The View from Sitka: Mt. Edgecumbe

1 04 2011

If you come to Sitka – and I think you should, at least once in your life – you’ll be greeted by Mt. Edgecumbe, our resident volcano. Come in early May, before the cruise ships begin their daily tourist deposits, and that winter’s snowfall will be cascading from the hollow in her shoulders, down to the curve where her hips meet the rainforest of Kruzof Island. Come in late September, when summer’s lustful sun has coaxed her out of her cloak, and you’ll see her skin glowing sienna-red in our waning daylight hours.

April 7, 2007

If there’s one iconic image representing Sitka, she’s it.  Thirteen miles west of downtown, she presides over Sitka Sound with the confidence that comes of some 12,000 years of an unquestioned regime. At 3201 feet, she’s a quarter the height of her unofficial sister, Japan’s Mt. Fuji. When Southeast Alaska blesses us with a clear day, we can be trolling on the Fairweather Grounds, more than 130 miles away, and see her piercing the farthest reaches of the sea. When we head north every season and she finally appears on the horizon, I know I’m home.

Mount Edgecumbe represents homecoming to many Sitkans. One of our fishing partners is a gifted song-writer. After much pleading (and a fair few cans of Rainier beer,) he can be cajoled into sharing his Swede-tinged, bluesy baritone, crooning ditties created over long fishing trips. This is one of my favorites, to the tune of “Rawhide”:

Rollin’, rollin’, rollin’

We’re all filled up from trollin’.

We’re rollin’ into Sitka tonight.

With that big full moon a-shinin’,

And the northern lights a-blindin’,

And that old volcano comin’ into sight.

Dormant for over 10,000 years, Mt. Edgecumbe gave Sitkans a big scare just 37 years ago.  After waking up one beautiful morning to see dense black smoke pouring out of her crater, terrified residents flooded the streets.  When you live on an island with 19 miles of road, and the only exit is by boat or by plane, how do you flee from a volcano’s imminent eruption?

April 1, 1974 (Photo Provided by Ed Cushing)

Fortunately, folks didn’t have to find out. Before any panicked exodus could occur, the Juneau Coast Guard sent a helicopter to investigate. Flying low, the chopper crew peered through the plumes and radioed in their report.  A tower of tires was alight within, fifty-foot letters spray-painted in the nearby snow.  “APRIL FOOL!”

Local prankster Porky Bickar later shared the details in an interview with the Sitka Sentinel.  With a team of co-conspirators, he’d chartered a helicopter to deposit hundreds of tires in the basin. “We’d planned it for 3 years, and just waited for an April Fool’s Day when it wasn’t raining like hell.” Awakening to the long-awaited clear morning, they made a final trip out, armed with assorted smoke bombs, fuel, and matches.

Porky had the good sense to give the Sitka Police and FAA a heads-up of his scheme, but he’d forgotten to contact the Coast Guard. There was some significant fall-out over that lapse, and he was billed for the clean-up required to remove the pyre’s remains.  Seems a small price to pay, really… Though Porky passed away in 2003, his infamy is as absolute as Mt. Edgecumbe’s continued reign over Sitka Sound.

August, 2008

This is one of those stories so over-told that it’s a terrible cliché to post, but I can’t resist.  To Sitka readers who could tell this story far more authentically than I, my apologies for appropriating local lore. To the rest of you… May you one day experience for yourself the warmth of a Mt. Edgecumbe welcome.




8 responses

1 04 2011
Cami Ostman

Mean joke – but funny.

And the pictures! OMG, what beauty this earth has to offer on a clear day.

1 04 2011

Cami, I imagine being furious when the terror wore off! Guess 37 years mellows folks.

I can’t seem to write about the Edgecumbe/Fuji relationship without thinking about your amazing Fuji trek. Think I’d like to do that someday, too – although perhaps a preparatory hike up Edgecumbe first!

1 04 2011
Vivian Faith Prescott

I love the way you portray the mountain as a ‘she’ with the hollows and shoulders and hips. And, no, the story isn’t cliche, it’s worth a re-tell because we shouldn’t forget it. The Tlingit story related to the mountain is also very interesting but a tragic story. The mountain’s name is “L’ux,” which is very hard to say.

1 04 2011

I’m glad that you commented on this, Vivian! I’d wondered about the Tlingit relationship with her; found the name, but not much detail on the story…

(My Tlingit has been limited to one word, but isn’t it one of the most important in any language? Gunalcheesh, Vivian!)

7 04 2011
Mary Jean

Thanks for bringing back such stirring memories! Edgecumbe was always a beacon of welcome to me.. I felt cheated when we came up too late in the season to the snow filing the curves and flowing down the slopes…
I love the picture of you .. I remember that spot and will get back there someday!!

1 04 2012
Mount Edgecumbe Presiding « Hooked

[…] On April 1st, that smile expands to a chuckle as I remember our volcano’s role in one of the most elaborate hoaxes of all time. Enjoy the story, friends, and enjoy the remainder of your […]

1 04 2012

Tires, though? Couldn’t he find something less toxic? Maybe in the whole scheme of things, it doesn’t really matter. Good April Fool’s Surprise! Great imagery, Tele.

2 04 2012
J.C. Martin

Talk about the ultimate April Fool’s hoax! Thanks for sharing! Edgecumbe sure looks picturesque!

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