Amazingly enough, the forecast for the next few days following our arrival in King Cove and late night with our new friends on the fishing boat was for clear skies and “light and variable” winds. We could even take a day to explore the place before sailing the following morning (September 2) around 4AM. That would time us perfectly for the tidal current in Akutan Pass, the pass into the Bering Sea which Francisco had recommended.
We took full advantage of the glorious weather and, after a quick stop at the harbor master’s, went hiking. There are no real trails (we hadn’t expected any in a place as remote and unfrequented as King Cove), so we pushed our way through some shrub thickets, scaring a couple of beautiful willow ptarmigans into flight. Once out of the alders, we scrambled up a steep scree slope. It was pretty tough going at first, with the stones slipping underfoot (so that you made only about half a step’s progress each time you put your foot down), and we got hot enough to strip down to t-shirts!
Eventually we reached a flatter slope covered in tundra and climbed that until we were atop the ridge. Below us to the east was the town of King Cove, all ten buildings or so, and to the west was a gorgeous untouched valley with a river coursing through it.
Fold after fold of volcanic hills receded into the west, a surreal moonscape of valleys and cones, all carpeted in green-yellow tundra. We knew that most of these hills comprised the first of the Aleutian Islands: Unimak. Beyond Unimak is the whole long necklace reaching towards Russia and Japan, spanning the top of the vast Pacific.
Behind us, to the south, lay that huge blue ocean, and ahead of us, to the north, lay the Bering Sea, where we were bound. Except for the dot of King Cove below, there was not a dwelling in sight, only the bare green folds of the hills. I truly felt that we had reached the end of the world.
Only a few times before have I experienced such a strong visual representation of distances I’ve traveled under sail and all the challenges, rewards, and feelings of accomplishment that entails. The first time was when I was 21 and made landfall in the Marquesas Islands after 27 days at sea (my first big ocean crossing, and my first passage with only Seth). Seeing those islands come out of the mist is something I’ll probably never forget. Another moment was sighting Cape Town’s Table Mountain after weathering an incredibly fierce storm. But this view of the end of the North American continent was right up there. It suddenly hit me how far we’d come—almost 3,500 miles in only two and a half months—and how much we’d seen, learned, and experienced along the way. As if to confirm that feeling, I saw a golden eagle—the eagle of Eurasia, not North America—leave his perch and glide silently below me.
After standing for a long time on the ridge, we finally made our way down, taking a slightly different route, which was less steep but which ended in thick alder bushes that were very difficult to clamber through. They’re essentially stunted trees and have trunks and branches to match. They reached just over my head so that we were plowing through them, trying to push the branches aside to make a path. We were pretty happy when we made it into a meadow at the bottom.
We rounded off the day with a little fishing from the breakwater but didn’t catch anything big enough to keep. Then it was time for dinner, another listen to the (happily unchanged) weather forecast, and bed.