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Barry Tessman
    From the Field
  Braving the "Birthplace of the Winds"
Dispatches From an Aleutian Adventure

Kayaking rough seas off Alaska's Aleutian chain, writer Jon Bowermaster and three teammates are attempting a circumnavigation of the "little-visited, underexplored" Islands of Four Mountains archipelago.

Along the way they'll find time to scale snowcapped volcanic peaks—and to keep in touch with ADVENTURE Online.

Note: ADVENTURE Online does not edit or research dispatches.

Pre-Expedition Dispatch:
"The Adventure of Our Lives"
June 1999

What we know about the Islands of Four Mountains is limited to references in a few nautical books and 150-year-old Russian histories. On the border of the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean, one thousand miles [1,609 kilometers] west of Anchorage, they are little-visited, underexplored.

The few things we do know demand respect. To the Aleuts, who in the past buried their mummified elders here, these islands are known as both the "birthplace of the winds" and the birthplace of their people.

We anticipate not only big, unpredictable winds but strong currents and tidal rips. Good landing spots will be few. Our camps will be rocky, wet, and cold. For every day we spend paddling, we expect to spend another day zippered in our tents, due to wind and rain and fog.

But we also expect some incredible beauty: snowcapped mountains rising above the fog under a setting sun, waterfalls spilling into deep ravines, the brown island grass turning green, flowers blooming.

Locals in Dutch Harbor, 150 miles [241 kilometers] east of here, keep telling us, "You'll have your hands full out there." We're expecting the adventure of our lives, and we want you to experience it with us. So bookmark this page and check back for new dispatches from the field.

Message 1: Eve of the Expedition
June 13, 1999

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We've been remarking the last couple weeks, as we traveled north, how long it takes just to get to the place where we begin our expedition...Tomorrow we charter a fishing boat, carrying us another 25 miles [40 kilometers] to finally arrive in the Island of Four Mountains...It promises to be a big adventure, so I'll keep calling.

Message 2: Arrival
June 15, 1999

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We arrived on Kagamil Island yesterday morning. It took about 15 hours by...charter boat from Dutch Harbor through very rough seas—very ominous...picked up a local guide at the Indian village of Nikolski...came out with us to show us good camping spots...

When we were unloading the kayaks, one of our hatch covers blew off...and Sean, one of my teammates, probably without thinking too fast or too long, dove in after the hatch cover—dove into the Bering Sea, temperature about 38 [3C]...

Message 3: First Crossing
June 15, 1999

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Today we made our first crossing by kayak from Kagamil Island to Uliaga Island. After travelling all that way from California...after a month being out of boats, we were happy just to be back in the sea kayak. [We were a] little nervous because we were crossing a fast-moving current in the Bering Sea...

I think we are all extremely pleased and a little bit relaxed now that we've actually made one of these seven crossings that we'll make during the course of a month.

Message 4: Fickle Skies
June 20, 1999

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...Two days ago we paddled the west coast of Kagamil Island...under bright sunshine with hordes of puffins and murres and pigeon guillemots flying all around us. Couldn't have been more beautiful...we made camp near the nest of a couple of bald eagles.

Yesterday we made an attempt to climb the volcano on Kagamil...very harsh conditions...after that, it rained for 12 hours and blew, so we were happy to stay in our tents for...almost a full day. And again the sun is out...

Message 5: "Dangerous" Crossing
June 24, 1999

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We had our biggest crossing of the trip the other day...not knowing if we'd even be able to make it...Kagamil Island...It was some ways those conditions were better, because we knew that the wind would be a little less.

...the seas were just a mess...swells...winds...tides flooding, and we were just hard as we could...I can remember shouting to Barry [Tessman, a teammate], "Hey, how's the weather?!" His response was simple: "Dangerous."

Message 6: "A World War II Plane"
June 24, 1999

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It's day 11...we've gotten the Aleutian weather we anticipated all along: wet, windy, and cold. We've been stuck in our tent for about 48 hours...Quite a difference from the other day, when we were fishing in short sleeves.

Today we did take a big hike...We discovered a World War II plane—probably had flown out of Kodiak and had been shot down and crash-landed here on Chuginadak Island....

Message 7: "Our Wildest Days"
July 9, 1999

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Probably our wildest days of adventure were left for the last days of our 25-day trip....we got out in the middle of a pretty strong current...swamping the was a good ride. What we expected to be the homestretch was a monstrous wind...Mother Nature was not making that last day easy for us.

...They had record snows in Alaska...but it was soft because of the volcano beneath it. We got to the top of Mount Cleveland and...we could see all of the Islands of Four Mountains and all of the routes we had paddled distinctly. The islands there were like jewels in the middle of the blue Bering Sea...It made the end of the trip quite spectacular.


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