Week in Serpentine, part 2

Jul 30, 2012 | 0 comments

Wednesday was by far our worst day, in terms of weather. We all awoke in the morning to wind rattling the entire building and rain pounding at the poorly insulated windows. When I decided to brave a trip up the hill to the outhouse, it felt like being on a boat in a small storm, the whole structure rocking back and forth and a cold draft coming up through the hole, bringing with it all the wonderful aromas an outhouse has to offer. Lovely experience.

The one good thing about the inclement weather was that it forced us to get a lot of work done. We finished painting the floors and helped build some more of the bunk bed. Later, our daily check-in call to dispatch and the office confirmed that we were experiencing sustained winds of 30mph with about 40-45mph gusts!
A family of Red-breasted Mergansers blowing down the stream

Instead of a hike in the afternoon, I opted for a soak in the hot tub. Also an exciting experience, the old bathhouse literally shuddered with every gust, the metal roof panels peeling up and slamming back down with bone-jarring force.

The next day, Thursday, winds had died down to the 20mph range and the rain was more scattered. We finished our work once again in the mid-afternoon and three of us went for a hike to check out some more tors in between rain showers.

Parent trying to land in the wind

One of our coolest sightings was a rough-legged hawk nest with the two adults flying overhead. It was so windy they couldn’t really get down to dive-bomb us as it seemed they wanted to, but they continued to caw at us incessantly until we had gotten our fill of photos.

Hovering in the wind

The chicks

Nice spot for a nest
Remind anyone else of Mordor? 

As the afternoon wore on, the weather began to turn for the worse again, with increasing wind speeds and a cold drizzle of rain spitting down. It gave the landscape a wonderfully ominous feel though, reminding me of some kind of dark, Middle Earth realm.

More fascinating tor structures

By the end of our hike, it was pouring rain about as much as it can here — which is to say, it was a drizzle heavy enough to soak you to the bone, coming in sideways with the cold tundra wind. I spent the rest of the evening inside reading a book, and by around 11pm the sky had opened up and the sun was casting long, golden shadows across the land.

Sunset on the hot spring

Mountain shadows
Morning skies
The next morning, everyone was up early and hoping for weather good enough for us to fly home. The sun was shining, but dark clouds loomed on the horizon. We packed up, cleaned and scrubbed the last corners of the bunkhouse, and proudly surveyed our work while we waited for our plane to arrive. 

The “before” pictures

Before the new paint job


After! (New floor paint and bunk bed)


 I hadn’t really mentioned it before, but you will no doubt notice all the writing on the bright yellow walls, one of the bunkhouse’s most defining features. Some describe it as “grungy,” but I immediately found it friendly and comforting, and spent most of my free time pouring over the signatures, messages, and drawings that cover every square inch of the walls.

Most of the names are those of native families who visit the bunkhouse often for spiritual retreats, hunting, class trips, and gatherings. Not a single foul word, insult, or negative comment can be found, and most simply have someone’s name, where they’re from, and dates they spent at the bunkhouse. Apparently there’s been talk of getting permission from the villages to paint over the walls, but personally I would argue to leave it as is.

It brightens the room, and, in the most desolate and remote place, makes it seem somehow less lonely, as if you are simply part of a legacy of very fortunate people to spend time here.


It was 34 degrees when I got up on our last morning, and as the plane came in to pick up the first of our 3 loads, we all had our fingers crossed that the cloud ceiling wouldn’t close in any further. I only had about a day and a half worth of food left, and our leader was thinking we’d have to call off the flight.

Fortunately, our pilot worked miracles and we were able to complete the operation and get all 4 of us back to Quartz Creek before noon. A two hour drive later, we made it to Nome and I’ve never been so grateful for a shower in my life!

Despite the iffy weather all week, I’m pretty happy with the way my photos came out, and I feel like we got a lot done as far as maintenance work at the bunkhouse. Even though it can be physically demanding and sometimes mentally rough to be away from friends and family for so long, I still can’t believe how lucky I am to be here.


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