Adak is an island midway along the Aleutian Island chain southwest of mainland Alaska at 177 degrees west. At 52 degrees north it is not exactly arctic, nor is it temperate; but it is nearly always buffetted by cold, wet winds. Most of the wind is generated by an endless series of cyclonic storms. The weather report for aviators almost never varies: Winds 25-40 gusting to 60, mostly cloudy with layers at 800 feet, 1200 feet, 2000 feet. Visibility 7 miles, rain. Temp 40 degrees F (plus or minus 5 degrees for most of the year). It is bounded on the east and the west by volcanoes. To the west is Kanaga Volcano, a beautiful perfect cone, and to the east by Great Sitkin, which nearly always is at least smoking and erupted in the early 1970's (We have some photos in the collections of it).
We like it for many reasons. For some it is the clean air. For others, the lack of mosquitos that plague the rest of Alaska. Others enjoy the excellent fishing and hunting opportunities. Others seek solitude and self-awareness by exploring the tundra and the wildlife of sea and land.In the movie "Never Cry Wolf," the aviator played by Brian Dennehy describes the cure for boredom: "Adventure!" Rich folks can pay big bucks for big adventures, but what about the rest of us? For many that lived on Adak, it was an adventure every day just going to work!
The official website for DCED and LBC have many interesting documents pertaining to the formation of the City of Adak. I admire the efforts of the residents of Adak to create a new way of life that springs from the fruits of the cold war era, but which soon will become a city as genuinely Alaskan as any you can imagine.
The wind can be focused by mountain valleys and accellerated by temperature changes into a phenomenon called "Williwaw" starting at about 60 knots and going up to speeds that ripped the anemometer off the tower so nobody knows how fast it can get.
It rips roofs off of houses and buildings. It'll rip the doors off your car. I have seen the wind send steel garbage dumpsters tumbling down the road. It has pushed my car out of the parking lot, across the street, and into a ditch at Birchwood barracks. It has sent me flying through the air (fun, but dangerous, the day I decided to "hang glide" on a williwaw using only my parka. Worked like a charm.).
Rain falls sideways; never down -- many days I arrived at work soaking wet on one side of my body and dry on the other. Forget umbrella; Gore-Tex is supreme.
Road Condition Alfa: sideways blowing snow. You cannot see the hood ornament on your jeep from inside the jeep. You get disoriented because the whole world is moving sideways -- or perhaps you are moving sideways -- which is it? Driving prohibited in Alfa except for emergency vehicles. That loud clunk you just heard might be a huge snowblower chopping up your car that you abandoned on the road because you could not see where you were going. I spent thirty minutes driving just one block from the AIMD hangar to Birchwood barracks and the VIP passenger was very impressed -- I did it entirely by feeling for the drifts on the side of the road left by the snowplow -- those same drifts could not be seen, despite being right outside the driver and passenger windows.
Tundra is amazing. Tundra is fun. Tundra is free, no fences. Tundra is dangerous. First, the tundra is always wet. It is soft, boggy, mossy and your feet will be wet and depending where you are, your body will be wet clear up to your armpits -- that is how deep the grass is at Shagak Bay. Hiking in tundra will sap your strength at a rate estimated at 600 calories (kcal) per hour. It is easier to hike on sand. In places, the grass grows right over crevasses, or the dirt washes out from under the grass, creating dangerous sinkholes (tundra holes). Other places, the grass grows out over a lake and seems solid. I remember taking a step and seeing a wave rolling forward through the grass! Carry a stout walking stick to help you find solid ground or to get out of a tundra hole or just climb something wet, steep and slippery. Never go alone. Watch out for left-over booby traps from World War II. Want fun? Pitch a tent in 40+ knot winds. Want more fun? Take it down and try to roll it up in the same wind!
Suggested outfit for a day-hike: Gore-Tex boots that can take water a foot deep. Gore-Tex coveralls under a lighter weight Gore-Tex and thinsulate parka that will keep you warm even if it is soaking wet. Removable waterproof leggings for thick grass, to shed water and prevent abrasion of your expensive Gore-Tex. Wool is an excellent alternative, it resists abrasion quite well and will keep you somewhat warm even when it is soaking wet, which is what is will usually be. Except in the coldest month of winter, down (soft feathers) products are not a good choice.
Eagles and wildlife: Yes, abundant. John Martin was the leading Fish & Fur agent on Adak way back in 1976. Now he's the director and apparently still on Adak. But really, I think he likes fishing from the USF&W boat "Aleutian Tern" -- why? Just for the "halibut"! (Yes, really big halibut in Kagalaska Straits!)