It all started when I asked my friend, Linda, what she wanted to do for her 70th birthday. “I’ve always wanted to take the ferry to Dutch Harbor and see the Aleutians,” she replied. “Oh, I’ve never been there!” I replied. “Can I go?” In the same way, others jumped onboard and soon there were 7 of us signed on. Our original idea was to take the ferry from Homer to Dutch Harbor but even 3 months ahead of time, the berths were already reserved. And although you can camp onboard, having a berth seemed like a requirement in these later years. So Linda had the idea to see if there were berths for the return from Dutch to Homer. Bingo! We tacked on three days in Dutch Harbor for hiking, another of Linda’s favorite things. And the birthday trip was on .
We had low expectations for the weather and the seas. The area is famous for horizontal rain and seasick crossings. But we must have been under the karma of a 70th birthday. Our days in Dutch Harbor were a mixture of morning fog and afternoon sun. The first night set the tone with the Wednesday seafood buffet in the fishing capital of the world. Piles of king crab, prawns, scallops. Halibut, swordfish, salmon. Endless salads and desserts. We gorged on plate after plate as we sat at our round table overlooking Mag Bay.
We were surprised to find that Dutch Harbor has a huge Safeway store and what can’t be found there is available at the nearby Alaska Ship Supply. We hiked Bunker Hill, a visible reminder of how this area was under Japanese attack in World War II. The next day we ascended Ballyhoo Mountain where we signed the buoy at the top (so appropriate for a fishing town) under a Russian Orthodox Cross.
It’s a working town with few frills. There’s no cute dress shops or places to browse books. The street where we walked advertised for welding and rope and tire repair. Fish and Game and the Coast Guard have offices there and there are huge boxlike structures where the cannery workers live. There’s not the usual small boat harbor either. Here the fishing vessels are massive, big enough to take the weather of the Bering Sea. We were so intrigued by the functional artistry of the long line nets stacked everywhere. Appropriately, they are called ‘haystacks” as that is what they look like. And there is a local drink and a local pizza named after them in town. And a famous Norvegian Rat Bar monikered after the infestation of rats that came ashore from whaling vessels long ago.
It is the king crab fishing capital of the world evidenced by the stacks of pots so high and vast, they could be hotels. Eagles become almost commonplace, perching on any tall projections, nesting in the hills and cliffs above town and soaring overhead in the heat thermals. What was strange is that there were no sea gulls in this harbor town. I don’t think I have ever seen that!
We rented a car and drove the Overland Trail that looped seven miles above the town to a height of 1600 feet. Narrow and graveled, it snaked beside lakes and waterfalls with a few hairpin turns to the crest where we could see to the other side of the island.
We ended our trip with a 3 day Alaska state ferry ride back to Homer. May post on that ride later–but the treacherous Kodiak to Homer crossing was like crossing a lake!