Hiking Dangers.

CampQungaayux 262Hiking in the Aleutians is a wonderful activity.  Sometimes you can hike on old World War II gravel roads, some in fairly good shape; some beyond redemption.  You can actively choose a trail that was used by the Indigenous People, the Unangax, for the past 10,000 years.  If you are hiking somewhere, the landowner does suggest that you use the path most taken.  In other words, don’t be making your own trail.  Damage to the tundra is not encouraged.  It takes decades to repair.  No 4-wheeling off-road.  That is strictly forbidden.

There are dangers when you hike in the Aleutians.  The ones from the environment are only a danger if you don’t know what you are doing.  So, do know what the weather is going to do.  Are you going to make a 6 hour trek, but the forecast is for 60 mile per hour winds to start in 4 hours?  Don’t do it.  Has the fog rolled in during your hike?  Sit down.  Wait it out.  People have gotten very lost trying to hike when they think they know the direction they are going.  Honest.  Don’t move.  People have walked off cliffs.  Common sense is your friend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOld World War II remnants can cause serious injury from collapsing floors to barbed wire and Rommel stakes concealed by the grass.  Although much work has been done to remediate the stakes, undiscovered ones can still be in place.  Contact with animals can sometimes be unavoidable.  We have squirrels and foxes as land animals.  No big deal, except for the occasional ankle mishap if you don’t watch where you step and happen to step into an entrance to a den.  A bit more treacherous are the wild cows and horses you may encounter on the Beaver Inlet side of the island.  Scan carefully before descending into valleys.  Remember, we do not have trees to climb if you are being chased by an overly curious bull.  Make sure you scan the beaches for sea lions, seals, or sea otters hauled out before you descend.   Harassing marine mammals is against the law.  And, know that disturbing spawning salmon is not something you want to be caught doing.

Eagle nestThe one thing you don’t have too much control over is inadvertently hiking into an area that is a nesting area for birds of prey.  Keep your eyes peeled for nests in the cliffs, although some crazy birds will build nests in the grass near a bluff.  Carry a walking stick, or just a stick.  It just needs to be something you can hold over your head to ward off talons reaching for your scalp.  Most birds of prey won’t descend lower than the highest part of you; usually the top of your head unless you are using a stick.  They do not want to damage their wings.  Being snatched bald headed takes on a new meaning.

And remember to always get a land-use permit from the land owner. https://www.ounalashka.com/land-use/land-use-permit/

Chngatux^ – Sea Otter

3 ottersThe sea otter is a creature of daily habits that consist of napping and foraging.  It forages and eats in the morning, usually taking it’s first meal in the predawn hour before sunrise.  The otter naps during mid-day and hunts and forages until sunset.  Many rest again and then forage for a third time around midnight.  It is known to voraciously clean out beach foods in an area, then move on down the coast to new areas.  It is said that the otter came to being when a brother and sister of Unangan decent threw themselves from a cliff and became otters.

Sea otters are one of the smallest sea mammals, but one of the largest members of the weasel family.  Our otters, E.I. kenyoni, inhabit waters from the Eastern Aleutians to the Oregon Coast.  Unlike most marine mammals who have dense blubber for cold protection, the sea otter’s primary form of insulation is an exceptionally thick coat of fur.

The presence of the otter in the ecosystem is more important than you might think.  Otters keep the population of sea floor herbivores from over population.  Especially sea urchins which graze on the lower stems of kelp often causing the death of kelp forests.  Kelp forests, although very irritating to fishermen and their boat engines, are one of the most important parts of our ecosystem.  Kelp forests absorb and capture CO2 from the air through photosynthesis, hence making the otter one of the creatures that can help impact the detrimental effects of climate change.

The otters pictured above have wrapped themselves in kelp after their afternoon foraging.  Kelp helps keep the otters in place when they are resting or sleeping.