Alaska Volcanos

Alaska Volcanoes

Photos provided by GNIS and other Federal Agencies


Yes, there are volcanoes in Alaska, hundreds of them. About forty of them are active and several of those are in sight of Anchorage. These volcanoes can ruin your day.

Two or three times in typical year, one or more volcanoes near Anchorage will erupt. The four volcanoes nearest to Anchorage are known as Cook Inlet Volcanoes.

Cook Inlet volcanoes:

Cook Inlet and Aleutian Islands set on the Pacific Rim Ring of Fire which extends down the chain all the way to Kamchatka Island and the mainland of Russia. Four of the most active local volcanoes, Mt. Spurr, Redoubt, Iliamna and St. Augustine, are on the north side of Cook Inlet and clearly visible from Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula?

Mount Spurr last erupted in 1992 and spills it's smoke and gray, gritty ash from a vent on the southern side of the 11,070-foot peak. It's about 80 miles west of

Mount Redoubt is a 10, 197 ft. high cone-shaped volcano directly across the inlet from Kenai and about 60 miles from Anchorage. It last erupted in December 1989. It's plume of gritty ash nearly downed a 747 passenger jet that accidentally flew through the cloud of ash. The airliner lost lift and it's jet turbines being damaged by the carborundum like abrasive ash nearly pancaked into the inlet, but gained enough altitude to make it to the runway at the Anchorage International Airport.

See: Kenai and Soldotna.

Mount Iliamna is 10,016 feet high and last erupted in 1978, sending steam nearly two miles high. It sits directly west of the Aleut village Ninilchik.

Mount Augustine is only 4,025 feet high. It at 15,000 years old is the youngest volcano on Cook Inlet. It sets on an island in Cook Inlet west of Seldovia and south of Homer. Known for it's explosive eruptions, a violent one in 1976.  In 1986, air transportation was shut down for several days the lingering ash clouds. Augustine is just 4,025 feet high and about a two hour summer hike if you feel lucky.

When one of these volcanoes erupt, if accompanied by winds that blow toward Anchorage, most commercial activity grinds to a halt ; all jet aircraft are grounded and covered with tarps; non-essential employees are told to stay home and stay inside. The ash can continue to fall three or four days.

Gas turbine generators at Beluga power generation plant are shut down because the grit  destroys turbine or jet engines in a matter of minutes. Automobile air filters are quickly plugged by the ash, so fine it ends up in the oil pan and destroys gasoline engines. While that is going on there is little one can do but stay inside, watch TV and wait. Those who have to leave home do so wearing a medical mask.

Clean up after an eruption is interesting. Residents hose the ash off the roof and collect it at the bottom of the downspouts. If summer they rinse the ash from their plants and flowers. The ash has fertilizer uses so it is usually left in the flower beds and lawns and just watered into the ground.

Excess ash is very heavy and it takes a strong person to lift a five gallon can full of it. The local fire departments loan out fire hoses to residents with permission to connect to fire hydrants and clean the roads. The hoses are passed from resident to resident until the whole road through their sub-division is clean. 



The Aleut people have lived with volcanoes ever since they moved from Kamchatka Island up the Aleutian Chain to mainland Alaska thousands of years ago. One can only guess how many lives were lost to volcanic eruptions, how many villages had to be moved out of the way of the natural events, from one island to another. One story provided by an honored Aleut elder and story teller suggests the enormity of the volcano problem. This story was told by a member of the Aleut community at Cold Bay, Alaska, a legend herein summarized.

Long ago Unangan lived in The Valley of 10,000 Smokes, now Katmai National Park, in a nice valley next to a clear river that flowed into the nearby ocean. There the people subsisted off of fish, sea mammals they hunted from bidarka, and sea food they collected from nearby ocean.

One night a nearby volcano erupted and the ash fell so heavy they could not see beyond the length of their bidarka. The village was prepared for volcanic eruptions and had seen many in their time, but this was different. The ground rumbled from many earthquakes and the stars and moon were soon obliterated by the dark night sky.

The people collected their young and old and personal belongings necessary to hunt and keep warm, loaded everything into umiaks and crossed to another island to join another village that was upwind of the eruption. Their umiaks moved through thick (likely pumice) stuff floating on the water. The floating mass reduced waves, but made rowing difficult.

The sun came up, but could not be see except as a glow in the sky. They arrived safely on the next island and joined friends and relatives on that island.

Weeks later after the earthquakes and eruptions subsided, the young men ventured back to see their valley, but they returned when they could not find it. In retrospect the Aleut learned in their schools about Katmai and that their original green valley was buried beneath hundreds of feet of ash and debris.

Today the Katmai National Park is slowly recovering from earlier disasters, a haven for brown bears, rivers that cut through the ash to now run fast and clear and teaming with fish.

More in text and photos of the Valley of 10,000 smokes and Katmai National Park in general.

fun histories 2002