Thursday, May 31, 2012

Islands of the Four Mountains

Sea Kayaking to, between and around the Islands of the Four Mountains was the most breathtaking, stage of the journey so far.
The Aleutian Islands opened the gates for us and allowed us to pass into what has to be one of the most exposed, daunting, spiritual and beautiful places in the world.
As a paddler, this is the pinnacle and our window of opportunity allowed us to view the raw nature in this extreme environment, in tranquil calm, for at least an hour and half!
A quick break off the water as we watched the whole sky clear, with vivid blue encompassing everywhere...
Those photo's (and our other best shots and and footage) are being saved for the presentation and publications

We just could not believe our luck!  
52 nautical miles one day, and some excessive currents (rarely in our favour), pushing ourselves to the absolute limit, Nikolski to Adugak Island, spot some puffins eat a meal then over to Kagamil Island, round to the Steam Jets and caves... across over to Chuginadak Island by 10pm, up the coast to camp for darkness at 11pm.

A more regular distance the following day spending plenty of time exploring, taking pictures, and just bathing in the sunlight...
Our second sunset of the expedition took place as we ate our Mountain House freeze dried meals, on Herbert Island, Wednesday 23rd May..
Wondering how long our luck would last, we made plans for another pushing day on the Thursday, the forecast through from Karel Vissel sounded a little challenging, but we'd see in the morning.

Keirron & George


Kitted out in our Kokatat Expedition drysuits, with Ronin Pro PFD's we had the best possible protection from the Bering Sea, as always an absolute pleasure to wear. Practically and psychologically, a massive part of the expedition, absolutely watertight. I've been paddling Kokatat for over 12 years now, and i'm continuously impressed with the cut and performance.
The modern hood and baffle system on the expedition suits were perfect. Allowing a large range of vision with warmth and complete protection, we're extremely impressed (and thankful)!

We also used the Kokatat Storm Cag daily at breaks, and initially on the water too when conditions were particularly adverse. Immediate warmth. The paddling jackets were a great asset on land, and so light to wear.  Without a doubt a drysuit is one of the most essential pieces of kit for training and journeying in intermediate and advanced sea conditions, for both safety and comfort.



We been using Suunto deck compass since Vancouver Island 2007 Expedition, where Leon Somme also fitted a red LED for us, well used during that record circumnavigation. The deck compass was essential for the continuous crossings and varying visibility during this Aleutians 2012 Expedition, and the stunning Suunto Core watches with Barometer, thermometer, compass... invaluable in monitoring the pressure systems and giving early warning of incoming storms.
Paddling comfortably (perhaps swiftly would be a more accurate term) from Nikolski with a high pressure of 1028 for a period, we knew that we needed to make absolute use of this 'unheard-of' window in the rapidly changing patterns we had experienced.

Camped on Herbert Island, the storm warning went off frequently through what seemed another potential crossing day... Our Suunto Core watches allowed us to balance up what conditions were forecast, what we could see, and what we could expect...
The pressure kept dropping rapidly, eventually levelling at 972, it also gave us something to focus on, apart from huddling in the tent, as the wind and lashing rain did its best to rip us from our hide!

One of the main pieces of advice given to us both by Nigel Dennis, get a barometer and start using it. I'm very happy to share that piece of knowledge with everyone who has not made this discovery.


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Waiting it out

It's been a very windy and wet few days in the Aleutian Islands, and I can only imagine the bilge pump visible on George's back deck in some of his photos has come in handy in the tent.

The weather is improving (or about to - small craft advisory persists through Wednesday night) somewhat, though of course sea state takes a while longer to lose energy. Here's a shot of that big low pressure system moving east (mbar pressure).

And isocontours of sea state (in meters) following along.
Quick review of "Significant wave height" since there is at least one oceanography class following along. As it says in the top left corner of the diagram, this is an average of the highest third of the waves. Out where the wave heights are big this means the largest third of the waves averages 9,5 meters -- 31 feet -- suggesting maximum wave heights might reach 12,5 to 13 m (43 feet).

Fortunately along the islands where we're focused the significant wave height is 3 m and dropping, suggesting a maximum height of 4 meters (13 feet).

The Puk-Uk has been checking in with the guys from time to time as they ferry scientists and other passangers between Adak and Dutch, once I have an update of course I will post it here.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday night/Monday weather prognosis: more wind, rain

A second low pressure cell replaces the first. From "Alaska Weather" TV channel:


Update 2012-05-28 04:36 CEST: just got a note from Keirron, and all is well within the Islands of the Winds. Sounds like it's a very good thing they have a proper tent on this adventure!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

982 mb low just off the Aleutians

Looks like the high winds peak today or tomorrow as the low pressure system moves 100 NM west of Unalaska by Monday afternoon. For now a gale warning remains through the region, and I'm seeing gusts to 55 knots recorded from nearby weather stations.

The sea state will continue to be pretty significant for days after the system blows through. Meanwhile ... good hiking George and Keirron.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Horrendous horizons revisited

About an hour and a half after my last post Keirron SMSd that they are, in fact, pinned on Herbert Island at the same scenic campsite they found back on the 23rd. So, optimism corrected, here is a picture of their likely hang-out for the next few days.

The winds, true to form and namesake, are pretty stout and forecast to last another five days (after which time the sea state will still be huge). This low pressure system might peak late this weekend; here is Karel's forecast Sunday:

sun mrng noon sse to se 30 to 45 knts aft se 30 to 45 knts gusts 45 to 50 knts seas 3 to 4.50 mtr frm sw

These forecasts are usually for open ocean; locally on the islands these winds can accelerate, or, with large enough temperature gradient, become the katabatic winds (as George calls them "special winds") they encountered the first day out from Dutch Harbor.

We'll keep the updates coming as we get them, but look for this green pin not to move for a bit.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Horrendous horizons

No word yet from Yunaska Island where G&K were targeting to spend last night, but it's normal not to get a daily update. They were camped on the very tip of Herbert Island, collecting more amazing photos, hoping for a couple more crossings before the weather turns. Here comes today's guess - possibly optimistic - at progress:

The nearby research ship M/V Tiglax (TEKH-lah - Aleut for eagle), on hearing Keirron and George were westbound from Herbert, had this reply (in economical-but-hard-to-read CamelCase SMS code):

They have most excellent connections! And that "SE30" the message mentions at the end? Here comes a stout low pressure system (as Karel has been forecasting):

Yesterday the wind began swinging counter-clockwise around the dial from the east and northeasterlies, then blowing from the NNE, and today they have come up gusting to 25 knots from the northwest. The swell is 1 to 2 meters from the northeast still, but that will follow wind direction soon.

Birthplace Of The Winds, indeed.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Long day followed by "rest day"

The day after leaving Nikolski two motivated and well-fueled paddlers took advantage of good conditions to put 50 NM in the bank. Spent a lovely eve in Applegate Cove. Just got another SMS from Keirron calling today a 'rest and photography day' - only good for 20 miles. Camped on the tip of Herbert Island.
I will post updated charts after work, but wanted to share the lads big thanks to their support crew!

And here are the updates...

...few big sections coming up.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

leaving Nikolski

We head out from Nikolski in just over an hour. Our many grateful thanks again to the Nikolski community, and also special thanks to Scott Kerr and family, for their kindness and support.
We're sad to be leaving such great characters, but delighted to be getting back on the water and journeying further West into the Aleutian chain.

We're making for the Islands of the Four Mountains, an area which will challenge us even further.
The adventures between Unalaska and here have each been further training for this section of the trip. We're carrying enough provisions and safety kit to aid us through this, with a little bit of luck from the weather...

Hope your enjoying the pics and updates, be in touch when we can
All the best
Keirron & George

Monday, May 21, 2012

Dancing Sea Otters - Umnak

We left Unalaska behind us, and made the crossing over to Umnak Island
a last view over the shoulder prior to rounding Paso Point and paddling further down the coast than previously planned to allow for the flooding tide and favourable wind direction.
 True to forecast (Karel Vissel at Kayak Weather updates us twice a day via the sat phone) - the wind dropped (from 30 knots down to 15) by the time we headed out into Umnak Pass.
Some reasonable swell and Overfalls, then puffins galore and the sea went smooth... Landed at Fort Glenn, abandoned village, and decided to spend the next day looking round. Next morning was low visibility and raining, so we paddled instead. Turned into quite an endurance performance.

Much of Umnak we have viewed in those conditions, with brief respites at rocky headlands. Extensive black sandy beaches, a total contrast to Unalaska. Some phenomenal sections of stacks, caves and sea arches though.
I think both our favourite area was Inanudak Bay, a huge inlet with little bays, and as we paddled into it there were three sea otters 'dancing' in the kelp. We just gazed at them, and I knew by the time I got the camera out, I'd have missed the show. Loads of life in here, hundreds of Puffins, a few Grey Seals.
 Herds of Reindeer on Umnak Island, as well as cattle, all of which suffered heavy losses during the previous very harsh winter. The spring is coming though, and green shoots are poking through, birds are chirping, and we got another unexpected quick break in the weather.
It was 8pm, and we were ready to finish for the day, when the sun came out, (the wind was still doing its thing) and the rain had stopped. We dashed in to land, pulled the tent and kit out, and got everything drying... Its light till 11pm here, and we got about a hour and half before the wind brought the next wave of cloud through.
 Camped right beneath Mount Vsevidof (6510ft) was very exciting, so I got up early, grabbed the tripod and headed into the foothills above camp. There I was videoing the Eagles circling above, a unusual still ness had decended on the area, and then close at hand I heard the sharp bark of a fox. There are actually two in this above : )
one of whom came close, then curled up nearby and had a snooze!
We passes a few more Grey Seals (Umnak seemed to have Grey's rather than Common Seals) but much less habitat for Sea Otters, and just the occasional sighting of Stella Sea Lions.
After the following quarterly sea prior to Seaweed Pass, paddling into Nikolski Bay was serene.

A few gentle miles of flat water, allowing us time to adjust our minds back to land, people and the impressive, friendly and totally honest generosity and hospitality we have be received since entering Alaska.
Scott Kerr (above) invited us into his home and gave us some much needed sustenance. Scott's wife Agrafina is on the village council, and filled me in on how Nikolski works.
 Village elders run the tribal council, making decisions for the 17 permanant habitants here. They are a self-funding community, not government subsidised, and very resourceful.
We have been blown away by the whole picture, and deeply indebted to Nikolski for its support. 

Keirron & George

Unalaska - glimpses

A few more pics from Unalaska, as we journeyed from winter towards spring...
'the world at my feet'
'special places likely only seen like this very occasionally'
I remember this day well, the wind was light : ) off the water by 5pm.
a breathtaking Aleutian morning - literally
Stella Sea Lion haul-outs along the way. Like Sea Otters they are protected by federal law and any disturbance of them is strictly prohibited.
(believe me, if you've seen a lone bull sea lion rise up in front of the kayak out in the swell, its huge flanks making a bow wave as it dives beneath you, approaching a group of them is hardly inviting)
tried for a team pick at a break round a sheltered finger of rock...
The view from above our camp site - the wind can go from 40 knots to 5 within a hour or two.
Most of what we had were 'wind seas' with a little bit of swell.
This was how we saw many of the Sea Otters, others were swimming on their backs, tiny furry bundles lying on their bellies... so cute!
Unalaska has sections of 'fingers of rock' reaching out, with deep bays and inlets between them, the ideal places to funnel wind... We relished the delightful solid few days of constant pressure from driving our kayaks up each bay, then a steep ferry angle for 1-2 miles with a strong offshore wind, then turn and run with the wind to the end, a brief section of shelter, then do it again.
At each sheltered rocky headland, there would typically be sea otters playing in the kelp, balancing their little uns on their bellies, or peeking at us. We counted 50-60 sea otters each day along the Unalaska coast, marking off sightings on the maps, as well as Sea Lion haul outs, and occasional sightings of common seals.
more pics to follow : )

Unalaska - things change fast

Landed at Nikolski this afternoon about one... Paddled 200 plus miles (as the kayak paddles) and we've experienced a lot. Billy had told us to look up Scott Kerr. First person we meet on the beach..  : )
Looking a bit different for exposure to the elements along our journey so far, but on great form! We make an excellent working team, and not a cross word between us the whole way.
A few pics describe the Aleutians as we've experienced them, on the few occasions when the wind dropped and rain stopped, I went wild with the camera, and the Islands look stunning.
Goodbye to Billy, Colette and Jake who are headed for Umnak, at
 Dutch Harbor - docked with the Deadliest Catch vessel Seabrooke, astern of the Puk uk.
 spent a few hours in the Museum of the Aleutians, learning about where it all began...
There have been folk living here for over 9000 years, making it on par with the oldest settlements known.
 George is interviewed by Stephanie, on the dock, before we set off on stage 2 of our adventure.
Here's a link to the Interview with Stephanie at KUCB FM  before we left;

 wind had dropped to 25 knots, so we set off at 1pm, Thursday 10th May 2012.
 Saw an amazing array of wildlife within that first afternoon, a raft of sea otters, foxes, a sea eagle taking a cormorant on the wing (right above our heads), quite a challenging headwind throughout, driving the snow in our faces...
The wind picked up rapidly, and as we fought our way slowly along the coast, down came the katabatic wind (locally known as a willowaw, or George's term 'special winds') got pretty exciting, and certainly time to camp : )
 Quite a lot of snow over the first three days, and less there after, it is pretty chilly too, especially at night.
Although we've had a fair share of wind, snow and then rain as we progressed, our experience day one was  the strongest gusts. I had adjusted to the fact that this was to be our lot for the next few weeks, but things change fast here, for good and for challenge.

More pics coming soon.
Keirron & George