Our Members: Ross Trainor—Climbing, Fishing, Conserving the Environment
It was curiosity that brought me into commercial fishing. Curiosity got me to Alaska, and it again made me want to venture up the Naknek River and lake to the highest elevations of the Bristol Bay watershed. It was however, the problem created by the proposed Pebble Mine that made it all happen. My hope is, that the account of our expedition can inspire curiosity and conviction in all Americans to support fish over the mine.
As Bristol Bay Fishermen know, last summer was harder than the past few, we worked harder, in worse weather for less fish. As my season ended we scratched to make our minimum goal before the rest of the expedition members begin arriving in the boatyard on the 21st of July.
Before starting the obstacles of the expedition had already begun, leaving me in even greater awe of Alaska’s wildness and remoteness. Our struggles only reinforced my fears of a large scale industrial site in such wild and remote country where nature dictates the rules, and man-made mistakes are inevitable.
Our problems began one week before departure, when I discovered all three of our canoes failed to reach their destination in Egigik by tender. A delayed vessel in shipyard meant they never left Anacortes. Three days later fish group member Tom Crawford called from the boatyard in King Salmon with news that 3 bears had dug under a chain link fence and broken down the wall of the gear locker, Tom reported our expedition food was “a total loss”, along with camp fuel, pairs of extra tuffs, motor, and hydraulic oil to name just part of the damage.
Disappointed, and getting beat up by a 25 knot breeze from of the west, I called trip member Shane Noble on a fading cell reception. The fate of the trip was left to those coming up. Myself and Dane Stevens, crewmember and trip member still had to focus on catching fish. The solution was 200 lbs of luggage and John Bersinger at Ocean Beauty Seafood’s who lent us two of his canoes, and after searching the town a preacher with a spare Old Town. We are grateful to both of them.
We were ready to go, after packing bags and organizing food under the shelter of dry-docked gillnetters. Last minuet item such as life jackets and fishing license’s were obtained on July 25. In drizzle we shoved off the bulkhead in King Salmon. We were warned the “rapids” section of the river “couldn’t” be paddled by canoe; we tried anyway but not without a struggle. We moved up stream mimicking the sockeyes migration, finding back eddies and slower flowing water. Trip member Mary Powers said “I have always known salmon to take epic journeys but feeling their struggle gave me an entirely greater respect”.
That first day we had seen five bears and used their fresh trails to skirt the rivers edge passing the challenging part of he rapids, and made camp. We cooked in deep wet tundra and fought a losing battle with a deadly flock of mosquitoes and white socks. They were in our food, up our pants, in shirts, head nets, they even blocked out the sun. None of us had seen anything like it, all we could do was give in. They were to be a constant battle and another testament to the power of the region. I believe if the EPA or State doesn’t stop the mine, insects will.
Over the next days we covered many miles. In some fair weather we passed small streams filled with the Red fish. Every mile was becoming more exotic, in the Iliuk arm the water took on a green glow from the glaciers we hoped to ascend. It also bore evidence of an accent receded glacier and its terminal moraine, the earthen dam left at a glaciers furthest point. This moraine was two and a half miles long and simply enormous. In its center was a huge blow-out were it had failed and drained the reservoir behind it. I cannot help but compare it to the proposed seven hundred forty foot tall tailings dam required by the Pebble Mine to the one we witnessed. Sure man constructs differently than nature but the same laws and consequences apply to water especially in an earthquake zone.
After stowing our canoes in the brush, the seventeen mile battle upwards into the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes only got harder. With a meager food ration of only ten days we had to move fast and smart if we were to get up any mountains. The Alaskan wildness challenged us by making our updated maps misleading as whole rivers had moved drainages up to a quarter of a mile, along with days of the worst bushwhacks imaginable.
With just two days of fair weather, in different assortments expedition members climbed Mt. Griggs 7,602 ft. twice and Mt Katmai 6,716 ft. once on a snowy August morning. We stood at some the highest and furthest reaches of the Bristol Bay watershed and the sources of the water that are so hotly contested. On the eighth day in the Valley we headed back and arrived in King Salmon August 14, traveling one Hundreds seventy five total miles.
Our expedition had taught us how amazing this pristine watershed truly is matched with a rugged land that always tested us. Although scientist David Montgomery was not with us on our trip, in his book “King of Fish, the Thousand Year Run of Salmon” his observation applies best “if history has a lesson here, it is that technological fixes and politically motivated half-measures will at best delay the inevitable. Both science and past experiences show that restoring salmon runs with require reshaping our relationship to the landscape, guided by the humility to admit that we do not know how to manufacture, let alone manage, a natural ecosystem….. We cannot simply engineer our way out of this crisis, as has been decreed so often in the past.” Pg 6 Our group was not in control of the environment. We hope decision makers in government can understand the hazards we experienced and Say no to the Pebble Mine and the massive threat it poses.
—AAC member Ross Trainor
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