Saturday, March 10, 2007

The Score in 2007: Bering Sea: 3; Adventurers: 0

In the category of Nature kicking human butt in Alaska, we have many fine examples. I admit to having my ass kicked many a time, on occasion merely by a few thousand mosquitos.

There is the now infamous trucks stuck out on the tundra story. (Which by last news coverage, are still stuck.) That was when the hunters from the base here ignored the rules and drove a truck four miles into an area where they weren't supposed to, got stuck, and then drove another truck a mile or so out, and got stuck again. Their efforts thus far to free the vehicles have been unsuccessful and just a wee bit entertaining in a serialized drama kind of way.

But better than that is the perennial story out on the Coast, where people-with-a-lot-of-time-and-money-to-waste adventurers decide to walk/ski/drive across the Bering Strait. Why? Well, I confess to not understanding the motivation, though I think it is related to the "man vs. nature", "being the first to do something" and "manufactured ordeal to prove something" themes.

"Man vs. Nature" always gave me a problem because, let's face it, we have better and better equipment all the time and nature is still playing with the same equipment from thousands of years ago. Everest without oxygen bottles (and sherpas carrying your stuff) is a whole different situation.

"Being the first to do something" also falls a bit flat in the Bering Strait, because, well, Alaskan Natives managed to cross back and forth a good bit years ago without GPS, goretex, and satellite phones. They just didn't have corporate sponsors, websites, and film crews following them documenting it all. You know who ought to be recognized? Not some tourist with thousands of dollars of gear and free time, but the elders who used to walk out onto the moving ice daily to hunt and support their families and it was just normal life.

But I digress.

And why the Bering Strait? Numerous adventurers have attempted it and most have failed1. Why? There are very strong currents in Bering Strait. This means the ice is always moving, it is extremely rare for it to be frozen over completely2. Huge pressure ridges are thrown up; leads open and close. And of course, there are polar bears. On the Alaska side, at the closest point between continents, lies the village of Wales. Over the years, many adventurers have shown up, been told by the locals about the weather and currents, and gone ahead anyway.

The attempts usually fail, ending with said adventurers being plucked off an ice floe by National Guard helicopters at great expense to the taxpayers. Which is what happened this week, as noted in the ADN:
ANCHORAGE -- Army National Guard members plucked three Korean backpackers from sea ice Thursday after they were stranded in the Bering Strait. Park Yough Seok, 43, Oh Hee Joon, 36, and Lee Hyeong Mo, 38, were picked up from an ice floe 17 miles southwest of Tin City on Alaska's west coast, said McHugh Pierre, a spokesman for the Alaska Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. There were no injuries. The backpackers were trying to walk across the ice pack from Russia to Alaska but became stranded, he said. Pierre said the backpackers carried a satellite phone and had made emergency arrangements with a private service, but that company's helicopter had mechanical problems Thursday.
1Shparo made it on skis. Others have driven. Far more have failed than succeeded thus far.
2And let's face it, it's going to be even rarer given global climate change.

1 comment:

Super Smooth ANDY-G said...

HEy CabinDweller,
Nice points on the Bering Sea. I was just there and got frostbit on a ground blizzard. I was exposed for 10 minutes so I can see what I was doing. By the time I covered up...(was out for 40 minutes), it was too late, my cheek froze.

Finally added you on my blog.