BIRTHPLACE OF THE WINDS: STORMING ALASKA'S ISLANDS OF FIRE AND ICE; by Jon Bowermaster; National Geographic Adventure Press; 304 pages; $26.
If you're like me, you're not exactly sure where the Aleutian Islands are. This new book not only provides a great overview of the islands, but it spotlights a 25-day kayaking and hiking expedition into the "Four Mountains" area of the territory.
Jon Bowermaster, a veteran author of six outdoor books, has superb storytelling skills and has a way of making dry historical facts interesting. He intertwines them with a report of an adventure he undertook with three other men.
The book begins with a map to familiarize the reader with the Aleutian area.
Because the group couldn't transport its oversize kayaks by plane, the four had to drive from central California to Alaska — some 4,200 miles. They then had to take a four-day ferry ride before beginning their trek.
Bowermaster was set on using kayaks on the trip — especially because the original Aleutian inhabitants, now transplanted elsewhere — are credited with inventing them.
The book makes it clear that the Aleutian Islands and the Four Mountains in particular are the most remote and unexplored area in the United States. Full-scale maps haven't yet been completed on the area, and during his preliminary research Bowermaster was told that after the trip he'd know more about the islands than do most experts.
The biggest danger the four kayakers faced was capsizing. If that happened, the frigid waters, about 35 degrees, would quickly cause hypothermia — a condition Bowermaster goes out of his way to detail. Because of the remoteness of the area and the lack of communication, there would be little hope of rescue if they got into any trouble.
Bowermaster describes Four Mountain Islands as treeless, with rain falling most days and snow on all the mountaintops. The travelers didn't find any of the legendary caves of mummified Aleutians, but they did discover the wreckage of a World War II-era airplane. After the trip the group contacted military authorities, who have had trouble finding the wreckage and refuse to talk about it further.
It was amazing how many days fog enclosed the islands. On July 4, 1998, when the four climbed Mount Cleveland — a 6,000-foot volcano — they enjoyed a rare clear day. During most of their trip, sunrise came at 2 a.m. and sunset about midnight, because they were so far north, but clouds and fog obscured most sunlight. At one point, a relentless storm kept them inside tents for 60 hours straight. A favorite drink of the kayakers was hot Gatorade, though they wouldn't recommend it in most other conditions.
Overall, this book is a a good read for armchair adventurers. Since I read an advance proof of the book, I'm looking forward to the 16 pages of color photographs in thefinal product that I'm sure will add extra excitement to an already fast-moving book.