Katmai National Park, Alaska
Jul 29, 2015
|SUNDAY - We were up early and had a quick breakfast. By 8:00 am we were at the float plane dock ready for the 8:30 flight. By 9:00 no one had shown up to fly the plane and there were no other passengers waiting. We called the company and discovered that we were booked on a Monday flight.
First requirement was to try to find a room for Sunday night in a resort town at the peak of tourist season. After calling several motels we opted to return to where we had stayed Saturday night. They let us have the same room back.
Since we had the day free, we chose to spend some of it on the spit - a 4 1/2 mile length of land jutting into Katchamak Bay. Parking was at a premium but we found a spot and wandered through the shops on the boardwalk. During the 1964 earthquake the entire spit sank 4 feet. After looking at prices for fresh sea food for lunch, we opted for burgers at a little place overlooking the Bay. We took a short walk on the beach then headed back for naps because the rain had started.
MONDAY - Again, up early and headed to breakfast. Made it just in time. We were just being served when a tour bus of 50 people arrived for breakfast. Arrived at the float plane dock a little before 8:00 am. By 8:20 I was beginning to wonder if we were going to make the trip when finally the pilot showed up. Very nice young man and his wife run the float service. Other passengers showed up (a total of 6 of us) and we had to hold our gear and get on a scale to make sure the plane could handle everyone plus the gas needed for the return trip. We all passed.
The trip took over 2 hours because as we neared Katmai the weather got very overcast and we had to fly the long way around. After landing and retrieving our packs we had to walk to the Ranger Station to get a "Bear Etiquette" briefing and a pin that signified we had had the briefing. We grabbed a quick bite to eat - gorp and a banana - in a picnic area that had electric fence around it to keep the bears away. After eating we had to take any leftover food, label it and put it in a bear proof food cache. Any gear we did not want to take with us had to be placed in a gear cache.
Jean and I walked together to the float bridge across the river. A Ranger stationed there gave us permission to cross. If there is a bear in the area, the bridge is closed. Jean stayed at the viewing platform at the far end of the bridge. I continued down the path toward the viewing platforms at the Riffles just below the falls and the platform at the falls. I rounded a curve on the path and ran into a group of people walking backwards. They had come across a Mama and her 4 cubs and the rules were to keep 50 yards from any bear and to slowly back up when you encounter one. I backed up with them.
The wide path became a narrow path and I kept a sharp eye out for any movement in the surrounding bushes. The path became a boardwalk with two stout gates that had to be passed through. Finally after 1 1/2 miles came to an area they call the treehouse. The boardwalk divides and one goes to the Riffles and one to the falls. I left my name with the Ranger to be called when there was a spot available at the falls and headed to the Riffles below the falls. The younger bears fish in the riffles. Often older cubs who are litter mates get bored with fishing and will rough house in the water.
About 45 minutes after arriving the rain started. After it got quite heavy I headed back to the tree house to put on my rain pants. While there I got the word that I could go out to the falls. I had to go through another stout door to get to the viewing platform. The weather cleared a bit and made picture taking much nicer. The falls is where the older bears get to fish. Their fishing spot is determined by seniority and occasionally there will be a challenge from a younger bear who would like a better fishing spot. The bears must eat about 10 salmon a day to regain the weight they lost during hibernation.
I only got to spend 20 minutes at the falls because I had to get back to the plane, but that was plenty of time, along with the time at the Riffles, to get to recognize some of the bears and take plenty of photos.
We had been told by our pilot to be at the bridge by 3:00 in order to be at the plane by 3:30, in case the bridge had to be closed. Last week a bear took a nap and the bridge was closed for 2 hours. For most of the hike back, I was by myself. We had been told that normal conversation between people was enough noise to alert bears that humans were in the area.Since I didn't want the bears to think I was crazy for talking to myself, I chose to sing as I hiked.
Jean was not at the bridge viewing station when I returned, so I stopped at the Trading Post, the restaurant and at the Lodge looking for her. Finally caught up with her in the picnic area where she was in the shelter out of the rain.
We flew back to Homer, ate dinner and headed north to stay with Vicki at the fish camp.