Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flying to Ugashik, Alaska

By Father Scott Joseph Garrett

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009 I flew to Ugashik (yougashick), Alaska. I needed to touch bases with Hattie Albecker a resident Catholic who lives year around in the village. Hattie took this picture of me standing in front of our airplane at the one-and-only Ugashik airport. The Temp was about 15-20 degrees F. so I put on my engine blanket.

LOCATION: Where is Ugashik? Ugashik is one of those ultra small fishing villages near the beginning of the Aleutian Chain (year around population about 9). It is located about 70 miles south of King Salmon near the coastal village of Pilot Point. As the crow flies (according to my GPS) Ugashik is exactly 97.7 miles from Dillingham, Alaska.

Here is a map that is in the Penair terminal in King Salmon. It shows the Bristol Bay water between Dillingham and Ugashik (CLICK TO MAKE LARGER). This map also shows the entire Holy Rosary Mission Territory.

History: Ugashik has a long history dating back thousands of years. Native Indians hunted and fished in this area. Arrowheads are still around on the ground. If you are ever in Ugashik, be sure to ask Hattie about the extra-ordinary history of the village. To learn more about Ugashik,

Flying to Ugashik: Flying directly to Ugashik from Dillingham is about 100 miles with at least 50 miles over water. Flying direct is not recommended in our single engine Cherokee Warrior II. If the single engine should falter the only alternative would be to land on ice cold water and freeze to death in a few minutes. So I take the long way around: east from Dillingham to Grave Yard, which is at the mouth of the Kvichak (kwejack) river, then directly south down the Alaskan Chain past Peterson Point, Naknek, and Egegik. This route adds an additional 20 miles or so to my route.

SURPRISE: When I was ten miles to the north I called Ugashik three times to alert people I was going to land, twice on the aviation frequency 122.9 and once on the Marine radio channel 18. I received no response. Come to find out when I was talking on 122.9 Ugashik tried to answer but I was already talking on channel 18. To make a long story short, all they heard was “landing in Ugashik.” After buzzing the small village at about 700 feet I landed and to my surprise was met by a group of people. It looked like half the town came out to meet the Catholic Priest, me. WRONG. They thought I was Penair and were trying to get back to King Salmon.

Solar and Wind Power: After introducing myself as Father Scott to the small disappointed greeting party, the villagers warmed up to me and gave me a ride back to Hattie’s office. On the way I saw two windmills and a solar panel. Ugashik is way ahead of most villages with regard to alternative energy.

Here are the twin windmills in Ugashik.

Notice the solar panel in the background. This picture was taken out the back of Hattie's office.

The wave of the future in Ugashik, Alaska.

Beluga Whales: While chatting with Hattie in her office, Victoria dropped by. The three of us looked out the window and watched Beluga whales breaching in Bristol bay. What a magnificent sight on a beautiful day. After seeing the newly built office, which consisted of a kitchen, weight room, and living quarters for visiting priests like me, or whoever, Hattie drove me back to her house.

If you click to enlarge you can see the whales swimming. I took this picture out the back window of the office building. Well, maybe you can't see them!

Hattie and Victoria pose in their office for a picture.

Penair and Mary: Driving up to Hattie’s house I met her husband William. He was on his way out, for the second time that morning, to meet the Penair flight. This time it was actually Penair not me, the Catholic Priest. Mary, a commercial pilot for Penair, landed the Cherokee Saratoga shortly there after and flew the Ugashik villagers to King Salmon.

Baptisms over Coffee: Hattie and I talked over coffee for about an hour. We planned some possible baptisms in Ugashik (we may have a few this year, there had only been one other catholic baptism in the history of the Ugashik village). We talked about a village reunion in December around Christmas and the possibility of me flying out to offer a mass. We talked about Hattie’s daughter who is currently, get this, a Polar Bear watcher on the North Slope. She drives around the work area in a truck on pure ice, finds Polar Bears, and puts the work force on alert if the bears get too frisky. What a great job to have in Alaska!

Here are a few more pictures from the small village of Ugashik.

Also looking out the back door of the BBNA office is Hattie's project. I think she wants to restore that old boat.

Water and fuel storage is an important part of village life in Alaska. These large tanks look like they may be listing a bit to the starboard side.

Another view of the storage tanks.

Some of the scenery along the road in Ugashik. Alaska.

As my flying skills increase I hope to fly further down the Aleutian chain to places like Port Heiden, Chignik Lagoon, and Cold Bay (see the map above).

After coffee and a homemade cookies (Hattie did not have time to make her Alaskan Bush renown cinnamon rolls) she dropped me off at the small gravel strip. Bye for now and fly safe out there!


Anonymous said...

Father Scott Joseph Garrett,
I just wanted to tell you that you did a great job describing the amazing village of Ugashik! This is a former deckhand of Hattie and her daughter and this is the first place I found pictures information about the village. Hattie and her family are amazing people and I hope I get to bring my wife there sometime soon!

God Bless,
Chris Frank

Holy Rosary Mission said...

Chris, I just flew to Ugashik again and had a great Christmas Mass with all of Hattie's family. It was a great time...Fr. Scott