waters of Belkofski.
While the hot springs of the Serpentine, near Nome, are the fashionable health resort of Seward Peninsula, there are large outflows on the Kougarouk and on the Inmachi rivers; and far to the east in the Kobuk Valley is a spring on Reid River, within the Arctic Circle, in 67° 20' N., 152° W.
The waters at Hot Springs, on Baker Creek in the lower Tanana Valley, have the widest repute. More than fifty acres of ground are in a high state of cultivation within the favored area. A large hotel has been built, and all facilities for baths and thermal treatment have been installed, so that it has become a much-frequented watering place.