Umnak Island is a magical land of hot springs, mud pots, and geysers all within sight of the incomparably rich Bering Sea. Impossibly green volcanic cliffs and broad valleys full of flowers beckon travelers to explore this fascinating part of Alaska. On this unique adventure we visit the most geothermally active area in Alaska and one of very few places in the world with active geysers. But the Aleutians are so rich in wildlife, natural beauty and human history that the hot water boiling to the surface and the long steaming beaches are only the icing on the cake.
Umnak Island, west of Dutch Harbor, is a remarkably remote and rarely visited island in the eastern Aleutians. Other than the Aleut village of Nikolski on the western end of the island and a lonely ranch at the abandoned Fort Glen, Umnak is all wilderness located within the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Buffeted by storms and cloaked in thick green vegetation, Umnak rises steeply from the Pacific and Bering Seas, providing breeding habitat for sea-birds and marine mammals. Okmok Caldera, which erupted violently in July 2008 dominates the east end of Umnak Island; two steep and dramatic volcanoes dominate the west end. In between lays Geyser Bight, Hot Springs Cove, and an area of rocky ridges, alpine glaciers, lush verdant valleys, and black sand beaches.
After an unforgettable boat ride aboard the Ms Alyssa from Dutch Harbor, complete with whale watching and world-class birding, Captain Jimmer will ferry us to the beach. We will have most of a week to enjoy this exotic destination. The hot springs and geysers heated by nearby volcanic activity are scattered throughout the area. There are warm pools to lounge in, with a bubbling creek in which to cool off. Around each bend of the creek is a new wonder. When the tide recedes there are even hot-springs on the beach so you can relax in a warm bath while dipping your toes in the Bering Sea. Once relaxed and refreshed we can hike inland is search of fumeroles and geysers. Some of the geysers are capable of throwing rocks meters into the air!
When not gawking at the geothermal attractions we can relish in the flora and fauna. The mild maritime climate creates an explosion of flowers each summer, head-high beach grasses and mats of berries. Without bears to prey upon them, the island’s reindeer population flourishes and we are likely to see them grazing on the mountainsides.
The weather in the region is legendary. The temperatures are not extreme but the wind can be extraordinarily strong, whipping the sea into a maelstrom; rain and fog are common. For some, the dramatic weather and the ever-changing sky are reason enough to travel to these little rocky islands in the middle of the enormous ocean.
In addition to the wildlife and wild geology, this trip will introduce you to the long and fascinating human history of the area. Aleut (Unangan) people have lived on Umnak for 12,000 years and their history and history is worthy of study. The modern ranching, fishing and military history of the area also add interest and depth to our trip. We will provide a selection of relevant books but perusing the reading list below will add to your enjoyment of the trip.
After a very successful exploratory trip in 2011 we are eager to return to this fascinating area. This is an extremely remote area almost never visited by tourists and we are eager to discover its beauty with you. Because of the fickle weather, we have a plan A, B, and C, but we may need to develop plans D through G. We have numerous contacts in the area and a wealth of experience leading groups in remote areas. If delayed by weather we will find interesting and exciting things to do while we wait for an opportunity to travel. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
What follows is a general flow of events. Expect the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.
Meet in Unalaska Dutch Harbor for a pre-trip meeting to ensure everyone is prepared for our week in the wilds. You can get to Dutch Harbor with Alaska Airlines.
Spend the day exploring and enjoying Dutch Harbor. We will visit the “Museum of the Aleutians“, Russian Orthodox Church, World War II sites and get a sense of life in the North Pacific fishing town. If the weather is really good we may head for Umnak early.
Head down to the docks in the wee hours and board the Ms. Alyssa, a seaworthy and comfortable boat which will transport us along the spectacular shores of Unalaska Isalnd, across the rich waters of Umnak Pass, where we hope to see thousands of seabirds, such as shearwaters and puffins. We may also see feeding whales, sea lions and seals en-route. The Ms. Alyssa is a great boat and the captain, Jimmer MacDonald, is a wealth of information, a great cook (fresh crab anyone?) and raconteur. After a full day on the water we arrive in paradise.
Explore and enjoy. We can hike long and hard or just amble down the beach. Hot springs and mud pots dot the hillsides, flowers will be blooming, creeks are full of fish. We could don backpacks and head off on an excursion to the Pacific side of the island or inland in search of geysers, or poke around marveling at the variety of driftwood. The time is ours to enjoy. We will have a solid, wind stable camp, quality food and a host of ideas about how to spend our time. Though the schedule remains open and weather dependent, there is no shortage of adventures to be had. We can climb several thousand feet up the ridges south of camp and get views of Okmok Volcano and the broad Pacific. We can head north to the outer coast and beach comb for glass fishing floats and of course we can marvel at the geothermal features all around.
Early in the morning we should see the boat heading our way. Once aboard, we head east past Fort Glen through the rich feeding grounds of Umnak Pass and then along the steep and rocky coast of Unalaska Island arriving in Dutch Harbor very late in the day. The boat trip will be a journey in and of itself, full of wildlife and adventure.
Transportation beyond Unalaska/ Dutch Harbor. Professional guide service. Wholesome, delicious, and mostly-organic food while in the wilderness. Stoves, cooking & eating utensils. Repair and safety equipment.
Non-camp lodging (hotel and meals in Dutch Harbor are your responsibility) Non-camp meals. Personal clothing, and footwear. Sleeping bag & sleeping pad. Three-season tent. Fishing gear and fishing license. Gratuity for guide(s). An equipment list is provided upon registration. Rental equipment is available through Arctic Wild.
No Bears, No Bugs, Wind and storms and sun and rain and fog maybe all in the same day. The Aleutians are called the birthplace of the winds. Be prepared for travel delays due to weather.