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