Gone Floatabout

Sailing, Photography, Wilderness

Wonderful introduction to Unalaska Island!


Sea otter, UnalaskaWe just loved Unalaska!  We arrived after our 36-hour passage from King Cove (about 220nM) on September 3, 2014 at about 16:00.  We were first greeted by the most adorable sea otter.  He even looked like he was waving his little paws at us.  So good to see, especially since sea otters were hunted (for their thick and beautiful fur) almost to extinction in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The Aleutian Island populations were among the hardest hit since these were the first places ‘discovered’ by the Russians in the 1740s.  After a few photographs of this wonderful creature we turned our attention to docking, and soon thereafter our good friends Andy and Daneen arrived on the dock!

Andy and Daneen are from Unalaska but left 13 years ago to sail around the world, seeing as much as they could along the way.  We first met them in 2009 in Port Louis, Mauritius where we were all getting ready for the notoriously rough crossing to South Africa.  Both boats made it unscathed to Richards Bay and then we spent a fair amount of time together in Cape Town.  Our routes diverged after that but we stayed in touch and reunited in person in Washington State where we were both refitting our boats.  They then sailed north inside Vancouver Island and ended the 2014 season in Petersburg before flying home to Unalaska for the winter.

Unalaska seen from our friends' house

Unalaska seen from our friends’ house

We’d been in touch via OCENS email during our voyage and they’d given us awesome suggestions for places to anchor and visit.  Some of our favorite stops were places they’d recommended, including the bay where we’d seen all the brown bears!  One of their strong recommendations was that we leave Celeste in their care in the small boat basin on Unalaska for the winter.  We couldn’t think of better people to look after her and they assured us she’d be fine despite the infamous Bering Sea winters.

After a wonderfully relaxing evening at their house (a real shower, great dinner, and even better conversation!) we started work the next morning on winterizing Celeste and getting ready to head back to work in Switzerland.  Preparations halted, though, when the sun came out around mid-morning and the wind lay down to a complete calm.  Businesses in Unalaska and Dutch Harbor close in conditions like this, ‘for weather’, because everyone wants to get out and enjoy such rare beautiful days.

Picking blueberries, Unalaska

Picking blueberries on the sunny day when all the businesses were closed ‘for weather’, good weather that is!

We took the opportunity to climb Pyramid Peak, a mountain behind the bay.  The hike started along an old dirt road, winding through Unalaska’s typical marine tundra landscape.  All the leaves of the small bushes were turning from green to yellow and red, and the blueberries I found were deliciously ripe: Seth had trouble tearing me away.

All around us we heard the chirping of Arctic Ground Squirrels, a kind of miniature marmot or groundhog.  We finally spotted one, the cutest little round thing, all plump and ready for hibernation in the not-too-distant future.

Arctic Ground Squirrel, Unalaska

At the point where the ‘trail’ (you mostly just go up where you feel like it) turned off the road and started to climb more, we met two crew members off a ship that had just docked, out to stretch their legs and enjoy the sunshine just like us.  They were headed down so we just chatted for a few minutes and continued up the hill.  Before too long the slope got steeper and the ridge narrower until we were headed up a knife-edge.  The last few dozen yards flattened out, although the ridge was still precipitous on either side.

Ellen hiking on Unalaska

Then we were atop Pyramid Peak, surveying a 360-degree panorama of Unalaska.  There was Dutch Harbor and its container ships and the bay beyond.  The town and the small boat harbor lay below us and behind us stretched fold after fold of untouched tundra peaks.

Dutch Harbor seen from Pyramid Peak

Dutch Harbor seen from Pyramid Peak

Seth atop Pyramid PeakWe were sure to sign the summit log, a nice record of the hikers that had come before us and what they’d encountered and thought.  It was stored with a pen in an old WWII mortar container, a small vestige of the war in a place that was very touched by it: Dutch Harbor was bombed; the Aleut people were evacuated; and soldiers were stationed there.  The two outermost Aleutian islands, Attu and Kiska were occupied by the Japanese and saw some very heavy fighting, mostly forgotten in the history books as it came at the same time as the better known Guadalcanal.  This history is everywhere on Unalaska if you look for it, though.  Even our friends’ house is built mostly of wood left over from the disused barracks.

Then it was time to climb down, pick a few more blueberries, and head back to Celeste.

8 thoughts on “Wonderful introduction to Unalaska Island!

  1. Started following your blog, so wish we were there, it all sounds and looks amazing!
    Keep writing!!! Mejan from SVCURTSY.COM

  2. We can’t get over the name ‘unalaska’ – must be a story there!? Love the otter and marmot like beastie, and the grand landscape.

    • Aren’t they cute?!
      I think ‘Unalaska’ is an Anglicized version of the Aleut name for the island. The Native corporation on the island calls it Ounalashka, but I guess it got simplified by English speakers(?)

    • Just looked it up on Wikipedia and it turns out Ounalashka is itself a Russian corruption of the Aleut name nawan Alaskax. Centuries of history in that name, just like on the island!

  3. Your adventures and photography are really amazing. You live and explore at the edge of the world and I find that so interesting. Thank you for sharing all of this.