Catching Class V


Here I am, 30km below the Earth’s surface.  Patiently waiting, my kayak bobs up and down in a pool of molten magma the size of the state of Maine.  I am anticipating the ride of my life, and have been waiting for nearly 600,000 years for the perfect wave. Underneath the place in which we have come to know as Yellowstone National Park, potentially the most pristine and breathtaking place on the face of the planet, lies a boiling pot that at some point in the geologically-near future will need to release its enormous energy.  It is that release for which I am waiting, and the ebb and flow of building pressure is maddeningly rhythmic, enough to lull a thrill-seeker to sleep; but I know I must keep my vigilance, for when it comes it will be rapid and without warning.  From my vantage point, I am aware of my relative position rising nearer and nearer to the surface, pushing up the land into nearly indiscernible domes on the surface.  I rock back and forth in preparation for that moment.

 I know that on the surface mud pots have begun to broil and geysers are spouting at a rate that is uncharacteristic, yet entrancing.  Animals have scattered to the high grounds, able to perceive the slightest change in the environment.  Birds have flown, bears and bison have ascended the hillsides, and the wolves are howling, calling to each other that something is amiss.  But the people remain, still unaware of the impending geological cataclysm and distracted by the intense outer beauty.  I, however, am keenly aware of the raging torrent inside.

The magma surrounding me is a deep orange, molten at nearly 1200°C and highly silicic (composed of minerals with silicon and oxygen).  Above my head I can see the physical boundary between the earth’s mantle, a ductile more flexible layer of molten rock, and the crust, the more brittle outer layer that we call home.  In this chamber I find the same peace that I find in the middle of the ocean.  Oddly quiet yet deafening, oddly calm yet brimming with energy that I could not begin to comprehend; serenely bobbing up and down with the waves waiting, watching, anticipating that perfect moment that will take me from stoic onlooker to adrenaline-infused surfer.  I dip my paddle in again as I feel static electricity envelop the chamber, itself anticipating a release heretofore unseen by the human eye.  My moment is here.

(To Read More About The Geology of The Yellowstone Caldera, Follow The Goat into the fire at

Rising quickly, I hear the intense crashing and cracking of rocks as the magma and I ascend through the crust, melting and pulverizing everything in our path.  We are moving at a rate faster than a bullet fired from an AK-47, nearly twice the speed of sound.  Although we will slow as we breach the surface, the releasing pressure is already throwing rocks into the air at nearly 20300 m/s, enough to send them 5km into the air and land somewhere in the middle of North Dakota.  This is one of the rocks I hope to catch, then ride the ash cloud around the Earth in the upper stratosphere.  I steel my resolve as the chaos intensifies around me, bracing my boat for our exit.  At this point the landscape that was once known as the World’s First National Park is unrecognizable, decimated in a hurricane of fiery explosions and thundering earthquakes.

Watching from afar one may think they are witnessing an atomic bomb explosion, and they would be correct save for the fact that the energy released by this eruption would be on the order of 100,000,000 atomic bombs being detonated at once.  Beneath the surface I am having the time of my life bouncing from one magma wave to the other, dodging eddies and avoiding holes, all while keeping my eyes upstream.  We will reach the surface soon and I will be shot into the air riding a wave of kinetic energy created by the force of the driving magma rising and filling space once occupied by oxygen and other gases.

I see the light as the pressure blows out a hole in front of me, billowing forth ash and rock as we emerge.  I’ve left the magma wave behind, but I’m not out of the proverbial woods yet, so I thrust forth with my paddle and ride the ash wave up nearly 13km into the atmosphere, balancing ever so delicately on the debris cloud.  From my perch I watch as I cross states, then countries, then continents in a global tour de force.  I’ve had my fun, so I roll my hull, point my nose down waiting to pull my parachute until I emerge from the thick clouds of noxious fumes.  I land gently in what was once Flagstaff, Arizona, now buried under 5m of ash and dust, get out of my boat and take off my gas mask.  I suppose I won’t be hitching a ride back to the put-in this time.

Photo Courtesy of The Goat, Bumpass Hell, Lassen Volcanic NP, CA

May The Goat be with with