"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence
Now that we’re into March I’m starting to feel like I can count down to my upcoming trip to Alaska with J! I’m so excited to introduce him to friends that live there, share the spectacular views and sweeping landscapes with my love, take him halibut fishing, whale watching, and exploring all over the island. One of the first hikes I plan to take him on was a favorite for my little brother, DJ, and I. We hiked it often enough when I lived in Unalaska but during my annual visits later on, it was always on our list.
Ballyhoo Mountain is an unmistakable landmark in Unalaska. The 1000 foot high mountain rises out of the ocean and takes up most of Amaknak Island, part of the land mass forming Dutch Harbor’s boundary. It also offers some stunning views of Unalaska and the Bering Sea – and that’s what DJ and I had come for. DJ and I took our beater truck along a round that switchbacked it’s way up Ballyhoo on the northeast side of the mountain. The gravel road was riddled with potholes as we bumped our way up, gaining 700 feet of elevation.
The road opened into a clearing with Ballyhoo Mountain’s peak to the south and a wide valley opening before us. We pulled over and hopped out of the truck with my dog, Gunni, close on our heels. Flattened piles of wood dotted the clearing, the remnants of WWII-era huts that the howling Aleutian winds had long ago knocked down. Ground squirrels popped out from between the splintered boards and scolded us for disturbing them. Of course, Gunni was at the ready to send them scurrying back to their hovels.
DJ and I started walking down the gravel road that continued on and followed the northernmost ridge of the island. The ridge descended sharply into the pounding surf of the sea 700 feet below us and the wind whipped at our clothing as we glimpsed the great blue of the Bering Sea beyond. WWII pillbox-style bunkers were built into the cliffs, offering a perfect strategic view of the only ocean inlet that Dutch Harbor could be accessed from. We clambered atop one of the doubled-stacked bunkers and crawled to the very edge of it to glimpse the churning sea so far below us. I felt my stomach give a little flip of excitement and fear as I peered over the cliff and knew my poor mother would have raised hell if she had seen us. There was much more to see though so we snapped a few photos and hiked further on.
A huge concrete building soon crowded out of view of the sea. It’s rusting metal doors were pulled wide open but we couldn’t see far into the windowless interior. Rains from recent storms had left puddles all over the concrete floor and we could hear the steady drip of water further inside. We poked our heads into a few of the rooms but they were pitch black and without a light it was impossible to see. We assumed the place was a control center for this observation post during World War II. The place had been emptied out long ago and only the building with it’s rusted-out metal parts remained. DJ ran through the lit parts of the structure and yelled into the darkened rooms, laughing as his voice echoed back to him. It would have been the perfect place to play paintball!
Just beyond the building was another unusual structure. A circle of concrete with a metal track in the center and a hollowed out hole within the track. We realized that it was the base for anti-aircraft gun. Considering the size of the tracks, though the gun was long gone, I could almost imagine how big it must have been. For a moment the cry of gulls overhead and the crashing of the sea below disappeared, replaced with a scene of soldiers shouting to one another, interrupted by the thunderous boom of the gun firing while Japanese Zeros whined through the sky. It was a history not so distant, reminders of it were dotted all over the island in the form of quonset huts and bunkers. A little more thoughtful and solemn, we continued our hike.
We were nearing land’s end and the end of the road with a last bunker tucked into the northwesternmost corner of the island. Seabirds were nesting in the cliffs here and we climbed onto some the precipices to catch their view. The water swirled in brilliant colors at the base of the cliffs. Seagulls mournfully cried out as they glided on updrafts. We had walked the edge, exulted in the sights, soaked up the history. Our exploration of the mountain complete, it was time to head home and warm up!