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High Island Inbound - Naming Your Own Land Marks in Alaska

High Island Inbound


My first day in the helicopter we had customers to pick up in Wrangell, Alaska.  My pilot and a coworker quizzed me out the local landmarked for flight following purposes.

“What is that high island over there?”

“Kadin” I replied promptly having studied the map for two weeks and tracing our route on the one in my lap as we flew along.

“No, that’s High Island”

I knew there was a High Island 20 miles to the west.  At that point my pilot called on the FAA frequency notifying local traffic that we were approaching the airport from the high island.  Ends up the Wrangellites (citizens of Wrangell) have an alternative name for many landmarks.  If you approach the airport from the opposite end, you call;  “Hour Island inbound.” rather than Punta Point like on the map.  Hour Island is a small peninsula shaped like an hourglass. 

Off the airport was an island the Wrangellites call Dead Man’s but the map says Simonoff.  It served once as a mortuary for deceased Chinese workers awaiting a ship home. Now the island was home to a solitary grave stone.

Further on down the “Back Channel” (apparently the Wrangellites never knew an early English explorer named it the Eastern Passage.) is Venus Cove.  I helped the Forest Service Archaeologist with a place name survey once.  We interviewed an old skipper form Wrangell named Red. One of the many stories he told us was about some old boy in a logging camp at Venus Cove. He found some silver paint and used it at low tide to paint herring on the rocks.  When the tide came in the hungry Salmon knocked themselves out trying to get the herring.  And the good old boy just picked up the unconscious fish. (Hmm.)

A little further on was Blake Island called Ham Island because the commercial fishing was so good you could buy a ham for you family. I should mention Farm Island here.  About halfway between banner-hung Petersburg and Wrangell via Dry Straits is the mouth of the Stikine River.  The wind blows down-river like a blast-furnace during the winter carry sand from up river.  So much sand in fact, that you can farm on the islands there.  Someone decided to raise pigs here one summer.  All the hogs would feast on fish-waste from the canneries in Wrangell.  Come time to butcher everyone one in town wanted to buy one of the pigs.  That first day there must have been some great barbecues.  The next day the left over pork smelled like fish.  The third day like spawned-out Humpies.

Half way between Little Norway (Petersburg) and Wrangell via the Wrangell Narrows and Sumner Straits lies Two-Tree Island.  It served as a landmark for passing boats to check in .  But it was a little off the flight routes.  Still at a distance I could see two proud trees standing on the little island.  Eventually I’d pass by in a boat and realize it was still two trees cause someone had taken a chainsaw and dropped all the others


Author - William Moulton