Memories from our summer adventure in the Aleutian Islands have been drifting in and out of my mind the last couple of days, so I thought I would dedicate a post to them.
May 22nd 2008 Bernie and I departed from Portland Oregon on the Thomas G. Thompson research vessel. The size of this ship was impressive, and since it was my first time on open waters, I was happy to be on a substantial boat. We had a rough go the first couple of days out, unfortunately the weather was a little intense, and we were quite sea sick for a few days. Once we got our sea legs we emerged from our cabin and joined the rest of the crew, only to learn that a few of the well seasoned crew members even got sick, that made me feel a little bit better…..
After an eight day journey straight across the Pacific we landed on Adak, one of the many islands in the Aleutian chain. We picked up a crew of scientists, and headed out to the end of the Aleutian chain. We stopped at various islands along the way, most of the scientists were divers doing subtidal work. Bernie and I would walk the beaches looking for Sea Otter remains. We made it to the farthest point of the Aleutians and made our way back, stopping along the way. We had pretty wonderful weather along this journey out and back, a few days with swells here and there, but good weather in the Aleutian Islands is hard to come across some times. One day in particular was amazingly calm. The water was perfectly glassy, on the way back from a beach walk, the fog that had hung over the island all morning lifted, and I got some beautiful shots of the Thompson.
When we arrived back on Adak, Bernie and I were dropped off at our own personal retreat. Alright, retreat might not quite be the right word, but many aspects of it were spectacular. It was a small ‘cabin’ (more like shack), with a creek that did a big U turn right around it, and just a very short walk to our own private beach. We were out there doing Sea Otter research, and our main research site was about a 20min zodiac ride from our cabin. The landscape that surrounded us on our whole journey this summer was breathtaking! We really were blessed with our spot at the little cabin. Right behind the cabin the hills rose abruptly into twin mountains, to the other side rolling grassy hills spread out into a long peninsula, called Caribou peninsula. As you can guess, we had caribou around. They were introduced to Adak in the late 50’s early 60’s, for entertainment (hunting) and an emergency food source for the people stationed at the Navy base on the other side of Adak.
We lived in our little cabin located in the Bay of Islands for a bit over two months. With our zodiac we got to explore and do research on a handful of the islands nestled in our bay. Mount Moffet looked across the bay at us, when the clouds would lift long enough for us to see it. Many of our days there were cloudy, and a good percentage were rainy, but when the sun would break through we had wonderful vistas in all directions.
Every 10 to 14 days we would take our zodiac across the bay and hike over a pass to the other side of the island to take showers, wash clothes and relax for a day or two. After our time in the little cabin at Unalga Bight, we moved to the ‘base’ side of the island. We lived in the USFWS bunk house, and did research in a large lagoon. This area of the island is truly surreal. There is a full blown town that was built for the roughly 6,000 people stationed at this base. Houses, warehouses, shops, McDonalds, a bowling alley, and WAY more. In the mid 90’s the navy packed up and gave the place to the native Aleuts. Now there is a full time population around 100 to 200 people, with seasonal contractors and biologists that come throughout the summer. It really looks like a post apocalyptic scene, all these abandoned buildings everywhere. The energy of that place is very strange.
Toward the end of our stay, to add a little excitement a volcano 50 miles away decided to cascade itself out of dormancy, and erupt rather enthusiastically. The two biologists that had been working on it were rescued off Kasatochi just about 1 hour before it went off. It was amazing to me to be 50 miles away, I truly can not imagine being on it that close to its eruption. We got to spend some time with these two men, and hear their stories.
When we were done on Adak we traveled by boat the rest of the Aleutian Chain back to Homer Alaska. On the way we went right by Kasatochi to see what it looked like. It threw out so much ash that it extended the shoreline 100 meters and more in places, the whole island was covered in ash, along with some near by islands. The winds carried the ash away from Adak, so we were never hit by it except a minute dusting. It released so much sulfur that the cloud drifted out across the US and even made it to Europe.
Our entire summer was an amazing experience. It had its ups and downs along the way, but that’s what keeps it so interesting. I got to see some amazing scenery, and beautiful animals! So there is an extremely shortened account of our summer, I am leaving out so many wonderful details, perhaps I will elaborate more in future posts.
To see some more photo’s of our adventure, you can visit Bernie’s blog, he has a whole series of posts on our summer:
To see other peoples experiences visit: