Mount Vsevidof is one of the most active volcanoes in the Aleutian Islands, and its summit, at 7,051 feet, is the highest point on Umnak Island. In good weather, when the clouds part, which is not often, you can see its symmetrical cone that towers beautifully over the surrounding area. Swift, rushing rivers flow down from the mountains; the valleys have majestic bends of waterways, moss-covered estuaries, deep canyons, and marshes adorned with downy flowers. To walk on the island, you need to be prepared to wade across a large number of rivers. Soil erosion is so rapid that bridges could never be built. Photo by Viktor Posnov.

Alaska’s Aleutian Islands are an archipelago of 14 large islands and 55 smaller ones with 40 active volcanoes in the northern Pacific Ocean. The islands are located between Alaska’s mainland and the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia, making up the dividing line between the Bering Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and occupying an area of 6,821 square miles, similar to the combined area of the Hawaiian Islands. The Aleutians’ population is very small, about 5,200 people—and getting there is not an easy task. 

Skeleton of a cow partially buried in sand on beach. Rock pillar rises from beach nearby.
We encountered hundreds, if not thousands, of wild cattle on the island. Constantly crossing with them near rivers, trying to disperse in valleys, meeting on beaches and in gorges. In the 1940s, people brought them here for the purpose of production, but volatile and unpredictable weather conditions made ranching impossible. The animals were abandoned and left to reproduce and fend for themselves. The last data on the number of cattle was 6,000 in 2015, when some were rounded up and sold as organic, hormone-free beef to a company in Canada. After that, counting stopped. Photo by Viktor Posnov.
A white building and blue roof of a church in a small seaside village.
The village of Nikolski is thousands of years old, making it one of the oldest settlements in the Aleutian Islands and one of the oldest continuously inhabited places on Earth, with archaeological evidence dating back 4,000 years. Today, it is home to 39 inhabitants. Located in a very beautiful place, Nikolski provides a stunning view of the snow-capped Vsevidof and Recheshnoi volcanoes, as well as vast plains interrupted by rocky cliffs revealing the blue of the North Pacific and the Bering Sea. The locals still live a simple life in harmony with nature and each other. The historic Saint Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church remains a distinguishing feature of the village with its gabled-roof sanctuary and remarkable, intricately carved interior. Photo by Viktor Posnov.

With a friend, I spent a month backpacking across untouched and unexplored routes, facing the most unpredictable weather on the planet, to document the harsh beauty and remoteness of the landscape. We crossed dozens of rivers, discovered new waterfalls, found unknown and unnamed geysers, camped on the sides of active volcanoes, blazed paths through untrod passes, fought with the winds, and scaled glaciers. Few people make the journey to Umnak Island, but for those who do, another world awaits. Beyond these images, check out my video footage on YouTube, and additional photos on my website.

Aerial photo, waterfall plunges into pool in green, rocky landscape
On the northeastern part of Umnak Island is the snow-capped caldera of Okmok volcano. The volcano is just over 3,500 feet high and 5.78 miles in diameter. Although not as tall as its brethren, it occupies nearly half the island. The volcano is divided into two calderas, formed by eruptions many years ago. A crater lake once filled most of the caldera. The prehistoric lake reached a depth of 500 feet. It would still be there if it were not for the speed of erosion and the eruption in 2008 that changed the caldera, which created five large lakes and many smaller ones. This waterfall cascades from the approach to Okmok. Photo by Viktor Posnov.
A black morph fox stands above a young black fox looking up. Both are in a field of blooming yellow flowers
Most people think the Aleutian Islands are virtually untouched by civilization. But over time, various species of animals were introduced to the islands, including fox, reindeer, bison, and cattle. When Vitus Bering first arrived, he found local red foxes and named the area the Fox Islands. The foxes have not gone anywhere since then. These animals walked along the beaches and rivers, and were very curious about us, approaching without fear. This black morph red fox tends to her young. Photo by Viktor Posnov.
Red dirt coats the side of a plunge into deep pit in a remote landscape
The last eruptions of Okmok occurred in 1997 and 2008. These eruptions uncovered deep pits within the crater and completely altered the landscape both in and around the diameter of the caldera. Numerous fumaroles are located on the slopes of the volcano. Fissures and ravines radiate from the crater like threads. There are millions of cracks scattered in all directions, from one to several hundred feet high, which are impossible to cross. In addition, eruptions caused not only a change of landscape but also the formation of glaciers, which was an unexpected and dangerous discovery for us as we descended from the other side. Photo by Viktor Posnov.
Rusted remains dot a flat, green landscape
The Japanese landing on the Aleutian Islands in 1942 was the first foreign invasion of the United States since the British invasions of 1812. Within months of the attack, 145,000 American and Canadian military personnel were sent to the Aleutian Archipelago to defend it and retake the islands captured by the Japanese. The population of soldiers on the islands of Umnak and Unalaska was 13,000, and a large number of settlements and infrastructure were constructed over the next two years to accommodate them. The abandoned remains of these buildings can still be seen today, though the fighting that took place there has largely been forgotten in historical accounts. In 1987, the site was added to the National Register of Historic Places as Cape Field at Fort Glenn. Photo by Viktor Posnov.
Sheer cliffs rise from water, covered in greenery
Because Umnak Island sees an average of 250 days of rain per year, it has a huge number of rivers, waterfalls, and swamps. But, because of the windy and cold climate, no trees grow here, which adds to the dramatic landscape. This aerial view shows the lush green expanse of cliffs at Amos Bay, jutting out from the water. Photo by Viktor Posnov.

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