Camp Life at Tanginak

As the OHAHP team began planning the 2019 field season, I was most anxious about remote camping on Sitkalidak Island. I had done some camping before, but only in established campgrounds in national parks where there were latrines, water pumps and road access. Sitkalidak is far more isolated. No human communities reside there on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, but it is home to the renowned Kodiak brown bears and, since the past year, a herd of bison that is owned by the Old Harbor Native Corporation. I had no clear vision of how we would sustain a safe and functioning camp.

Erin, Wyatt and Hollis standing on the beach at Tanginak with all of our camp gear. The boat in the background (piloted by Geoff Bechtol) had just dropped us off! (PC: Ben Fitzhugh)

Thankfully, Ben has numerous years of experience setting up and running remote camps, so he led Erin, Wyatt and I in making Tanginak our home for 3 weeks.

Our personal tents set up at Tanginak.

In order to minimize food smells (which could attract bears or other wildlife) near our sleeping areas, we set up our personal tents at a distance from the cooking/eating tent. We also washed dishes at a third separate location and stored bear-attractant foods in a sealed container in a spring. That spring was also our source of fresh water, which we filtered using a hand-pumped spigot. The spring has been running for thousands of years and is likely where Alutiiq ancestors living at Tanginak got their water as well! One of the things I love about archaeology is how it makes plain that landscapes and places connect us through time, even as we write new meanings onto them – the Tanginak spring is but one example.

The Tanginak Spring flowed out from under the knoll where we camped. Our water pump is in the foreground.

It is a lot of work to run a remote camp – keeping things clean, sharing cooking tasks, pumping and carrying water, etc. – especially with just three adults. The close social quarters also created some moments of tension. Despite the challenges, however, it is hard to beat living in such a beautiful place and I am eager to return to Tanginak next summer – hopefully with a larger field team, including students and community members from Old Harbor!

Feel free to comment or reach out on social media if you have any questions about living at Tanginak or about the OHAHP. I would also love to hear your camping stories and tips!

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