13 years ago, the seed was planted
Vancouver Island Record in 2007 focused the mind
266 nautical miles
5 weeks in Alaska, 2 weeks prep
12 paddling days, 1 day of rest,
7 days waiting
an immeasurable life experience
our most unforgettable adventure so far...
"the journey is straight, but the path is winding"
As Rob Egelstaff reminded in his farewell email to me just before we set off.
A unique, multi-faceted journey along the 'Ring of Fire', sandwiched between the Pacific swells and the unpredictable, changeable and stormy Bering Sea.
Awesome tidal currents guard the series of committing open crossings, 1200 miles of volcanic islands stretch between Alaska and the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula.
The un-supported duo set a new record in sea kayaking, completing the furthest paddle West from Dutch Harbor on Unalaska to Herbert Island; the last of the 'Islands of the Four Mountains'. A highly technical and challenging trip, involving real risk in a remote location, with maximum exposure to the elements.
Combining all the ingredients of a real adventure; exploration, hardship, challenge amongst awe-inspiring surroundings with abundant wildlife, sponsored athlete Keirron Tastagh and his long-term student George Shaw, found their combined limit of physical and mental endurance on this expedition. Fluctuating extremities of emotion were part of the ride.
Completed in May, Keirron and George (who both train and live on the Isle of Man) endured katabatic winds (Williwaws) and strong unpredictable ocean currents from day one! From digging the kayaks out of the snow in the morning, to enduring sub-zero temperatures and constant buffeting of the tent at night, to the final week-long storm bound wait on Herbert Island, as predicted the team 'experienced it all'.
A particularly challenging experience was being physically lifted and shaken about in the tent by 50 knot winds, before having to brave the storm and retreat further up the beach in torrential rain, wrestling with the entire camp (semi-loaded kayaks tied either side of the tent) as the wind dragged them across the boulders towards the pounding surf. The rewards were the close encounters with wildlife including Sea Otters, Albatross, Seals, Puffins, Whales and pristine wilderness with plenty of snow! Plus 2 unbelievable calm days (of the 20), where many photographs were taken, astounding luck, exactly when it was required. These made the entire journey worthwhile, and more.
The goal was to "explore as far as necessary to reach the conclusions we require"
Inspired by the Aleutians rich culture and kayaking heritage, the journey through origins of kayaking in the lands of the native 'Unangan' (Aleut people) was awe-inspiring. The volcanic chain was originally populated with twelve to fifteen thousand people, renowned as the 'best kayakers in the world', living in subsistence harmony with the sea. The expedition developed an understanding of the 'Aleut Story' and how the fate of the early Sea Otter and Aleut populations were intrinsically linked.
Wildlife observations focused on Sea Otters, also noting larger mammals positions and taking photo's for identification, as open material for marine biologists live projects. Keirron utilised the journey to further develop his BCU Level 5 Project with notes on motivation and leadership in challenging conditions.
Not wishing to become a casualty of the environment, or in the words of Tom Pogson catch 'destination fever', completing the expedition at Herbert Island displayed sound judgment and an understanding of the real risks of progressing further.
Already looking forward to the next Aleutian adventure
We'd like to thank all those who touched us with their generosity, hospitality, sponsorship and support.
FiveTen provided the team with SAR Canyoneer Boots, T-Shirts, and GuideTennie shoes. Our footwear played a vital role on both the physical safety and psychological elements of our journey.
Initially decimated by prolonged exploitation by traders since 1741, and then the remaining natives were forced to evacuate their homeland during World War II. The 'Unangan' (Aleut people) suffering came directly from their Islands 'owners'. First claimed by the Russians and then sold to the United States, only a few small communities are now dotted along the Aleutians, between Unalaska and Adak Island, still living mostly from the sea.
The Bering Sea is renowned for its fisheries, producing nearly one million tons of seafood which is processed, frozen and shipped from Dutch Harbor, (made famous from the documentary 'Deadliest Catch').
The suspected leading cause of decline of Northern Sea Otters (listed as threatened in the Aleutians arc) is now predation by Killer Whales.
Ps. a few thoughts from Herbert Island
Continuing would be "just a step too far" for George Shaw. It would be "a big ask of anyone". Content with having journeyed in a variety of tidal waters along the Aleutian Islands, between Unalaska and Herbert Island (in the Islands of the Four Mountains), George is rightly proud of his achievement.
Expedition leader Keirron Tastagh said "the expedition has been very tough mentally and physically, and the decision to complete the paddling at Herbert Island and take the lift offered back to Dutch Harbor, ending the week long siege the kayakers had already endured was "the right one for the team".