June 19th, 2008, I landed in Adak, Alaska. The town of Adak is located on Adak Island approximately 1400 miles south of Anchorage, Alaska. I’m an explosives technician and I came here to begin a three month contract searching for left over military explosive ordnance. On Adak Island the highest point is Mount Moffett at 3824 feet above sea level. When I arrived in Adak the entire mountain was covered in tens of feet of snow. When I left Oregon I did not bring any of my mountaineering equipment. If I had brought the gear I could have had a number of possible routes up the mountain to choose from. Sometime around mid-July I decided to have my mountaineering gear mailed to me. The mail moves very slow here at times. For the first few weeks I was on the island I experienced a number of storms. Most of these storms were fairly cold and on occasion the top of Moffett would receive another light coating of snow on the exposed rocks. When July rolled in the storms were milder. After a series of mild storms the vast majority of snow had melted. There was still considerable snow in the ravines and along some of the ridge crests. I began studying the mountain and various topographical maps. I soon found on the west side of the mountain a long exposed ridgeline to attempt an ascent. The ridge comes in from a more remote portion of the island. I plotted a route along this ridge. I planned to descend using the much easier southeast ridgeline. This is the route that past hikers and climbers have used. I’m not sure how much the southwest ridge has been used. I wanted to do a sea to summit climb, and that’s why I picked the southwest route. My work schedule on Adak Island was eleven hours a day, and six days a week. So I would have to hope for a good weather day on my one day a week off.
[When I woke up on Sunday, July 20, 2008, I decided since the weather was decent I would attempt to summit Moffett. So far only some of my mountaineering clothing had arrived. None of my more serious gear had arrived yet. The route would be long and challenging. I would get dropped off west of town on a small hill. From there it would be nearly 12 miles to the top and back down to another location where I would be picked up. I got dropped at the start of my route around 10:15am. The weather was foggy and mild. I began my decent from an old gravel pit down to Shagak Bay on the west side of the island. This is about a 328 foot decent over 1.5 miles. The route traversed through tundra, bogs, and knee deep vegetation. Traveling across tundra can be a little unnerving. There are numerous bogs which can be hidden by the vegetation. There are also ditches and holes that can break a leg. When I neared Shagak bay I had to cross a stream. I now had to travel another 1.5 miles around the north side of the bay to reach the base of the ridge which leads up to the summit. This stretch of the trip traveled over barnacle and kelp covered rocks. As I neared the ridge I had to traverse two sections of cliff face along the waters edge. Finally I reached the base of the ridge at the far west end of Shagak Bay.
As I turn into the waste deep vegetation between the bay and the ridgeline I see something moving very fast towards me from the right side. It’s an aggravated Bald Eagle flying right at me squawking. I must say, this was quite scary. I rip off my pack and swing it over my head and yell at it. After it fly’s over me I run back down to the bay. I then pick another spot further away to the east to access the ridge. As I work my way through the vegetation I’m constantly watching and looking around for another eagle. I now start to climb the tundra covered ridge. I get to the top of the first rise and feel relived that I’m above the eagles. I work my way across the ridge and come to a ravine that is 200 feet deep with 70+ degree tundra covered walls. The ridge I started up was not the correct ridge, but instead a smaller ridge that is cut off by this ravine. The ridge I need to be on is on the other side of the ravine. I decide to scale down to the bottom of the ravine. After some slow going I cross the raging stream at the bottom and climb up the other side. The ravine walls are tundra and moss covered which I use to grab a hold of and climb up. I get on the spine of the ridge and work my way up. Somewhere around 1500 feet in elevation the tundra turns to rocks. The going is now easier and I make decent time. As I pass through the 2500 foot mark the going is steep and rocky. I’m now traversing boulders and a rotten rock surface. I reach the top of the first high point on the ridge and now I will travel along an ash covered, steep sided, and exposed ridgeline. I get across this without much difficulty. As I reach the other side of the exposed ridge and top another high point I get a good view of the route. As I stand there I realize this will be a much more difficult climb than I had originally thought. The route travels up a very exposed ridge. The top of this ridge comes to a point with only about a foot or less of surface. On either side is a 2000 – 3000 foot drop. There are also sections of hard, deep Ice and snow. I go across the bad sections on my hands and kick in steps on each side of the ridge. All the while I have rocks being kicked loose which fall down the entire 2000 or so feet. The top of the ridgeline is mostly crumbling ash and rock. Every so often along the ridge there would be a high point made up of crumbling volcanic rock. I would have to rock climb this checking every rock to see if it was solid. Footing in these areas was very bad. I would classify this entire ridgeline as a death route. This is probably the second most dangerous route I have ever undertaken. I finally access a safer portion around 3000 feet or so. This ridgeline now runs up to the summit pinnacle. The main hazards here are the sections of ice. This would not be that dangerous if I had my crampons and an ice axe. One slip here would result in a several thousand foot ride most likely. I finally reach the summit pinnacle. This is made up of rotten volcanic rock with boulders at the top. I reach the top and take a few photos before heading down.
I plan to descend down the southeast ridge. This is the most common route up and down the mountain, as well as the easiest. I’m able to move at a fast pace on the way down the summit pinnacle. The ridge leading down from the pinnacle is made up of ash and pumice. There are two sections of hard packed snow and ice along the top of the ridge. I have to kick in steps along this section since I do not have my crampons. A slip here would result in a very serious fall on either side of the ridge. Past this section is a large rock outcropping at the top of the ridge that I have to climb up and over. Further down the ridge is a long section of rock sticking out top of the ridge. On the north side of the rocks is a steep drop. On the south side is a steep slope covered in approximately ten feet of snow. I find an area melted out where the snow meets the rocks. It is only about two feet wide and about ten feet deep. I use this are to traverse this section. The main hazards here are rock falls, and holes leading under the snow. If I had my crampons I would have avoided this section and traversed lower on the slope. Once I make it out of this melted out section I’m able to move more quickly. I cross a not so steep section of snow and make my way back onto a rotten rocky ridge. I’m able to move very fast over this ridge. I run and boulder hop most of the way down. I now drop back into the clouds. Once I’m off the steep ridge, I get to the stair stepped boulder field. I’m able to run over most of this. Lower down the mountain the rocky stair steps turn back into tundra and vegetation. I finally reach the pickup location and head back to Adak.
The town of Adak is a former Navy Base. The base was closed down and what was left of it was turned over to the civilians. This occured in the late 90's I believe. The ordnance on the island is left over from WWII. There was active training ranges on the island where various munitions were fired. The island has been the focus of cleanup operations for many years.
Yes there is some wreckage on the island. There is also a lot of ordnance, that is why I was sent there. It is a nice place to visit, but the weather is brutal. The tundra is a real pain to travel through.
Good trip report.
Was stationed on Adak (it's always "on" Adak, never "at" or "in") for almost three years in the early 70's. Had glimpses of the top of Moffett, but was mostly obscured by clouds. In those three years, had literally fewer than a dozen nice, sunny days. So, read your report with interest. In those days, tundra obscured old holes and trenches, so hikers were required to travel in pairs; more seasoned ones carried long poles to probe the ground in front for holes, and carried rope to haul a buddy out of them. Also, the weather changed rapidly, due to the cold Bering Sea to the north, and the warmer Pacific to the south. One could start out with good weather in the morning, and have it change to nasty by noon. So, you were fortunate to have good weather for your summitting.
BTW, did you take any photos of old Navy buildings, such as the hospital?