Katmai 2016- Dumpling Mountain

Scott Chandler

Wildness is a necessity- John Muir
Jan 4, 2014
In my summer working at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, it was a common thing to have people saunter into the Visitor Center and ask "aside from the Falls Trail, what other hikes do you have here?" I would put on a guilty grin and start into an answer that became well rehearsed, because we only had only one true trail to offer. This is a collection of pictures and story from that trail.

Dumpling Mountain sits just to the north of Brooks Camp. From the main visitor attraction of the river, it gives a nice backdrop to what everyone is there to see. Often I heard "I wonder what it's like up there." Despite the trail to its top, few organize their trip in a way to see it. Which is fine, the Brooks River experience is out of this world.

Missing Dumpling Mountain is a shame though.
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Dumpling Mountain above the Brooks River

When most hear of a trail up a mountain, they likely imagine the expansive views afforded by being at the top of something. I know I do. Dumpling is great for this. In only four miles one finds themselves at the top of an isolated block of rock 2000' taller than anything else in miles. After only two you're above treeline and the views become constant. Naknek Lake's size, the fourth largest in Alaska, comparable with Flathead Lake in MT, becomes tangible. It puts the menial length of the Brooks River into scale. It is almost astonishing that a 1.5 mile long river between Naknek and Brooks Lakes could be so significant. 50-100 individual, adult, bears frequent this stretch of water every year.
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Naknek Lake. Mt Katolinat in the distant center. Brooks Camp at the bottom right.
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The also large Lake Brooks.
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Going further west yields the flatlands of Bristol Bay. Dumpling and its neighbor Mt Brooks are the last prominent features for miles.
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More of Naknek Lake, looking west. The thing is huge. King Salmon, the town most planes into Brooks Camp pass through, is about 40 miles away, just beyond the foot of the lake.
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Glacier flour and volcanic debris makes the color of Naknek Lake phenomenal. In the lower 48 you have to hike thousands of feet up into the mountains to see ponds this color. The moraine separating the main lake from the Iliuk Arm concentrates the suspended sediment, making it even more blue!!

From the top of the mountain, another vital feature of the area becomes truly apparent. I know the name of at least six of them, and there may be a couple more: volcanoes. Katmai somehow sits at the highest concentration of volcanoes in Alaska, and maybe over most of the Ring of Fire. I guess it lucked out, being established because of a volcanic eruption in this volcanically dense area.
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Mt Magiek
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Trident Volcano. A series of lava flow eruptions came out of this volcano from the 50s to 70s.
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Mt Griggs peeks above the summit of Mt Katolinat. Katolinat is about 4700' tall, Griggs 7600'. Second tallest in the park by a couple feet.
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Mt Peulik, not in the park. Its name means volcano in Aleutiq, the native language.
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Mt Martin. Steam constantly flows from its summit crater.
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The head of the Iliuk Arm. The Ukak River delta, draining the volcanic Valley of 10000 Smokes. I think the peaks at left are volcanoes.

And yet, as I reminisce about this trail, the grand views seem to pale in comparison to the intimate experience of the mountain. The trail starts in the poplar/spruce forest and ascends into tundra. The two environments can hardly seem more different on this trail. Those running to the top may miss out on the small things that add all the spice to the experience. A harsh, short, growing season forces some of the most amazing flowers to populate the area. The amount of flowers on this trail was always astonishing. And most of them were different from any other I am used to. It is an entire visual experience to just look down.
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-36 Violet.jpg

KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-37 Horsetail.jpg

KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-52 Labrador Tea.jpg

Labrador Tea
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-53 Alpine Azalea.jpg

Alpine Azalea
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-55 Wooly Lousewort.jpg

Whooly Lousewort, one of my personal favorites.
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-57 Arctic Willow.jpg

Arctic Willow
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-72 Arctic Willow.jpg
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-73 Arctic Willow.jpg
KS Bird+Dumpling Mtn-91 Alpine Azalea.jpg
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Dumpling 2-15 Wooly Lousewort.jpg
Dumpling 2-21 Frigid Coldfoot.jpg

Frigid Coldfoot, one of the oddest flowers I've ever seen.
Dumpling 2-22 Lupine.jpg

Dumpling 2-24 Roseroot-King\'s Crown.jpg

King's Crown
Dumpling 2-26 Fireweed.jpg

Fireweed Sprout. High in Vitamin C until they get a bit taller and green.
Dumpling 2-30 Fiddlehead.jpg

Fern Fiddlehead

"Is it safe to hike the Dumpling Mountain Trail?"

Katmai has bears. You can't get away from them. All along the Dumpling Trail you can find signs of them. Most are small, a scat, a claw mark, but some can be bigger. Why bears would come up here is pretty obvious. Bear food is prolific, having on of the best berry crops around. Dumpling is also a popular denning choice and the chance to check one out is really special. But will you see bears? There is the chance. I saw my first bear of the summer up there.
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Katmai National Park is a destination for one spectacular thing: wild brown bears. It is a privilege to have spent enough time there to have seen the other side of Katmai. Dumpling Mountain is the only adventure I took this summer on an official trail. It is an amazing and different experience. To do much else, you need to kick up your comfort level and drive.

"So, yeah that's our other trail here. I hope you go and savor it."


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Life really is better Here
Apr 20, 2013
So Lucky....
I love the vistas, but the detail shots are sweet. I like the frigid coldfoot shot and the blueberries.


I walk
Jun 25, 2012
Wow! Great post and great flower pictures Scott. Thank you for this. I will always remember my trip to backcountry Katmai with great astonishment and awe. So many different faces of mother nature. Hopefully you will find the time to give us a tour of the Valley of 10,000 Smokes....


May 16, 2016
Awesome report, I had only seen mention of bear viewing with tourists, never anything cool like hiking. :)

After seeing the lake pics, I googled for paddiling in Katmai, now I really want to do some backcountry stuff there.

Thanks for the report and thoughts of another dream trip


Oct 5, 2014
We were at Katmai NP in early September and did hike up Dumpling Mountain, well most of it as the weather closed in when we were about 2/3 of the way up. Not being able to see more than 20 feet away and the rain starting to fall persuaded us to give up on trying to to summit. Despite this, we really enjoyed the hike getting great views down to the lakes before the weather changed and had numerous berry feasts. Just about went hoarse calling out "hey bear" though :)
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