May 31, 2023
The Endeavour anchored near Aniakchak, early in the season.
I’m on the Endeavour, anchored in Aniakchak Bay on the south side of the Alaska Peninsula. It’s 0530 and the wind is blowing 15 knots from the northwest off the five-mile-long beach. The fetch is short enough that the wind waves are negligible, and the swell from the ocean is blocked by Cape Kumlik. The clouds are low and dark but broken, with streaks of bright blue showing through. It's 36 degrees outside. There are few trees and the grass is still brown from winter. The river that empties in front of us starts in the caldera of the Aniakchak volcano, 22 miles upstream. I’ve anchored here before and happen to know there are dinosaur footprints in the rocks on the cliffs off to my right. Three toes. Hadrosaur, we think, somewhere between 86 and 66 million years old.
My guitar-playing stepson, Chris, is the only other person on board, not including Bella the boat dog. They’re both still asleep below. We left Homer a week ago (we’ve seen a total of two boats since) and will be in the village of Chignik Bay this evening. During the fishing season, Chignik has 60 or so people. We have friends there.
Chris will fly home from Chignik and a few days later and another crew person will join the boat.
We’re starting something new with Alaska Endeavour this season. Along with our professional research expeditions, we will start running expeditions for high school students. The idea is to take six students and a faculty member on a 12-day expedition to a remote wilderness site and have them do a benchmark study – basically a census of the animals, birds, fish, plants, and geology of the place. When they get home, they write up their findings in a research paper, which we publish. The kids get an author credit for their college applications and our friends in the conservation community get the data.
I think, too, that every one of those students is going to appreciate wilderness and natural history for the rest of their lives. Some may be inspired to become scientists. I hope all of them become scientifically literate advocates for conservation.
We have our first student expedition at the end of August, picking the kids and their teacher up in Kodiak and taking them to Kukak Bay (Chris and I just spent a couple of days exploring there). We’re looking to do eight of these student expeditions next season. Financially, how it works is that the kids pay half the cost and we look to donors for the matching funds. If you are interested in seeing our curriculum, send me an email.
Sarah Gordon, a retired teacher who for years led Sierra Club trips in Alaska is managing the student expeditions and will crew on the first one. Sarah and I have been friends for 53 years.
Over the next couple of weeks, though, we’ll be making our way out to False Pass, cutting through the peninsula into the Bering Sea, then head north and east to Dillingham in Bristol Bay, where we pick up a television crew to film walruses for a month. Then we head to the Arctic to recover whale-tracking hydrophones for a large conservation society, and then head back south Kodiak to pick up the high school students. We’ll wrap up our season heading down the Lost Coast, from Prince William Sound, stopping at Kayak Island, Icy Bay, and Yakutat, ducking into the Alexander Archipelago at Glacier Bay, then continuing down to Admiralty Island for two back-to-back whale-monitoring expeditions in November. It will be a 5,000-nautical-mile season, not including side trips.
Right now, I have to wake up Chris, raise the anchor, and point us west.
My favorite book on the human and natural history of this section of the Alaska Peninsula is The People of the Volcanos, by Michelle Morseth, published in 2003 by the National Park Service. It’s a detailed and authoritative study, beautifully illustrated and laid out. My thanks to Chickie Carlson of Chignik for lending me her copy last year. I’ll get it back to her tomorrow.