Bear Jam - Katmai National Park
Jul 9, 2012
|Yesterday we took another adventure of a lifetime, there are many of those in Alaska. We took a one and a half hour flight on a floatplane across Katchemak Bay and Cook Inlet to Katmai National Park located 500 miles north of the Aleutians, southwest of Anchorage. Our goal was bear watching at Katmai National Park where most of the brown bears (grizzlies) in Alaska are located.
The floatplanes usually land in front of the Visitor’s Center on Naknek Lake but because of an east wind blowing we had to land in Brooks Lake and trek through mushy woods to get to the main trail. A ranger met us at the main trail and we had a 10 minute orientation on what to do around the bears. We were then presented with a pin making us certified bear watchers (just kidding). We’ve been through so many of these we should know by now that the bear has the right of way and we should stay a minimum of 50 yds away. And no food, which meant we had to eat our lunch right away and stow all of our snacks in a food cache.
Our first stop was the viewing platform at Brooks Falls about a mile and a half from the landing area. If you’ve ever seen the iconic pictures of bears at the top of falls catching salmon as they traverse the falls, that’s probably taken at Brooks Falls. They weren’t at the top of the falls for us but still made great photos. Most of the bears at the falls were male but a sow and her cub would run out of the woods periodically, the sow would jump in the water, grab a fish and chase the cub back into the woods as fast as it could run. We think she was afraid of the males.
We stayed at the falls about one and a half hours and decided to go to the Visitor’s Center a 1.1 miles further on. The trail from the falls to the main trail is narrow with many “bear trails” crossing over it. There were no other people on the trail so we sang our family song “A, You’re Adorable” to scare any lurking bears away, actually it would scare anyone away!
Once we got to the main trail again we began to feel pretty safe when all of a sudden a bear came out of the woods in front of us and headed in the same direction we were going. We kept on, hoping he would keep on then about 100 yds later we realized he was right beside us in the bushes chomping on some roots. He looked right at us but decided the roots would be tastier and kept on eating and we went on our way, occasionally looking over our shoulders.
When we arrived at the floating bridge that crosses the Naknek River we found that it had been closed for half an hour but had just reopened. There were bears in the area so they told us to cross quickly; we later wished we hadn’t crossed at all. It seems that bears are in charge and can do as they please and people have to compensate for their moves. I guess that is the way it should be in the wilderness but it can be darn inconvenient.
We followed the trail, past the Brooks Lodge where overnighters stay, to the Visitor’s Center which was a big disappointment. It had two small rooms; a small bookstore and a room with wooden benches for bear orientation. We watched a 10 minute film made in the 1930s about the park and then left for the bridge at 1:45 giving us plenty of time to get to the plane.
As we were on the path a ranger stopped us and said that there was a bear in the woods along the path and we would have to wait until he left the area; of course he decided to lie down and sleep. While we were waiting for him to wake up the ranger got word that another bear was heading towards us so the ranger led us through the woods within 10 yds of the sleeping bear (breaking their own rules) to the beach and then back to the trail. While we were waiting for the sleeping bear to move on a “courting pair” crossed the trail in front of us. When the sleeping bear woke up we headed for the bridge to find it closed because another bear was sleeping at the other end. This sort of thing went on for almost two hours, we were moved to the bridge then back to the trail then back to the bridge several times with the jam of people growing all the time. They were mostly people staying at the lodge heading to the falls, fishermen in their waders and a film crew from BBC making a documentary on grizzlies. Most people (including Marvin) were patient but Judy and I were concerned. We were supposed to be back to the plane at 3:15 and we were obviously going to be late. We knew the pilot would wait for us but we knew we would be inconveniencing 5 other people who were on the trip with us.
When the bridge finally opened at 3:45 we hitched a ride with a van from the lodge and were only 45 minutes late. Most of our fellow passengers were understanding but one was a little sarcastic about it asking us if we "enjoyed our tean and crumpets at the lodge". The pilot chided us because he had warned all of us that if we crossed the floating bridge we might get stuck there for hours. He did it humorously though so it was okay.
I don’t understand the park’s policy. When you are on the side of the bridge near the lodge and VC the bears are monitored constantly by several rangers with radios but once you cross the bridge towards the platforms you are on your own; no one’s watching for bears. Judy asked two rangers why and they both said that was a good question but had no answer.
We really had a great day and lost count of the bears we saw but there were many. The flight was beautiful and we saw killer whales on the way back! (No photos though)
We went to the spit for a halibut dinner, showered, watched a few minutes of TV and went to bed exhausted. We didn’t even look at our many, many photos until this morning. It’s really hard to decide which ones to post and I’m not sure I always pick the best ones.
Today we drove north on the Sterling Highway to Soldatna where we turned west and drove to the city of Kenai. We’re in Beluga Lookout RV Park on a bluff overlooking Cook Inlet just like our last one was, but the mountains are farther away. Will tell you more about Kenai later.