One cold rainy Sunday afternoon this fall, I got a call after church from Ryan asking if I wanted go on an adventure. There was a seat open in the Stinson to fly down and help move a hanger door onto the barge in Iliamna. A what? A hanger door… At first I said no, knowing it would be a long cold afternoon, and I was quite enjoying my book in front of the wood stove.
But, I don’t often get the chance to tag along on crazy excursions like this, and transporting large items from Iliamna to Port Alsworth on the barge is a true bush Alaska experience. I decided to pack some hand warmers and join them.
We flew 20 miles to the end of Lake Clark to Nondalton, the village closes to us. We landed there, pulled out our gear, and got a boat ride down another small lake and into a river that leads to the barge landing close to Iliamna. And by barge landing… see the picture below.
We arrived to see the 60 foot steel framed door on top of the semi-truck and no crane operator in sight. No we couldn’t just get on our cell phone, or hop in the truck to find them… we were on Alaska time, so we had to wait for the operator to show…hoping he really did know we were coming “some time that afternoon.” After about an hour, he arrived. I decided to stay clear and let the men work… I was merely there for sight seeing.
I found a good spot up on a hill and picked a few low bush cranberries while I watched the long process of securing the door frame to the crain and hoisting it up and around. They had to set it down, readjust and swing it carefully around again to the barge. It being so late in the fall, the water is low, adding another challenge of having the barge further out in the water.
It was quite impressive to see this massive structure swinging around on a crane in “the middle of nowhere.” Let’s just say, building the largest airplane hanger in Port Alsworth is not just an average or simple project.
Barging something to Port Alsworth is an 8 step process. Much like a facial.
1. Purchase product and have it transported to Homer landing and load onto a barge
2. Barge traverses 100 miles from Homer to Wiliamsport landing
3. Remove product from barge and transport down a 6 mile road to Lake Iliamna
4. Transfer on another barge in Lake Iliamna transport to the town of Iliamna
5. Remove product from barge and transport down a 10 mile road to the Iliamna barge landing
6. Remove product from truck and place on Port Alsworth barge
7. Barge 30 miles up a river, to 6-Mile Lake to Lake Clark and home to Port Alsworth
8. Unload barge and transport your product to your home. Finally.
Rise and repeat.
Even though it was a long cold afternoon, I was a very unique experience. It makes me appreciate all of the comforts we have in Port Alsworth, thanks to this barge.
On our way back, we buzzed low along the shores of Lake Clark skimming for brown bears. For as long as I’d lived in Lake Clark, I had yet to see a bear closer than a small dot from an airplane. We came up on 3 or 4 big ones hanging on the shores, feeding on dead salmon. It was also beautiful to fly over the area and take in the beauty of the fall colors that only stay a few short weeks.
If you can’t make it fun… make it memorable!