Alaska, the Last Frontier - Summer 2012 travel blog

3 bears

aren't I cute?

beach view

bear and glacier

on the beach

cub playing

Halo Glacier

glacier reflections

Ken in action

looking tall

Parsnip & Pooshkie

the group

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passing close by

(MP4 - 1.98 MB)

bears clamming

As soon as we boarded yesterday, the captain started the engines and we sailed three hours to Hallo Bay. Kulak Bay was nicely sheltered, but we traveled through open waters and the waves were rocking and rolling. The cook buzzed around the kitchen securing her dishes and cooking utensils. Those of us who batten down the hatches for RV travel were familiar with the drill.

Hallo Bay had a totally different look than where we were yesterday, probably because it is dominated by a glacier. The day was somewhat brighter and we could see a line of jagged mountains marching down to the sea from the glacier.

We had breakfast at 6:30 and were on the shore by 7. These days of photographing bears are longer than the hours we used to keep when we were working. We did not get back for lunch until 2 and dinner was at 11. Except for a mid afternoon break we spent all those hours observing and watching bears.

Most of the morning was spent with Parsnip and Pooshkie, a mother and cub who put on a great show on the beach as they searched for clams. The guide expected her to work her way down to the salmon stream, but she never did. Bears are quite prone to eating one another and the salmon stream is where they gather. Even on the beach the little family was trailed for quite a while by another large female who pretended to clam. Pooshkie stopped flitting around and stayed close to his mom. She used our group, sitting on camp stools, as a human shield as she kept us between the cub and the ominous visitor. Finally the bear decided Pooshkie was more trouble than he was worth and ambled off.

The tide has a huge effect on the scenery and what we can do. The skiff brought us deep into the land on high tide and we had to slip and slide over a mile of algae, mud, and slime on the way out. The day got brighter and we went to a bend in the river where the incoming salmon tend to jam up. Our guide knows all the bears and he said the one called Carol was an old, but experienced fisher. She lived up to her reputation. Some of the other bears would chase salmon to no avail, but Carol would stay with them as they struggled to swim away. She was a huge bear and her thick fur and blubber bounced up and down as she bounded through the water. It wasn’t graceful, but that bear got her salmon. A thin young male came into view and when one of the other bears caught a salmon, he tried to take it away. The chase moved out of the river and onto the grassy banks. Finally he gave up and had to catch a salmon on his own.

Although we saw many bears in many different situations today, we never felt a moment of apprehension and have to assume that they didn’t either. We stayed close together, moved quietly, and offered a low all-in-a-group profile when we sat on camp stools and watched them. Some of our fellow travelers carry pricey cameras with pricey lenses and shoot off burst after burst, giving me a feeling as if I am in the middle of a war, but the bears were so busy living their lives, that the sound was inconsequential. It will dominate the wonderful videos Ken is shooting, however.

I hate to be indelicate, but taking care of the call of nature is a real challenge for a woman wearing four layers of pants on an empty beach with absolutely nothing to hide behind traveling with a group of men. I didn’t drink anything for breakfast, but by 1pm, I couldn’t hang on any longer. The guide said we would have to burn the toilet paper - national park rules. When you put moist toilet paper on a moist beach, it is not very flammable. So we buried it in the sand. Don’t tell anyone.

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