The Myth and Magic of Misery Mountain: A Diving Report
So, pull up a chair. This is a dive report of the exploration dive we did this week, and probably the most challenging dive I’ve ever done. The site was a pinnacle in the middle of Resurrection Bay. It started in around 100 feet of water and sank down to 1,000. Back in the day, there used to be a floating fishing platform that sat on top of it, so we knew there was structure and it wasn’t just a ball of mud.
People have talked about diving it for decades, but a mix of the depth, and the fact it’s only practically diveable in the winter (it’s in the middle of a high traffic body of water in the summer) meant that if anybody had dove it before, we didn’t know about it. We had planned to dive it at multiple points this winter, but weather kept blowing us off. Even this trip came down to a decision made at the dock.
Conditions were sub-zero on the surface, and it was incredibly choppy. We got an anchor on the top of the pinnacle, and the line/chain immediately zipped taught. We had gone back-and-forth on whether or not to bring scooters on the dive. It was a godsend we did. Scooters and stage bottles were slung off the side of the boat, followed by our team of three, rolling off a deck slippery with frozen spray. The surface current was insane. We had said we weren’t going to use our scooters on ascent/descent, and that immediately went out the window. We battled our way forward to the anchor line, waiting for frozen valves and regulators to unthaw in the 36° water.
We took off down the anchor line, eager to get off the surface. The chain was humming with tension and bucking up and down. Because of the fact the nearest land was miles away from this site, it was critical that we returned to the anchor line and stay with it on the way up. We hit the bottom around 100 ft and got settled. The top of the pinnacle was littered with castle-like turrets 30 ft tall. It felt like Scottish Highlands. Cast-off anchor lines provided a boon to navigation.
The diversity of marine life was exceptional, although it wasn’t overly abundant. The dive itself was uneventful, although past 150 ft, all the structure gave way to mud-covered rock. We had a ling cod follow us for a couple minutes. Rockfish were everywhere. Visibility was OK.
The ascent was… sporty. ‘Member how we agreed to not use scooters on our ascent? Also, that it was super important we stay on the anchor line so we didn’t surface in open water with no boat around?
Well, the thing about this pinnacle is all the water moving through Resurrection Bay hits this underwater mountain in the middle of the bay, and then swirls up in a vortex around it. The second we left the bottom, the ocean was determined to rip us off our surface reference. When we got to 70 ft and did our gas switch, it became evident it was impossible to swim against the current, and holding the anchor chain was out of the question, as it was twisting and leaping like it was possessed.
By the time I got my DPV out, I could barely make out the anchor chain disappearing in front of me. I hit the trigger… and didn’t move. I clicked up a gear. Nope. Another gear up. And I was back in business, with the anchor chain bouncing in front of me. All three of us had come to the same conclusion at the same time, independently, and had deployed our scooters almost in unison.
We spent the next 35 minutes getting buffeted around by currents, surge, you name it. The entirety of our deco was a constant challenge to hold our stops while staying on the anchor chain. The ocean refused to make up its mind, and one second we’d be getting pulled away from the chain, and the next we’d be getting pushed back towards the bottom. At 40 ft, we could see the silhouette of the boat smashing into the water, and left the line, using the pitching hull as our reference.
We cleared deco and surfaced back into the frigid, clear air. Getting out of gear and struggling back into the ice-coated boat was miserable. Our boat captain, Bixler, was awesome. Standing on the back of the boat helping each other out of the water and into the wind was a mixture of exhaustion, frostbite, and profanity. When Bixler asked us what we should name the site, “Misery Mountain” was unanimous.
Takeaways: First, team matters. I couldn’t have asked for a better team on this dive, in terms of competency and attitude. After a certain point, it doesn’t matter how talented your dive buddies are when you’re climbing out of 36° water onto an even colder boat. It’s well within anyone’s right to be miserable in that scenario, but it’s more enjoyable when you can still joke and laugh in the midst of all the self-loathing.
Second, go exploring. Personally, I’m not going to be diving Misery Mountain again any time soon, but the fact that it was there, and now we know what’s down there (at that specific point on it) makes that dive 100% worth it. That’s the beautiful thing about Alaskan diving; anybody can do what we did. It might not be a tech dive with scooters in absolutely brutal conditions above and below water; it doesn’t have to be. There is so much beautiful water here to explore, and if you just go diving, you’ll discover some absolutely stunning sites.
Or you might find the next Misery Mountain. Who cares?
Just. Go. Diving.