A short week on Attu

With a favorable weather forecast, we flew in Reeve’s Lockheed L-188 Electra from Anchorage, stopping for fuel on Adak before arriving at Attu.  Flying away from a modern international airport, out along the Aleutian chain in the vintage Electra was like passing from one era, through cloud, to another place in time. Arriving at Attu completed the journey into the past.  The paved airstrip was in a valley nestled between mountains and Casco Cove.  The end of the airstrip was corrugated steel (Marsden Matting), very much the way it must have been when hastily built during WWII.  There was a US Coast Guard LORAN-C navigational station (now closed) which provided the rationale for any post-WWII inhabitants in this otherwise barren land.  The airstrip is strictly self service, though the USCG was kind enough to bring over an end-loader to assist with unloading our cargo. Once unloading was complete and the Electra was off into the cloud, the only sounds were the winds and the excited chatter of the group of bird watchers that I was traveling with.

The only habitable buildings remaining on the island are the old USCG LORAN-A station and the new LORAN-C station.  The old station’s buildings at Casco Cove served as Attour’s base camp for the 20 years they ran annual birding trips to the island.  The walls recorded the many record setting sightings by the birders, and the buildings themselves had seen many creative repairs and modifications by the Attour staff over the years. Conditions were basic, but our needs were well met.  Attour recognized the need for calories to fuel the rugged hiking and biking necessary to experience this desolate land and kept us very well fed.  One might picture something of M*A*S*H and Gilligan’s Island, though well away from the tropics!

While the primary attraction for Attour’s guests is the phenomenal birdwatching afforded by this island, my interest was mainly in the island’s history.  I had 5 full days of hiking amongst the myriad remains of the US military presence during WWII.  The buildup to defend this remote location was rapid, and the excess in material was striking: the low tide exposing all manner of things dumped into the sea.  Hiking in the hills yielded the remains of aircraft that crashed due mainly to the severe conditions, though I did not get far enough to see the P-38 Lightning that was out there.  The valleys were littered with the remains of towns and life during wartime.

Next: Homer and Kachemak Bay


Flying to Attu requires good weather, but predicting weather in the Aleutian islands is a difficult business.  The normal procedure for Reeves is to call out to Adak and Attu to check conditions early in the morning and then make a decision to fly or not.  The flight is about 1800 miles and took about 6.5 hours, stopping for fuel on Adak which is about 2/3rds down the Aleutian chain.  With few alternatives to land, you don’t want to get out there and be unable to land, or take off to return to Anchorage.

Reeves canceled the flight the first day, so I rented a car and headed off toward Mt Denali, stopping along the way at Talkeetna which is a bit of a hang-out for climbers, bush pilots, and other interesting folk.  I found the cemetery’s unique grave markers interesting.

Next: A short week on Attu

A few impressions of Alaska

The following images come from some of the dozens that I snapped during a visit to Alaska in June 2000. They don’t do justice to the sense of scale that Alaskan lands convey, but should at least offer hints at some of the things that I found to be of interest while I was there. The trip covered three primary areas: Attu Island, the western-most island in the Aleutian chain; Homer and Kachemak Bay on the Kenai peninsula; and Seward and the Kenai Fjords, on the other side of the Kenai. Before getting to Attu there was an unplanned side adventure that took me to Talkeetna on the way to Denali. Many of these notes are being written during the summer of 2013, so the arts of time and memory have doubtless been at play.

The photos were taken with a 1.3 megapixel Olympus D-450 Zoom and represent the limitations of both my experience and the fact that I only had an 8MB and 16MB SmartMedia card to capture a 3 week trip.  No laptop at the time either, so I recall squinting at the little display at night trying to edit the collection.  Clearly photography was not a priority at that time.  Thankfully, times and my equipment list have changed!

An overview of the trip alaska-2000

Because travel to Attu requires a great deal of specialized preparation, I am very grateful to Larry Balch’s Attour for making my visit possible. Sadly, due mainly to the closure of the USCG’s LORAN station on Attu, the trips Attour ran are now no longer feasible. Here is an earlier trip report from Attour to give some additional perspective and flavor of what these trips were like.  The Aleutian’s Homepage offers a large amount of historical and current information about the Aleutian islands, including an account by Russ Marvin of this same June 2000 trip.  The site includes a wide variety of WWII-related content.

First day: Talkeetna and Denali
Next: A short week on Attu
Next: Homer and Kachemak Bay
Next: Kenai Fjords and Exit glacier near Seward