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/

Climate Change

Six pictures.  Unalaska Island, Aleutian Islands.  Photos taken between March 1 and March 10 for six years, of the same general area.  2013 is how it has always been.  Climate change is not a conversation; it is happening here.

2013
2013
2014
2014
2015
2015
2016
2016
2017
2017
2018
2018

It changes our subsistence cycles.  The water is becoming warm which impacts our fish species, numbers, and quality.  Our plants, both edible and medicinal, are just as confused as the human beings.  Twenty years, folks.  We have to make a difference.  Go solar.  Go wind power.  Ban plastics.  Farm responsibly.  Save the earth for those generations not yet seen.

Islands of the Smokey Seas

Drenching rain, trying to come down as snow.
Drenching rain, trying to come down as snow.

March, April, and May can be the most vexing months especially during the last few years when nothing that was before seems to be happening now.  Last year we had our last snow on May 31st.  Now as I glance over at the window, instead of just rain plastering the window, I see it has changed to lumpy rain.  I guess you would call it sleet.  The rain has been doing the job of melting mounds and mounds of snow, and opening up the wild landscaping to the previous fall’s compressed, tan detritus.  It’s around 8:00 PM, so the temperature is most likely dropping.  It is blowing about 35 from the ESE with gusts to right around 50 right now.  There is very little visibility out in the bay or surrounding mountains.  Can’t even see the mountains.  Yesterday it was almost that “S” word that we don’t say out loud or in print, just in case we jinx the season.  This morning everything was frozen.  Now it is blowing like hell.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not complaining.  If there is one thing you can say about weather in the Aleutians it is that it is never boring.  It keeps you on  your toes.  I should probably invest in a waterproof casing for my camera.  As it is, I have to decide when is too wet and wild to take the camera out.   How much time do I want to spend wiping it down when I come inside?  When you grow up in a place known as the birthplace of the winds, you learn to judge how much the wind is blowing by observing the environment.  The first thing you observe is that there is always wind.  White caps generally start when it is blowing 25.  You can see gusts coming by the way they darken the water….black water.  We all look intently for black water at either end of the runway when we are making an approach to land.  Black water at the end of the runway is very, very scary.   You know that when the gusts are picking up water off the sea, it is blowing at least 50.  When that happens we call them williwaws.

Williwaws
Williwaws

So while we wait to find what these next few months will bring us, I will just continue to be exhilarated by the weather.   Ah, yes.  I live in the birthplace of the winds; the islands of the smokey seas.