Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program
Billy Adams, Interview 2

Billy Adams was interviewed on June 24, 2009 by Matthew Druckenmiller in Barrow, Alaska. This interview was part of Matthew's research for a Ph.D. in Snow, Ice and Permafrost Geophysics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. For his project, he mapped the trails built by whalers to their camps at the edge of the sea ice and talked with local residents about ice conditions, whale camps, and trail building. Results of his research can be found in his dissertation Alaska Shorefast Ice: Interfacing Geophysics With Local Sea Ice Knowledge and Use (2011). In this interview, Billy talks about the seasonal ice conditions and features, trails, safety, camp locations and whaling in Barrow during the 2009 spring season.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-13

Project: Sea Ice Project Jukebox
Date of Interview: Jun 24, 2009
Narrator(s): Billy Adams
Interviewer(s): Matthew Druckenmiller
Transcriber: Joan O'Leary
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
Slideshow
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Sections

Trail building

Safety concerns on flat ice, young ice, and ice that is not grounded

Choosing trail and whale camp location

End of whaling season and dealing with water and late season ice conditions

Cracks in the ice and pressure ridges

Multi-year ice

Peninsulas and points along the ice edge

Slush ice and effect of wind

Inupiaq terminology for point and bay

Abundance of trails

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Transcript

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So I know your -- you guys’ trail is number seven, right?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What -- what time of year did you guys place that trail in?

BILLY ADAMS: Been February.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: February.

BILLY ADAMS: Started February. There and over here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Alright, the -- with the OACIS people.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And what -- how much work went into doing this trail off the airport?

BILLY ADAMS: Oh, it took about a week. Not that long.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Yep. Seven days to make it all to the edge. It was very flat.

You could have gone out there in one day with a --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Yeah, well I took -- I went out there once -- that day I met you in the morning.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And we went out there. It was pretty -- pretty flat.

BILLY ADAMS: It was almost too flat.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, just because if it got hit?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. That’s what we were afraid of, so every time we see ice coming we’d have to pack early, because it was too flat.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Did you guys ever camp out there at the edge?

BILLY ADAMS: For one day, I think.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: But most of the time we'd run away. If we saw ice coming.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Did you guys have a safe camp anywhere along the trail?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, right there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Where? Back in here?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So what -- how well was the ice along that trail grounded?

BILLY ADAMS: There was I think two-thirds of the trail is not grounded --

only from the beach to I’d have to say maybe only a quarter mile away, maybe not even. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, maybe a quarter mile away.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So all this stuff right here wasn’t grounded at all?

BILLY ADAMS: Yep. Only up to this was grounded right here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, that -- Did that ice that you saw break out yesterday, is that still this stuff or is that other stuff that -- ?

BILLY ADAMS: It's up to here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, really, oh, okay.

BILLY ADAMS: To around here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And then how would you describe the types of ice that you guys are --

BILLY ADAMS: Well, it was just --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- place your trail on? BILLY ADAMS: It was young ice that formed in February -- January and February.

It just formed out there. It didn’t move. It just kind of froze.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Froze in place?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And survived the whole spring without being broken up?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it survived the whole spring without getting broken up too bad.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. Is that rare or is that typical?

BILLY ADAMS: Well we -- we at first like I said we didn’t know what kind of ice was coming at us and --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. BILLY ADAMS: And we’d run away before it got close.

Then we got to thinking why isn’t it breaking up so we packed up everything and pulled everything up to where it was safe then went back down to see what kind of ice was coming in.

It was just young ice that was all jumbled up and gotten high because it was packed in and just jagged young ice.

And every time it came it just Saliaq, we call it. It means like a file. You know like a metal file just rubbing along the edge.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: Not really doing any damage to the ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Was that good or bad? BILLY ADAMS: Better -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What you guys need?

BILLY ADAMS: It was no good. We had a bad season because of all that young ice coming in all the time and staying in. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: And it would add on more.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: And add -- make some more trails, add, make another trail.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: It would've been better for it to just -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it would -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Pile up and --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, pile up. It will make it strong or something, but it just kept adding and a lot of parts were very thin. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: One inch. Eventually freeze to five or six inches, but not very stable.

In some places where it was snow dropped it never froze.

And I went through with my snowmachine. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Went two times. I went about a hundred yards and then just gunned it all the way and went back onto safe ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. Oh, you started to break through and you just --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, I made a wide turn.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Huh. What is that?

BILLY ADAMS: That was a few days after we had made a trail over there. I just went to go check.

Not even one-eighth of a mile from our trail, it was not safe.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So why did you guys actually put your trail here? What was the reason?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, we had made a trail there the year before and it was close like that and we hadn't gotten a whale when the ice was closing that way.

That was the reason why. It was just close for us to go down there and smooth, and we had decided we'll just stick around right here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Then there was a -- this ice over here we were thinking of going out here, but, you know, it was too far out.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: That’s why we just made a trail there. And we had made another trail over here. We fixed it up.

In two days we fixed up that trail, and just never went there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Did you say you guys stayed on this one the whole season?

BILLY ADAMS: Well, we came out here for one day -- two days to this trail and --

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Out -- out here?

BILLY ADAMS: At the -- Over here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, yeah. So when did you guys stop -- stop hunting on the ice?

BILLY ADAMS: May, I think. May -- May 10th. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: No, it was May 12th when we went home.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. Was that because of the ice conditions or --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, ice conditions were -- it had gotten hot and for many days straight and it melted everything.

And we just didn’t want to stay out there in -- a lot of water all around.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: If we had drilled some holes all that water would have went down.

Eventually it did, but we didn’t want to stay out there because of a lot of ice melt.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Snow melt mostly -- mostly snow that melted.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: But do people typically do that -- they'll drill holes?

BILLY ADAMS: Sometimes they would. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Along the trail or --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, in the past many -- many years ago. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Like pulling a plug out of the bathtub.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. I've seen it happen when we -- yeah, up here at our site. BILLY ADAMS: Uh-huh.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I know last year we took some ice cores and then we went back a few days later and they were huge from all the water that had gone -- BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- drained through. Pretty amazing.

Bigger than a seal.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it eats up that ice really fast.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. I think Hajo may have spoken with you about this, but I had a similar question which is just what are the --

When you're out there in the spring hunting, what are the different stages that you see the ice go through that leads to where you decide that it's unsafe or unstable to be out there?

BILLY ADAMS: Oh, it was the older cracks that were out there melted. Then it kind of --

kind of feed them up and things started to move around and there was water in the cracks from all that melt and kinda thought a lot of thin spots.

And there was a lot of big pools of water and just not safe to -- for anyone to be out there.

Just took a few days of warm weather from on top, and I think a little from the current from the bottom, and the young ice had gotten soft.

We wouldn’t be able to pull up a whale on it and once we know that we can’t pull up a whale, well, that’s done for us.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. What about the bottom of those ridges like the one out here off town or those ones that are closer to town here? Are those typically --

BILLY ADAMS: They’re grounded.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Did you have to worry about those coming undone during whaling season or they -- are they so well grounded that --

BILLY ADAMS: They were grounded very well because it happened early in the season.

They grounded closer than normal. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Because there was open water and then it got shoved further in the shallow. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Normally, you know, we -- we’d have grounded ice out here somewhere, but not very further in. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: You understand what I’m telling you?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So it means those -- those ridges normally pile further, but this year somehow they got pushed in so that --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, we had a very strong west wind maybe 50, 60 knots. While we had open water in -- all this was flat and then it -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Shoved in this kind of ice -- shoved in and made some big ridges.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: That was early January or --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, December.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: December. BILLY ADAMS: January.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, because I was here -- I was here in mid-January and I -- and all these ridges had -- were all -- were in place already.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it happened in December. We had big, heavy west wind. Shoved it all in and made some ridges.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So you -- you typically don’t find those big ridges that close?

BILLY ADAMS: Sometimes they -- they’re pretty close, but those ones are pretty close.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And there wasn’t a whole lot of ridges beyond that was there?

BILLY ADAMS: No. They all would -- when we thought they would stay some big ice come in and we thought it would stay, but they never stayed.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. What about the -- when I was out there this year I saw --

I don’t if it's because there was a lot of it around or maybe I figured out how finally how to identify it, but I saw quite a bit of multi-year ice just -- some off of Browerville and some --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Saw some up here and I saw a lot of stuff north of the Point . BILLY ADAMS: Uh-huh.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: And I was wondering what you thought about that? Is it more than recent years or -- the -- the -- those multi-year ice pans?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, there was some of that water, that ice that we get for drinking water it was real scattered here and there.

Barrow and when you go up north there was big pans of it out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: I took a drive maybe fifteen miles north. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. North of --

BILLY ADAMS: Of the Point.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Of the Point, wow.

BILLY ADAMS: And I ran into all that multi-year ice. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: Just to see what was out there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. But what you found, was that typical, because the reason I ask --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, it's kind of typical like that. We say it would be more of it coming on this side right here in front of Barrow.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. BILLY ADAMS: We need more of that multi-year ice coming to Barrow and freeze in there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh. Yeah, what's interesting about that is that, you know, we can’t -- it'd be nice if we could distinguish what and multi-year --

BILLY ADAMS: This piece right here?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: No -- no, just in this type of image.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: What was multi-year ice and what wasn’t, but we can’t really do it.

So you almost have to be on the ground to see it.

BILLY ADAMS: This part was just young ice that had frozen thick. And it was a big pan and just went there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh..

BILLY ADAMS: With no heavy multi-year ice. It was just frozen young ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. BILLY ADAMS: That gotten thick.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, one question I had was because I heard people talking about it this year, but I’m still unclear as, you know, when people are building these trails, are they looking to place their trails kind of where the --

where you have the ice sticking out or do some people --

BILLY ADAMS: Near the -- This year is kind of weird because the ice was sticking out way over here. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. And so --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, and, you know, it's all straight you can tell.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Right.

BILLY ADAMS: Then everybody's scared to go out here cause it's too flat.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: And too far out. If it was over here, they’d come here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um. The whales that you -- I guess it was closed a lot this year, but I had thought that maybe that when the ice stuck out here. it would kinda --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they were all going through the -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: -- kinda deflect the whales.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. A lot of them were. These guys that were reporting all the whales.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: We didn’t see a single whale.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So this was kind of making the whales go out further?

BILLY ADAMS: But the first herd that went by there was a lot of whales but we were not out there. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: We watched it.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Was that -- that was in?

BILLY ADAMS: Early April -- April 12 -- April 13.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Those days.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I think that's when I was out on -- that's when I drove out here was at -- April 12 maybe.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Actually, we saw quite a bit of whales. BILLY ADAMS: Yep.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well, actually I don’t know how many we saw, but the ones we did see were really obvious because they were breaching and --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they were all breaching. A lot of them were.

Happy to be up there where there was no whalers.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BRIAN PERSON: Hey, Billy.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hey, Brian. BILLY ADAMS: Hey, Brian.

BRIAN PERSON: Waiting on a plane.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh, you're flying out?

BRIAN PERSON: Well, to -- yeah, go collar caribou.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh. Well, so then I guess my -- did uh -- was there anything unusual about this year that we didn’t talk about? The ice conditions or --

BILLY ADAMS: There was a lot of slush. There was a lot of slush ice.

And what was unusual was some at Point decide to stay there even we had strong winds. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: And we were hoping this would be over here not there, you know. Usually --

usually this part would have no ice.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: And it all came here. That was unusual. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Uh-huh.

BILLY ADAMS: Usually it, you know, it come over here then it --

I mean it start right here and make a point right there, except it didn’t. It went the other way.

But we had a lot of west wind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. BILLY ADAMS: And that was unusual.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Well --

BILLY ADAMS: And, yeah, that -- there was a lot of ice where there shouldn’t have been ice almost that far out over here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. So in a normal year you would have had a bit more east wind that would have --

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: That would have gotten rid of that ice that was still out there.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. It'd be kind of something that looked like this. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: And go out over here and -- MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: And go around.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Isn’t -- early in the winter isn’t the ice typically --

BILLY ADAMS: Yep, it is moving that way.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: And we thought -- you know, it came here and hit but it didn’t do much.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, just cause there's nothing solid in there, huh? BILLY ADAMS: Uh-huh.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Slush.

BILLY ADAMS: And most of the time when that slush came in -- when it had a heavy east wind. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: That thin one inch ice was staying, too.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: That was kind of weird. It was kind of -- made a lot of whalers not go out there.

Even there was whales we kind of hesitant to go out there because of the unsafe ice conditions when we had open water.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: But, you know, we're not trying to take chances to kill a whale for loss of lives.

But later on eventually somebody landed a whale, we got happy.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, and I guess you can celebrate on Saturday?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, Saturday night. Saturday noche. Will you be here?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Alright, we'll see you there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, I'm going to go over. I've missed it the last couple years.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, go over there when they start tossing the people around. You can go on there, too.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. I'll go there and flip you up there.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, that would be nice to see.

Well, I won’t keep you since it's almost time to go home.

BILLY ADAMS: Oh, we got like five minutes.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: I think though that -- well, a lot of that stuff I had spoken you with about earlier.

Did you guys have any -- were there any noticeable cracks along your guys’ trail that you were worried about?

BILLY ADAMS: No, not really. No noticeable cracks, but there was some cracks up north and over here, but not on our trail.

We didn’t have -- we didn’t have any cracks.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Hm. Is there an Inupiaq word for these types of features? BILLY ADAMS: Nuvuġaq . MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Like peninsulas that stick out.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, Nuvuġaq. Nuvuġaġaruaq, a big point. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: Nuvuġaġaruaq.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So, are people using that to refer to this thing?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, Nuvuġaġaruaq kaŋiqłuk. Like a big bay. Kaŋiqłukpak .

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Are you going to write those?

BILLY ADAMS: Yes. Oops. Nuvuġaqpak. Big point.

And what is Kaŋiqłuk. Oops. Kaŋiqłuk. Bay.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: So, like this whole thing, or just these little -- ?

BILLY ADAMS: The little one. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Kaŋiqłuuraq. Kaŋiqłuk. Bay -- every one can -- like this can be a Kaŋiqłuk. Kaŋiqłuk.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. And that's typically where someone would want to place a camp -- kind of in a little bay.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, sort of, but we’d like to be at the -- by the point.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah.

BILLY ADAMS: Most of the time by the point.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, oh so -- I didn’t figure out why -- like if I had one from earlier -- two days earlier -- no two weeks earlier in the year.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: This thing here. BILLY ADAMS: Yeah.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: With so many trails -- all these trails were going out there.

BILLY ADAMS: Cause everybody was lazy to make a trail. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Oh.

BILLY ADAMS: They all went on our trail. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: You remember that, right?

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, but I thought maybe there might be another reason why people were there.

BILLY ADAMS: You got a whale, come by here.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. I guess it is a lot of work. I can’t explain.

I mean I can’t understand why people would just use a trail that already exists.

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah, they all, you know, there are a bunch of lazy people that don’t like to make a trail.

You know, I always say something about it at the meeting. MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um.

BILLY ADAMS: But I have to turn old man in Anchorage and they'll start listening.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Um, a few more years, huh?

BILLY ADAMS: Yeah. There's a lot of people that don’t like to make a trail.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Seems like --

BILLY ADAMS: That’s just the plain truth. There's no way around it.

There's no way around it. You got to build a trail.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah. Well, I think that’s all the questions I wanted to ask you.

BILLY ADAMS: Oh, yeah, okay.

MATTHEW DRUCKENMILLER: Yeah, thanks Billy.

BILLY ADAMS: Thank you.