*This is the first post about the onshore part of this project, which is being posted after the actual field work since we didn’t have internet while on the island.
June 22, 2015
We woke up on the RV Thompson and packed our bags. Most of the deployment cruise team was flying home today but Georgie and I were going to ride Grant Aviation’s mail flight to Nikolski and would be dropped off at Fort Glenn afterward as the plane made its way back to Dutch Harbor, at least that was how it was supposed to go. One of our students, Marah Dahn, was going solo hiking and camping on Unalaska Island in between the deployment and recovery cruises (we all questioned her about doing this, but she was intent that she was 100% okay going solo); Marah made an early start since it wasn’t raining and we passed by her on the way to the airport:
We were all a little bit apprehensive at the small Dutch Harbor airport since we had heard the tales of people being stranded there for days when the weather gets bad and the incoming flights stop arriving, and hence can’t take people back to Anchorage. We also knew that our Grant Aviation flight over to Umnak was going to be a gamble with the weather. Fingers were crossed that it would all work out. We were supposed to leave at 10 AM but fairly soon after getting there Steve at the Grant desk told us we would be on a latter flight and not the mail flight. “Come back later and i’ll have a more specific time”. After a little wait we found out we would be leaving close to noon and would be going over with two of the ranch hands, Dale and Neil. Not knowing what would be awaiting us at the ranch, we decided to scarf down some lunch quickly in the airport’s only restaurant, a bar-pub with both pan-Asian and standard American offerings. Soon we were told the plane was ready, and most importantly that the 20 or so medium-size boxes perishable food we had ordered from Safeway had arrived. A big thank-you to Abe, the manager of Dutch Harbor Safeway, for making this happen on time. Here’s shot of Grant Aviation’s Piper Navajo that was flying us to Fort Glenn:
Soon enough, Dale, Neil, Georgie and me were packed into the small plane along with our food and luggage and we were taxing down the runway:
Despite being the smallest plane i’ve ever flown in, the ride was super nice and we had some great views of Unalaska’s northern coastline as we flew along the edge of the Bering Sea. Here’s a photo showing the edge of Makushin volcano on Unalaska:
The flight was much less than an hour and pretty soon were were circling around the airstrips at Fort Glenn. During WWII the army built three airstrips there, but only one of them is currently in use. Here’s us looping around with the runway visible in the distant background:
The landing was really smooth and at the far end of the runway there were a few angry looking cows that were staring down the plane. Dale had warned us that the cows on Umnak are really wild and hate people.
Dale also told us there would be a bus waiting for us at the airstrip, and sure enough there was indeed a bus waiting for us. Here’s Dale driving the bus:
Apparently the military brought this off-road capable bus over several years ago during a cleanup campaign for some portion of the ruins at Fort Glenn. Here’s a video of our landing:
Here’s Neil and Georgie after we loaded the bus:
We said a brief thank you and goodbye to the pilot and he took off for Dutch Harbor to pickup the rest of the team and Paul’s MT gear:
And we took off on the bus for the few mile drive over to the Bering Pacific Ranch compound:
We were staying in the “camp house” part of the ranch, which is basically three trailers attached to each other in a giant U-shape. Standing at the open end of the U, the left trailer is a kitchen trailer with attached cook’s quarters, the middle trailer is a bath trailer and the right trailer has several bunk rooms. A giant sturdy Aleutian-winter-proof roof was put over the trailers and the open end was covered with a sturdy garage door. Here’s what it looks like from the outside. The white building on the right is the camp house and the red building on the left is the old slaughter house:
Here’s what the open area in the middle of the U looked like when we arrived. All those wrapped up packages are the science equipment, non-perishable food and cooking supplies we had sent over in May on the Island Packer. Behind that is an old Ford F-600 truck that looked like it needed some serious repair work.
The camp house was a mess when we arrived, but you could tell that with some effort sweeping away all the tephra dirt, piles and piles of dead large green flies and scrubbing away all the mold from the fridges, walls, ceilings and toilets that we would be living way more comfortably than expected for field work in a remote location. Georgie and I quickly set about cleaning up the kitchen and fridges so we could unpack the food; meanwhile Dale and Neil set about getting the generator and water heaters working.
Pretty soon the fridges and pantry were looking quite robust and ready to feed a large team for a few weeks:
Back in Dutch Harbor, the rest of the onshore field team boarded Grant Aviation’s Piper Navajo for the flight over to Fort Glenn. From left to right, here’s Ninfa Bennington, the pilot, Summer Ohlendorf, Paul Bedrosian and Matt Haney looking stoked to finally be on the flight to Umnak (photo taken by the remaining team member Tim Parker):
Once the rest of the team arrived at the camp house, we decided who would be staying in each room and then everyone set about cleaning the rooms and getting the camp set up as our field base. Here’s Ninfa and Matt with Tulik volcano in the background; Tulik is a very photogenic old flank vent that sticks out from the southern side of Okmok volcano’s caldera rim:Matt, Ninfa and Tim getting the seismic gear sorted out with Tulik in the background:
Later our helicopter pilot, Sam Egli, and his mechanic, Sean, flew into the camp on their Bell Jet Ranger III. It had been a long day for everyone so we decided to go for an easy dinner and cooked frozen pizza’s in the camp’s propane oven:
Here’s Summer, Sam and Ninfa at the tail end of dinner:
It pretty soon became apparent that this was going to be a good team of people to work with and that everyone was going to get along well. After dinner we strategized about how we would begin the field operations the next day. I think its safe to say everyone was super excited to get started. I had trouble falling asleep that first night, as I just wanted to savor every moment of finally being on the island, finally about to start the helicopter flights into the caldera, and finally an end to the long months of project planning and the beginning of a new adventure.