Day 1 - A gale, a tent, and a sleepless night.

At what wind speed can you expect to encounter difficulty stabilizing your body weight enough to successfully insert a gouge soil auger into an earth mound? If you're me - approximately 50mph.

Planning a field season for archaeological research in the Aleutian Islands requires a great deal of attention to weather. Thick and misty fog sets the standard baseline here and anyone who has been to the Aleutian Islands is intimately familiar with why the chain is commonly referred to as the birthplace of the winds.

The early morning of our first on-shore work day was nothing unusual - it was typically breezy and only felt cold when your body was at rest. The weather quickly took a turn for the worst and wind speeds steadily increased over the course of the day. By afternoon our Dwyer hand-held wind meter was picking up constant winds of 35mph with frequent gusts up to 50mph. We were caught in a rapidly approaching gale, but there was work to do.

Trekking across the tundra is never an easy task (we take solid ground for granted), but trekking across the tundra against these fluctuating winds with archaeological testing gear and packs in tow quickly becomes exhausting. We found ourselves laying down while taking notes and examining soil cores to catch a break from the constant battle of keeping our bodies upright in the pounding wind.

It became exceedingly difficult to operate the soil auger. Earth mounds at higher elevations and along coastal cliff-side edges were omitted from the original testing sample after we recorded wind gusts of 60mph. The risk factors of operating the soil auger at these locations with unpredictable and gusting winds were far too dangerous.

Despite the gale, the crew met the overall goals for the day and radioed for pick up around 5pm. We already knew that we would need to wait for winds to settle before the zodiac could pick us up. The Pŭk-ŭk reported wind gusts of 70mph off-shore at the time of our last radio check-in. Hours went by with no sign of relief. Three pairs of wind slapped, hungry, and defeated eyes exchanged unspoken awareness of how the night would unfold.

There was an attempt to maneuver a pick up around 8pm. It failed. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was now official - no dinner, no bed, no warmth.

Corbett (left) and Taivalkoski, waiting. 2019, B. Hornbeck.

We discussed the circumstances at hand and took an inventory of our gear and surroundings. We decided that setting up our tent in the valley (which would be comfortable to sleep on) would unnecessarily expend a great deal of our precious energy. Rather than lug our heavy survival bag up onto the tundra only to fight a tent in the relentless gale winds, we chose a spot against a low cliff-wall down on the rocky beach above the high tide line that offered protection from the wind.

We pulled apart our survival bag and got to work on the tent. We were thankful for the practice we had just a week earlier during our field safety training with Matt Irinaga of Polar Services. We were not thankful for our decision to forgo sleeping pads in the survival bag. While our Mustang coats did provide some padding from the waist up, they left the lower half of our bodies in a desperate state of awkward balance on the cold hard rocks beneath us.

Hornbeck (left), Corbett, and the tent. 2019, A. Taivalkoski.

Sleep was not going to happen, at least for me anyway. I found myself cursing the occasional blissful snoring coming from the other side of the tent. I had eaten fruit leather and a cliff bar for dinner. I was cold. I was wet. I was in pain. The wind was distracting.

On several occasions I was sure that I heard footsteps just outside of our tent. They were impossibly crystal clear. If you've ever laid down on a beach with your ear pressed up against the sand beneath your towel, than you know exactly the sound I am talking about - the loud and muffled crunching of footsteps in the sand as people walk past. I thought it was strange that the Pŭk-ŭk crew would show up unannounced in the middle of the night. I knew this couldn't be what I was hearing, especially since there were no voices and no crackling radios. I most certainly was not going to unzip the tent and check (my sense of adventure does have its limits). I found myself paralyzed, unable to convince my mind to let go of its wild imagination. And so, sleep evaded me. I never figured out what, or who, was on the beach. I assume a curious sea lion or seal was throwing its weight around nearby.

It was around 7am when we received a radio check-in from the Pŭk-ŭk. They were on their way to pick us up. I believe we set a speed record for tent break-down and survival bag repacking.

Over breakfast, I grumbled about my inability to sleep and laughed about the tricks my mind had been keen on playing. Turns out, I wasn't the only crew member to hear the footsteps throughout the night.


  1. Extremely useful information which you have shared here about tent. This is a great way to enhance knowledge for us, and also beneficial for us. Thank you for sharing an article like this.
    shade sail

  2. I am very thankful to you that you have shared this information with us. I got some different kind of knowledge from your web page, and it is really helpful for everyone. Thanks for share it. Read more info about ivory roman shades

  3. This article gave me a lot of useful knowledge about things to do in Denver. The material is both informative and useful. Thank you for making this information available. Keep up the excellent job.


Post a Comment



Email *

Message *