By Mike Mannelin, Explorebigsky.com Columnist
It’s almost midnight in Port Moller, Ala., and the wind
has been blowing a steady 40 knots for a couple days
straight. The small window in the bedroom overlooks
what should be a busy fish cannery this time of year.
Instead, through the dusky light, I see ice. This isn’t
your average hockey rink ice. It looks more like we
accidentally landed the plane, a DeHavilland Beaver,
somewhere in Antarctica.
The large dock that is usually lined with 40-foot gillnet
fishing boats is trying its hardest to hold its ground
against the icebergs. Broken pilings and missing timbers
seem to suggest that it’s not faring too well.
When we left Kodiak last week, we had heard stories
about the recent ice conditions. After spending ski
season in Big Sky and Haines, Ala., we were ready for
the winter temperatures and the wind.
We took off from the Kodiak airport with cloudy skies
and headed to the opposite end of the island to look at
the weather. Crossing the Shelikof Strait in a single engine
plane is a bit nerve wracking. We had clouds down
to about 800 feet, not so good to make the crossing.
Our pilot Paul considered turning around and heading
back, but he wanted to climb to see if we could get
above them. We started circling near Karluk, a village
on Kodiak’s southwest corner. Up we went, to 3,000
feet, 5,000 feet, 7,500 feet—still solid clouds. We
finally saw blue at 11,500 feet, so we headed across.
As we flew down the southern shore of the Alaska
Peninsula, the skies cleared a bit, giving us a view of
the mountains and volcanoes that make up the terrain.
We flew over the airstrip to check the conditions in
Chignik, a small fishing village. There was still snow
on the runway. We cut across the peninsula, traveling
down the shore of the Bering Sea the rest of the way.
The clouds on the north side were low, so we flew
at around 1,000 feet. Below, we began to see ice
covering the Bering Sea. As we passed by Bear
Lake, our final destination later this month, it
was completely frozen over. We landed in a few
inches of snow on the gravel runway at P ort
Soon after we unloaded the plane, a couple of
four wheelers with
trailers showed up to
pick us up. We drove
down the beach, staring
out at the Bering
Sea and the 60 miles
of ice that stretched
out to the horizon.
The Department of
Fish and Game has
four houses at the
cannery, and they
serve as the headquarters
for the areas commercial fishing opera –
tions. With everything still frozen, we used small
generators for power and began collecting runoff
water to filter for drinking and cooking.
Now, with each tide change, the ice breaks up
a little more. The winds are blowing out of the
southeast, so we may be seeing the ice push off
We’ve missed at least three supply barges so f ar.
With fishing season just around the corner, the
fishermen have been missing shipments, too.
They will be waiting for critical supplies like new
engines and nets to make their seasons profitable.
The locals are saying that they haven’t had sea
ice like this in more than 75 years. When the
weather finally heats up a bit, we will be happy to
get to our camp and start counting fish. F or now,
we’re happy to be able to be here f or such a rare
event. It’s a beautiful, amazing spectacle that we
feel lucky to watch every day.
Mike Mannelin is a skier with roots in Minnesota,
Montana and Alaska. He gains his inspiration in
life by spending time in the mountains with friends.
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