Thursday, January 29, 2009

from myspace...pribilof islands 2005

September 10, 2007
2005 pribilof islands trek....Current mood: calm
the pribilof islands have always been a place i've wanted to go. it's very remote and a bit pricey to get out there, but well worth it. the islands, especially st paul have been mentioned a great deal in that show about alaskan fisherman on national geographic channel..i think that is where it is. i find the winter is a great time to think of a fun adventure for the next 2005 i decided the trek would be to these islands. i wanted to be able to see both of the major islands out there. the islands sit 300 miles off the western alaskan coast. the fog frequently prevents or delays travel out there. the waters out there can be treacherous and thus the wild tales of crabbers and fisherman out there. deaths and injuries are common out there and getting help is never easy. the way i'd set it up we would fly in to st george, the smaller island and then i'd contacted a fisherman who said he'd take us over to st paul....of course, when you are traveling in alaska you must always be ready for plans to change and for delays to happen.
we were told at the airport not to drink too much coffee or beverage as there wouldn't be a bathroom on the plane and it was a long flight. we did end up stopping in dillingham for fuel and a pit stop. the plane was loud and held maybe 14 passengers. we, me, scott, tanya and sue were the only "tourists" on the plane, everyone else was going to st george for work related reasons. one guy was going to fix something at the little airport, i think most of the others were biologists and a one was a photographer from WWF (world wildlife federation) luckily, though it was a little foggy and cloudy we were able to land on the beautiful island of st george. there are only about 100 people who live there, most of them native alaskans. actually native alaskans didn't live on these islands until the white man moved them there to kill fur seals for the furrier industry.
we hitched a ride with a gentleman who i think was actually at the airport to get us, but you couldn't really tell. he was big in the local native corporation and when he heard how we were supposed to get to st paul i believe he put a stop to it. from rumors we gathered from the biologists that were housed in our little hotel, the fisherman didn't have survival suits for this many passengers and if the coast gaurd caught wind of what he was trying there would be big trouble. we didn't know this for a bit as we just kept trying to get ahold of this dude and weren't able to.
in the meantime we settled in to our hotel,which was very cute and comfy. they had a modern kitchen downstairs that you could do your cooking in and it was a great gathering place. we felt like we had the best tour guides ever. there were several biologists there and the wwf guys and they were all excited to tell us all about the wildlife on the island and where we could meander and all that.
the waters were totally calm that first day, some of the biologists put kayaks in the water...we were a bit jealous!! i was happy to beach comb and there were hundreds and hundreds of intact sea urchin shells all over the place. they were 3+ inches in diameter. i gathered as many as i felt i could safely take back with me. they are so fragile. several of them and other shells i've collected over the years are now in my coffee table. i love that table. it's sunk in and when ross, claralyn,sam and john came up to visit they brought sand from laguna. i added a bit from the beaches of st george and lay the shells in there. it's covered with glass....lest my cats use it as thier litter.
we were able to see our first fur seals that day. i guess i had thought all the fur seals were over on st paul just advertises while st george really doesn't do anything to encourage tourists. the people we saw were friendly enough, but most of the natives stayed close to home, but peeked out their windows at us...i don't think they understood why we were hiking around all the time. the island is just amazing though. green, green, green. there are tons of birds everywhere, puffins, cormorants....cute fox and then the fur seals who were hauled out to have thier babies. there are really no tree's but there are these amazing cliffs. the wild flowers were also blooming everywhere. the biologists were everywhere and they were so nice to us. we had sunday brunch with them.
there were vehicles there, but most of the people rode around in 4 wheelers. gas must be extremely expensive and they sometimes just run out.
the second day we were there we took a walk up to these cliffs. the birds were there in mass numbers, the wind was blowing and the murre's were making us laugh. their call sounds like they are laughing and we all just kept laughing right along with them. the fox scoot around and look for eggs. many of the fox on the aleutians were imported for fox fur farms. these apparently migrated to these remote islands...who knows how?? the fog of the morning cleared though the day and it was just amazingly beautiful. as we came down a cliff to a beach there were more fur seals hauled out. a few biologists were there and we got another private tour and lesson about fur seals. they hang out in harems and they were very quarrelsome bunch. these poor females are trying to deliver thier babies and fight off the other femals. the fox would run through trying to get the placenta's for snacks.
the next day we crossed the island to the other side. i can't recall what the beach was called, but emerald or totally lived up to its name. before we got there we ran into the caribou herd that lives on the island. they were put there and they drive the biologists nuts as there are too many of them. they are damaging the fragile ecosystems. there were bones scattered on this black sand beach...remnants that noone bothers with.
the main biologist gave us a tour of the old fur factory. the waves picked up and by the next day the biologists who had been kayaking on flat calm water were now surfing in dry suits. the bering sea is totally unpredictable.
the wife of the fisherman who left was supposed to take us to st paul made us some halibut was a deliscious peace offering. i made several phone calls and in the end we paid a nominal fee and chartered the plane that flies in from anchorage. it would normally fly from anchorage to st paul to st george and then back to anchorage...we got it to add a trip back to st paul after picking us up. our friend maria was meeting us in st paul. st paul has more of the population, the islands are a bit competitive with each other. st paul has a tour operation and we were somewhat disappointed in it all. they had a crap hotel and fed us at some cafeteria at the airport. it caters mostly to crazy birder folk....we got off the plane there and the tour folks that met us were all, "are you birders" when we said no we got the cold shoulder. this was pretty typical. luckily we found one of the tour guides and stuck ourselves to him. this is a huge place for migratory birds and birders come from across the globe to put check marks in their books for bird speicies. we often made fun of them, even though i love the birds, i am no birder. one guy travels the world just to check off sea gull species. i mean i would at least pick a better bird. gulls are like flying rats!! we did have lovely sightings of puffins and cormorants and there were again many fur seals. we were just spoiled by st georges beauty and relaxed atmosphere. maria was ready to kill us all as she had missed st george and could tell it was the better island. the birders thought us crazy as we again put on our day packs and took off for crazy walks all over the island. we covered it in the days we were there. i always love hiking and exploring new places. it's great hikind these islands too as there are no bears to worry about and the mosquitos are blown off by the wind.
all in all it was another great trip witih a group of super people. we all had a wonderful time and will carry the memories with us always. i'll have to try and post a slide show with pictures from these treks.

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