Egg Gathering on the Arctic Cliffs

Written by Tommy Koonuk

Waking up by text message from my brother only meant one thing: the pick. It was a cloudy July afternoon in my hometown of Point Hope. I grabbed some lunch and packed up all my repelling gear onto my four-wheeler. I was filled with excitement and anxiety considering the fact that this was going to be a two man show for a few hours.

My brother Adam arrived to my place and we decided on what we wanted to do. We took off down the coast. The drive to the cliffs would be about 30 miles down the coast which took about 30-40 minutes. As we trolled along the coast, the sky started clearing up, filling with ambient rays of sun.
Adam and I reached our destination. We had mixed emotions filled with both bravery inheirited from our ancestors yet fear from the unknown. . Discussing whether or not we should be a two man crew got us both thinking, "our ancestors did this, I should be able to pull you back up". I unpacked the gear and suited up Adam with the harness. We looked for the best spot that had a lot of eggs.
We looked at each other in the eyes as a confirmation that we were going to do this. Adam gracefully repelled down the 90 degree cliff trying to get about 200 feet down to the eggs. I clenched the rope as tight as possible for his life was in my hands. I had alot of important freight in my hands; it was all on me. I slowly gave him slack inch by inch.
The communication between us got pretty tough since the wind was coming from the south and howling. We were literally screaming our lungs out trying to talk and signal which move would be next. I struggled to keep the rope at a steady length while he only became heavier and heavier. After about 30 minutes of holding the rope it seemed as if he was gaining weight. I barely heard him yelling " PULL ME UP!!"
I tried with all my strength that i had in to my pull the kid up, but I couldnt. He was stuck dangling on the side of the cliff with a 150 foot drop. Though we couldnt hear each other, we both knew we were in a bad situation. The weight of the rope only got more heavier and tighter and I slowly started losing grip.
I swear I prayed so loud I probably got all the ground squirrels attention. The only thing I was able to do was hold onto the rope for Adams dear life. About an hour passed and I could see people at the very top of the cliff. They looked like the size of rice grains. My spirit dropped.
I yelled and yelled trying to get their attention. The rope gradually was slipping out of my grip and brought a lot of worry. There was no way I was letting go. I hollered my lungs out one last time. I probably said all the curse words in the dictionary and made up a few of my own.
Jeremy and Dennis finally heard me, spotted us and zoomed to the location we were at. They started running towards me down the hill and grabbed the rope and started pulling Adam up. I held the rope so long i wasnt able to open my first for a few minutes.
Adam and I looked each other in the eye once again. I know we were both thinking" What in the world were we thinking?" I guess i overestimated my strength which was a bad thing. We both got ourselves together and we sent Adam back down, this time with the help of two other men, Jeremy and Dennis.
I will never forget this day and situation Adam and I were in. I guess we both learned our lessons. Or did we?

Photo Credits: Shingo Takazawa and Tommy Lee Koonuk

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