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Roy and Savik Ahmaogak, Part 2

This is the continuation of an interview with Roy and Savik Ahmaogak on June 1, 2017 by Karen Brewster at their home in Utqiagvik, Alaska (formerly known as Barrow). In this second part of a two part interview, Roy talks about the large ice-break off event that happened offshore from Barrow in 1997, the effect of wind and current on ice movement, and how he learned about ice from elders. About half way through, Savik Ahmaogak joins the interview and discusses some of his experiences hunting out on the ice, the importance of watching the ice and the current to keep from getting drifted out, and two times when he got got caught in moving and piling ice. He also talks about learning about ice, ice safety, and how his grandfather got drifted out on the ice.

Digital Asset Information

Archive #: Oral History 2013-25-39_PT.2

Project: Sea Ice in Northern Alaska
Date of Interview: Jun 1, 2017
Narrator(s): Roy Ahmaogak, Lawrence "Savik" Ahmaogak
Interviewer(s): Karen Brewster
Transcriber: Denali Whiting
Location of Interview:
Funding Partners:
Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Coastal Marine Institute, North Pacific Research Board
Alternate Transcripts
There is no alternate transcript for this interview.
There is no slideshow for this person.

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1997 ice break-off event, and using his knowledge to get young crewmembers to safety

Conditions that occurred before and during the 1997 break-off event

Learning about ice conditions from elders and knowing what to look for

Effect of wind on ice movement

Effect of south and southwest winds on ice movement

Savik Ahmaogak joins interview and shares his early experiences on the sea ice

Using a compass to gauge whether the ice is moving

Drifting out on the ice

Going seal hunting as a boy and learning about ice and checking the current from his uncle

His grandfather, Roy Ahmaogak, drifting out on the ice and afterwards becoming a minister

Being safe on thin ice

Importance of checking the current and the wind

Getting caught in piling ice, and effect of the current on moving ice

Learning about different currents from his father

Learning about dangerous ice conditions by experiencing them, and learning about ice and whaling from Vincent Nageak, Sr.

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After clicking play, click a section of the transcript to navigate the audio or video clip.


KAREN BREWSTER: I asked you about getting caught in the moving ice -- ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- ugruk hunting.

Have you ever been out on the shorefast ice whaling or seal hunting and getting drifted out? Were you in any of those? ROY AHMAOGAK: I’ve -- I’ve never been into a situation where we've been caught.

And we’ve been lucky as -- as a crew that -- ‘cause we’re further out north of Nuvuk that have we been caught in a situation? And I can say that we’re lucky by far not to get caught in that kind of situation yet.

Being highly observant of the ice conditions and those kind of things that we haven’t been caught yet in a dangerous situation like that.

KAREN BREWSTER: There was that big one, what was that, 1997? ROY AHMAOGAK: 1997.

KAREN BREWSTER: Were you guys out there? ROY AHMAOGAK: I can say that we were out there. I made the decision to pull back. Let’s go home, it’s getting too dangerous out there.

But no, the -- the rest of the guys want to stay out there and go whaling and -- "Okay, well, I’ll tell you what. I’m bringing all the young guys ashore. I don’t want anybody to be out here."

I brought all the young guys in. Brought them to shore. Just our snowmachine and the -- they left several of our guys out there that wanted to stay because it was nice out. There was nothing to worry about.

After we came ashore -- after we came ashore with my young guys, forty-five minutes later hell broke loose on the ice that day -- that year. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

ROY AHMAOGAK: And I can safely say that my knowledge back then saved my sons, my nephews, my cousins.

I don’t know how they would’ve reacted back then being drifted out. But I did -- I didn’t let my sons and my nephews get to experience that dangerous conditions -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: -- because my knowledge prevented them from being exposed to life and death situation. Because of my knowledge, I used that to save our lives. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROY AHMAOGAK: But the guys that wanted to stay out there, they didn’t have that knowledge that much because they were at a boarding school. They went and left Barrow to go to school, so they never attained all that knowledge.

They wanted to stay out there and go whaling.

KAREN BREWSTER: And fortunately, they did get rescued and nobody lost their lives. What -- what was it in your knowledge that -- what was it that made you go "We need to leave." Do you remember? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah, I do remember quite well.

My knowledge back then gave me the sense of this doesn’t feel right. It’s getting bad. I had -- I had the feeling that, you know, it’s not -- it’s not a time to be out here. Let's go. We can always come back tomorrow, come back the day after.

I didn’t lose sleep after that. I gave my two cents in of "Let’s go. We shouldn’t be out here." But knowing guys that are older than me wanted to stay out there, that -- "It’s okay. There’s nothing wrong."

Okay, there’s nothing I can say or do. I didn’t lose anything, but I gained so much respect after that day. Something that cannot be replaced is the knowledge that I gave, the comments that I gave before that.

They never questioned my authority after that, because like I said, I was never sent out to a boarding school. I never got to lose anything, but I gained so much staying home, being --

KAREN BREWSTER: You have a traditional education. ROY AHMAOGAK: I got so much education that I bypass guys that were a lot older than I that I gave them my knowledge. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: And they didn’t use that knowledge to their benefit. They -- they lost -- but it was my gain at the end that I -- I received so much respect after that.

KAREN BREWSTER: Was it -- you said the conditions were nice, it was nice weather. So did you sense something in the wind or the current or -- ? ROY AHMAOGAK: It was both.

It was -- it was pretty much, you know, it was nice out, the sun is shining. The first instinct that I realized was that the currents and the small pieces of ice were starting to bypass our amuaq (ramp at ice edge for launching boat or pulling up a whale) and stuff like that. And I go "Oh, shoot, the current’s getting stronger. We better get ready to pack up and go."

But there was other -- other boats and crews out -- out -- out that day. So those older guys, older than me, felt -- and said, "Okay, they’re safe. They must know something that -- if there’s other crews out there then they must be safe."

But no, it was my own personal sense and knowledge, because I knew more than --

KAREN BREWSTER: So was there ice coming out from under the -- I’ve heard about that where it comes out from under the ice you’re standing on. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is that what you were seeing? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. Well -- KAREN BREWSTER: What’s the Iñupiaq word for that? ROY AHMAOGAK: It’s called -- it’s -- I don’t know the terminology for that, but it was just ice that was just coming out along the edge, it was just moving by. You know. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

ROY AHMAOGAK: It was just broken up pieces of ice and I knew the current was -- was trying to pick up.

And there was a crew that was towing in a whale and they were trying to move to head to their amuaq. Because the current was so strong, they started drifting backwards.

That was the second -- second instinct that these guys are not moving, they’re towing backwards.

And that’s when I made the decision right then and there. Let’s go, let’s pack up, let’s go home.

KAREN BREWSTER: And so when you came home up on the trail were there any big cracks or anything you crossed? ROY AHMAOGAK: Not a single crack. It was -- it was that quick.

From the time that we left our camp 'til the time we got to shore, which is probably a good forty-five minutes. So another forty-five minutes, which is an hour and a half -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. ROY AHMAOGAK: -- from the time we left the edge. An hour and a half later, everything drifted out. 130-some people.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, and had the wind changed at all? ROY AHMAOGAK: There was no wind. KAREN BREWSTER: There was no wind? It was just the current. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

ROY AHMAOGAK: ‘Cause my knowledge prevented my younger sons the agony of being in fear. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

ROY AHMAOGAK: It prevented them from feeling that senseless -- we’re drifting out. You know, I didn’t want them to get scared of being out there. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: I prevented a tragedy from forming that they don’t want to be out there anymore, it‘s too dangerous.

KAREN BREWSTER: And you -- and your grandfather and other elders you learned from, they’ve done the same for you. ROY AHMAOGAK: It -- they’ve been in the same, you know, they said let’s go home. It’s not, you know -- they brought that knowledge down to us. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: It’s just some of the people that were out there, you know, I -- I should say that boarding school prevented them from learning -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. ROY AHMAOGAK: -- first hand.

KAREN BREWSTER: So, do you remember an instance like when you were out with your grandfather or somebody, your dad, said, "That’s it, let’s go home."? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ask them why and did they tell you? ROY AHMAOGAK: No. No, we were -- we wouldn’t ask why. But we would find out the next day or after, you know, -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. ROY AHMAOGAK: -- that --

Because their knowledge, we do -- we didn’t question their knowledge. We didn’t --

KAREN BREWSTER: But they took -- but they would explain it later? If you asked them? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah, they would explain it later that -- you know, we were told to do this and do that and not to question authority. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: Okay, we’ll pack up and go home, let’s go home then.

KAREN BREWSTER: But I'm wondering in terms of learning -- tea -- teaching you why they did what they did. Did they explain it? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah, they would -- they would explain it. They’d say, you know, that wind’s changing, let’s go. There’s -- we don’t wanna be out here.

And the currents is -- they’re watching the current and, you know, we wouldn’t really know until -- until the ice was so close that it was -- the current was bringing it in.

You know, they would know before we knew. KAREN BREWSTER: Right. ROY AHMAOGAK: Because we were growing up not knowing from A from -- from A and B. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: But they -- they would know back then.

KAREN BREWSTER: But they somehow taught you. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. That -- because we got to pack up now and, you know, they would tell us why. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: And in some instances that, "Oh, the ice is coming, let’s go." Okay, well, let’s go.

You know, the wind may not be blowing, but they would tell us, "Well, it's time to pack up and go. The currents -- ice is coming in."

They would be observant, because we’d have open water for several miles -- several miles open. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: Two hours later, the ice could be so close that, you know, it’s time to go.

And there’s -- there’s -- there’s -- there’s instances where that we were told why we were -- it’s time to go, it’s time to get away from the ice because that, you know, heavy ice back then was something that we should never, ever question.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. Well, it sounds pretty scary to have that big ice moving in fast. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

There was guys that were down further south, which is west of Barrow, they heard -- they heard a big crack -- KAREN BREWSTER: In 1997? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

Behind them. They heard the big massive crack behind them, and then they realized that it was opening up, they were getting drifted out.

They brought some of their stuff, because it was -- it was still wide enough to where they could cross with a skin boat and their aluminum boat. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: They brought some of their stuff already across to the other side. Because these guys were here in front of town, I mean that thing was so fast that it didn’t -- it didn’t give these guys a chance to get in their boats and --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, 'cause I’m sure the guys in the south -- they -- they called on the radio. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: But it moved that fast, that’s amazing. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

And, you know, these guys down south heard a real loud crack and that’s when it opened up so fast that --

The current was so fast that it drifted all these guys twenty miles out to the east. And I was never --

KAREN BREWSTER: To the west? ROY AHMAOGAK: No, from -- from -- they drifted from here, drifted east.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, around the point? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh. Okay.

ROY AHMAOGAK: And I can gladly say that I haven’t been rescued yet. And I hope never to be rescued in a situation like that ever.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. We were talking about wind. If you're out there, or you were going to go out, if there’s a certain wind that you go, "No, I’m not gonna be out there."

Is there a good wind and a bad wind? ROY AHMAOGAK: Strong winds are bad winds, that’s the one thing I can say that I don’t -- I don’t wanna be out in there weather, and that’s twenty miles an hour or higher.

KAREN BREWSTER: Does it -- does it matter what direction? ROY AHMAOGAK: It doesn’t -- it doesn’t matter which direction. It -- if it’s too windy, it’ll -- we’re not gonna be out there. Just simple as that.

Whether or not it’s east winds or north winds. If they’re too high, then that’s a clear indication that wind --

The higher the winds, the dangerous it gets. And there’s nothing we can argue about. There’s nothing to argue about when it get windy like that. Regardless of which direction it comes from. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

And then in other cases, just regular a wind, not windy, is there a good and a bad direction?

Good and bad is very black and white. I don’t mean it quite that way, but --

ROY AHMAOGAK: You know that -- regardless of what -- what -- which -- which --which the wind direction is coming in, it just -- it could be good, it could be bad, it just doesn’t --

Time and place of each day is -- it -- it comes. I mean, we can have three or four days of east winds and, you know, they could be strong and it could break off some of the ice that we needed to have it broken up, so we don’t have to chop so much that, you know --

There’s some days that, you know, like these guys here in front of town. In front of town and Browerville -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: They wish they had stronger east winds to break this off. You can see there’s a line right here -- KAREN BREWSTER: Right. ROY AHMAOGAK: -- which is -- several of them. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: Some of these guys wish they had stronger winds. East winds to break this stuff off. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

ROY AHMAOGAK: And, yeah, there’s days where there’s good winds and bad winds. But we didn’t have any good winds this -- this spring to break off any of that ice that’s been ground -- KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: I shouldn’t say grounded, but glued to the shorefast ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: And what about a northern wind? ROY AHMAOGAK: North wind that -- the north winds are pretty much -- we hardly ever get north winds.

If it’s low pressure that’s coming around or swinging around that, you know, we get the west winds and all of a sudden we get south winds and it goes -- goes back out.

We get a high pressure, which is east winds, and then you turn around and you get north winds, because it’s passing by.

I can -- I can almost say that we’ve barely had any north winds for a while.

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you used to get north winds? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah, I get north winds all the time.

KAREN BREWSTER: So that’s changed? ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah, that’s changed.

I think we’re just getting more low pressures than we have been. The last several years we’ve been getting more low pressures than we have high pressures.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about south or southwest winds, what do they do? ROY AHMAOGAK: South and southwest winds bring in several things. They bring in warm -- warmer temperatures, which is good in some sense.

But the south winds, southwest winds are a little stronger. They’ve been blowing stronger than usual. But I wouldn’t say that they've created a storm.

All the south winds we have had are strictly just warm temperature. Warm winds. We don’t have anymore cold winds anymore.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah, north wind would be the colder wind for sure. ROY AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: But it -- nowadays -- So if you’re out on the ice, and there’s south or southwest wind, does that mean something to you to -- what you should do out on the ice?

ROY AHMAOGAK: I know it’s been a practice that once we get south and southwest winds that, you know, we have to keep an eye out and be observant of whether or not the currents are bringing in -- or the winds are bringing in the ice.

That’s something that -- in -- in -- in fact some of the wind from the south and the southwest brings in not only the warm weather, it also brings the warm wind currents and -- I -- I --

I can say that south, southwest winds are just as abnormal as ever. They’re just --

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But are they dangerous winds? ROY AHMAOGAK: Not as -- not as bad as it used to be back then. South winds -- usually that -- they don’t create much of a ruckus.

It doesn’t have much of a blow coming from the south. KAREN BREWSTER: But it used to? ROY AHMAOGAK: I wouldn’t say it used to.

South winds would do two things. Blow out the ice away from shorefast ice that creates open water, south winds create --

I -- I can say that it -- it creates lower tides. I don’t know if that’s -- makes any sense,

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. The south wind makes lower tide? ROY AHMAOGAK: I -- I -- I’m assuming that’s what it does because it -- once the south wind starts blowing, they -- it creates the water from creating lower tides.

I’m not too sure about that, but that’s what I -- I observe, you know.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Interesting. And in the old days, would the south wind bring that heavy pack ice moving in? Or that’s just more from the west? ROY AHMAOGAK: Pretty much mainly from the west.

South winds have little effect on -- on whaling. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm.

ROY AHMAOGAK: Hi, Dad. (Savik Ahmaogak joins the interview)

KAREN BREWSTER: I don’t know -- ROY AHMAOGAK: Well -- KAREN BREWSTER: -- if you want to say -- do you want to say anything?

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: To me, the ice is kinda not safe as it used to be in the early days. It used to be smoother in those days out there.

About a -- where it goes down deep. That’s where the (inaudible) line usually is.

KAREN BREWSTER: Do you remember when you first went out on the ice when you were a boy? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. I mostly -- more like cab -- cabin boy.

Have to mind what the captain says to me. Whether he wants me to do -- Wants some donuts, I have to make them.

KAREN BREWSTER: Making the donuts? Did you have to go get -- did you have to bring in the water? The drinking water? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

Mostly out there on the ice where -- where it melted, there -- there’s always water out there.

So we look for where the fresh water is melted on top of the ice. Water is always there with -- we have to look for it. We find it. We always have water out there.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. I’m just going to say on the tape that this is Savik Ahmaogak who has joined us. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Pardon?

KAREN BREWSTER: I just said your name for the tape. So did you find piqaluyak? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Ah -- KAREN BREWSTER: That multi-year ice? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: What?

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you use that piqaluyak? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Piqaluyak, yeah. Drinking water. Yeah, always look for it, and we find it we stay close by it.

And we get a break up on the ice, we used a compass. Put on the ice. When the -- when the -- when the -- it break off, the compass go crazy. KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Use that compass for safety. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: It -- it stay still, when -- when -- when it’s on the solid, but when it breaks off the compass go crazy. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: We used that for safety purpose.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. Have you been on the ice when it went out? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. We got picked up by a helicopter.

Some crews heard the crack. Didn't bother to do anything. It got drifted out. I don’t know how many crews.

It took a -- a -- a chopper, a helicopter to bring us. It took us -- it took a half hour -- KAREN BREWSTER: Oh.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: -- coming from that side and this side. It go straight out. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: So, yeah, I feel -- I feel safe staying on the south side of the earth. When they break up, it goes straight out.

KAREN BREWSTER: When you were a boy, did you go out natchiq hunting? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: What?

KAREN BREWSTER: When you were a boy, did you go out on the ice for natchiq in the winter? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. I go out with my uncle. He keep me -- I used him for safety purposes -- safety purposes.

I do what he would do, and he knew the conditions of the ice. He check the -- he checked the currents with pieces of string and maybe a spoon or a can. Which way the current goes. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Whether it’s straight down, it’s safe. But when it go -- go -- current -- KAREN BREWSTER: Goes -- goes out? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: -- is strong, it's not safe.

Better head on east, otherwise you’ll get -- break up, and you’ll get drifted out. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: My grandpa, he got drifted out one time out in the ice. A couple guys prayed to the Lord, said, "If he's safe, he’ll be serving the lord." That’s why he was a minister.

KAREN BREWSTER: What was -- what was his name? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Roy. KAREN BREWSTER: Roy. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: That’s why I named my son, Roy, after my grandpa.

KAREN BREWSTER: Oh, he was -- That Roy was your grandpa. Okay. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah. But he drifted out and -- he drifted out and he came back? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. Yeah, he got drifted out.

I don’t know how long he stayed out, I never hear how long he stayed out there.

He prayed to the lord and said if he safe, he’ll serve. Be a minister. And he became a minister.

KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. When you were out seal hunting, did you ever go walk on very thin ice? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah.

KAREN BREWSTER: How thin? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Not too -- not too far off. Mostly stay on the solid ice.

That first ice would break and get drifted out. It's not safe. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm-mm. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Better to stand on solid ice.

KAREN BREWSTER: But sea ice, that siku, it does this (moving hand like a wave), doesn’t it? When it’s thin -- LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. KAREN BREWSTER: -- it doesn’t break as easy?

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. That young ice hard to break. It was about that thick (showing about 3 inches with hand) and you can walk on top of it. KAREN BREWSTER: Wow.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: But if it breaks you -- you’re on dangerous zone.

KAREN BREWSTER: You use an unaaq? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah, I used -- I used a pole or a -- put it on top of the ice. Have a support on that thin ice. It -- it -- it don’t break when you use that stick for support.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. Did you ever go through? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Huh?

KAREN BREWSTER: Did you ever fall through? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: No. I -- I never -- I never fall, 'cause I didn’t know how to swim. I rather stay on the safe side. KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: At first, I always check the current. Which way the current goes. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: If it’s coming this way, it’s bound to break up. Going this way, it got drifted out.

KAREN BREWSTER: What about the wind? What about the wind? The anuġi. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: A what? KAREN BREWSTER: The wind. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: The waves? KAREN BREWSTER: The wind.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Anuġi. Anuġi. The wind.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Well, blowing this way, it’s danger. Ice could piled up blowing this way.

It depends on the current. Which way the current goes. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: I -- I -- I got in dangerous one twice. Ice break up all over the dogs, the camp. Twice.

Current going this way, lift you up. Cracks all over. Boy, better get out of there. Twice, I’m -- I got into that situation.

KAREN BREWSTER: Wow. So how did you get out? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Well, we stay close to the sled. And then free the dogs and push the sled.

And ice coming this way, ice break up all over. Your only chance to get out is to stay close to a sled.

KAREN BREWSTER: And run fast. And run very fast. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. You look at the conditions of your -- ground you’re in.

Sometimes I used a snowmachine. And it had piled up. Got as high as this house. We followed the ice that drift -- drifted. Stay on top of it.

Some -- my older cousin, he -- he -- he lead me and he took us to safety.

Even though the ice piled up on -- on top those ice, they piled up kinda on the same shallow ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Huh.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: That happened to me two times. On a danger zone.

KAREN BREWSTER: It sounds scary. Iiqinii.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. You -- you got to get out. You got to look at the ground, the conditions. How the current is.

That piled up on the solid ice. Piled high as this house. Even though ice is piling up, we stay on top of it. Look -- look at the conditions. And -- KAREN BREWSTER: Yeah.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: And have your ski-do on the solid ground. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. And --

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: It happened to me two times on a danger zone like that where it piled up. You got to contain how the ice is moving.

KAREN BREWSTER: And back then it was big, thick ice? Big pieces? Thick? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah. It was -- It depends on the current. Is the one that’s causing the -- in the danger zone.

KAREN BREWSTER: Now -- do you think -- could you do that today? Drive across with the kind of ice they have now? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: When -- when I’m out there, first thing I always wanna do is check the current.

‘Cause, you know, it could be dangerous -- dangerous -- danger line. KAREN BREWSTER: Okay.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: On a north wind, it could break -- it could break up.

KAREN BREWSTER: So qaisaġnaq is -- qaisaġnaq is dangerous? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Huh? KAREN BREWSTER: That qaisaġnaq is dangerous?

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Yeah, qaisaġnaq is a current unstables on the south side. Not -- not close to the Point (Point Barrow).

It's give me time to try to get onto the safety zone. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: And one time, we got drifted out. Some crews heard the crack. Didn't bother to do anything. Just heard it. And they got drifted out. Got picked up by a chopper.


LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: It took half hour for the chopper to bring us to land. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: Half hour to fly. Must’ve been about fifty miles out.

KAREN BREWSTER: Is there anything else your grandfather taught you? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: My -- my father took me out with a boat straight out. Half hour, without turning anywhere. I must’ve been fifty miles out. He -- he want to show me how it is out there. The current out there, it could be fast further out, fifty miles.

He took me out one time without turning, just straight out. And we -- current out there further north -- we tulak (to come ashore) to shore, safety ground. Fifty miles out down the coast, current was strong from the north -- north.

I got in the danger zone two -- two times. KAREN BREWSTER: Right.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: My uncle stayed in his tent. He wanted us young -- young people to get into that situation. Want us to -- want us to run into that situation while he’s alive. He told us -- he taught us right there what to do.

But the old man, Vincent Nageak, my captain, he taught me how to hunt out there. What to do. And what to check.

Sle -- sled load -- sled, grab on the boat. pull up there, go down the -- and look for a bend where the ice -- whales usually come up on that bend. That’s one thing he always look for. That’s where the whale always go -- go by. KAREN BREWSTER: Hm. LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: On the bend. KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm.

LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: He doesn’t bother with the conditions of -- how the ice -- rough is. He look for a bend. That’s where the whale always go by. By the bend.

KAREN BREWSTER: Mm-hm. So back then, when you went out whaling with him, was the ice more rough or smoother than today? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: It used to be pretty good in those days.


KAREN BREWSTER: Why was it good? You said the ice was pretty good. What was good? LARRY “SAVIK” AHMAOGAK: That -- that -- this, done by the current. That’s one thing you always have to know the conditions of the current.