Friday, May 6, 2011

Elevation: Six Feet

I have heard it said that more people have stood atop Mt. Everest (2,700 as of 2008) than have set foot on Palmyra Atoll (not counting WWII period).  

I'm willing to bet, then, that the membership in the Palmyra Atoll trail running club (the No Incline Club?), if one existed, would have to be infinitesimal. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit this special place, let alone run the trails of Cooper and Strawn Islands.

Initial approach to Palmyra Atoll aboard charter flight.  Photo courtesy of EW.
The last two days on Palmyra Atoll allowed for a couple more runs on now-familiar ground.  Felt like I got to know some of the sights along the way:
  • the two spots where pairs of fairy terns would repeatedly flutter down from the trees and hover just out of reach before darting off into the tree canopy;
  • places on the beach and on the mile-long runway where one was assured of seeing groups of bristle-thighed curlews, a bird species of global concern (estimated that there are just 8,000 left worldwide);
  • the bushes where the Cooper Island trail dumps out on the runway where young red-footed boobies always seemed to be hanging out looking for twigs and plant material for nests;
  • the noisy frigatebirds chasing red-footed boobies above the runway trying to get the boobies to regurgitate their day's food in order to have an easy meal (kleptoparasitism).

Adult red-footed boobies
In addition to running, I had the chance to snorkel around some absolutely amazing coral gardens, do an hour-long dive down what felt like a manta ray highway, explore some WWII ruins and learn about the atoll's history as a refueling base during that war, do some hands-on conservation work and sea kayak the length of the east lagoon.  

So, the runs:

Sunday, May 1st

AM:  3.10 miles - hike in the rain out to the end of Strawn Island and across the coral flats and back.
PM:  8.11 miles; 1:09 - three loops on the Cooper Island - trail/runway loop, plus a quick swing through the base camp.

The trail through the forest on Cooper Island
Monday, May 2nd

AM:  5.02 miles; 52 minutes - from base camp to the end of Strawn Island, then down the beach (past some really cool WWII concrete structures) to North Beach, then onto the Cooper Island trail/runway loop route. Took lots of pictures along the way.

Running down North Beach
The mile-long runway on Palmyra.  During WWII, the runway was twice as wide.
Pillbox on the beach on the north side of Strawn Island
The trail headed toward the end of Strawn Island.
The population figure changes when someone arrives or leaves. In WWII there were upwards of 3,000 people on the atoll.
It's good to back home in the dry air and 7,300-foot elevation, but it's hard not to miss the beauty and rarity of the atoll and its 6-foot elevation.


  1. Thanks for the vicarious tour. Great pictures.

    I like the trail through the woods; I certainly don't get to see that type of vegetation often.

    Unusual wildlife, too. What a privilege.

  2. MTR2 - I hear you. A world away from the ponderosa forests of the Front Range!

    Brandon - virtually everything we ate came from the supply cache in the research station's galley. We actually ate quite well. We left the local fauna alone!

  3. This looks ... unreal. Population 25? Elevation 6? 1000 miles away from Hawaii? This is like Castaway.

  4. The population was 9 before our charter plane arrived. The populations number ebbs and flows as researchers/scientists and support staff come and go. Incredible place, and just a speck in a vast, vast ocean!

  5. So very cool. Thanks for sharing such an amazing experience.

  6. Great pics, stories, and important work.

    And educational:

    "Kleptoparasitism is a form of feeding in which one animal takes prey or other food from another that has caught, collected, or otherwise prepared the food, including stored food."

    Interesting, so it doesn't -have- to be regurgitated... How about stealing food from unsuspecting ultrarunners? Like barefoot running and all, it would be defensible because it's "natural!"

  7. Mike - yeah, theft is theft in the animal kingdom, whether it's a booby's puke or nabbing gels from someone else's drop bags!