Nothing says “bears” in the vast open wilderness like Katmai National Park & Preserve. From our first visit in 2007, and every year since, we have indulged in the natural beauty and magical moments of the various places within Katmai. Every year has been different – all have been exceptional! It’s always a nail-biter situation, for not always are you able to fly out when you plan to, as unplanned weather delays and cancellations are a way of life in Alaska. We arrived at Beluga Air on the Beluga Lake Seaplane Base and were concerned when we saw it through a thick layer of fog … but luckily as the sun made its appearance, it quickly burned off the fog.
This year, we were treated to a special side trip to pick up a couple at a remote location within Sadie Cove, in Kachemak Bay & Cook Inlet. Such a beautiful piece of paradise over there. We know because we took a sea kayaking tour over there on a past trip.
Off we were to Katmai NP & Preserve … to wherever the bears happened to be congregating in the greatest numbers. The bears follow the salmon run & being later in the salmon season, that means that they’re more inland than on the coast.
Once we landed and our “business” was taken care of, we began to hike towards Funnel Creek. Our guide, Dave, suggested that we hike about a mile or two before we began our bear pursuit.
But it didn’t take that long before we saw our first brown bear grazing for berries on the tundra just ahead of us. Of course, we were in hiking mode and I only had a wide angle lens on my camera at that point. We hiked to a respectable distance, then let the bear have the right of way. Once it went by, we continued on our hike. The other couple with us had never seen wild bears before … never been to Alaska. How fun it would be to watch their excitement grow.
We began hiking through the creek, as it winded back and forth in an on-going “S” fashion. Soon we encountered our first close bear in the water … and he was quite the big guy.
To be quite honest, I think that he was the BIGGEST boar that we had ever seen! Our guide estimated that by the end of the summer, he would be ~1200 pounds!
Our guide knew this bear well – even had him nicknamed “FlapJack”, earned by the pancaked ear, a result of an injury some time in the past.
This was a big healthy boar all right. He didn’t get that way for no reason … he was quite a skilled fisherman and though he looked like he couldn’t get around easily … that was not the case!
The sight of this big guy readying to stalk its dinner, then the sound of it splashing … not more like thrashing through the creek waters was undeniably eerie. I definitely had a moment of questioning my sanity being in the water with the bear, but he had one thing on his mind and it wasn’t me.
Every so often, he would shake himself off … like a dog when it gets out of the water … and it was quite amazing to watch that big boar shake!
Of course, there were many other brown bears in the creek. It seems like at every turn of the creek, we could either see or hear one racing up and down the stream chasing the salmon. It was literally excitement at every corner!
The landscape of Katmai is spectacular in itself … with so many bears calling it home – and moving around the landscape following the salmon. Such a special place, for the bears and for us as visitors to their home – a privilege that I take seriously and with great pleasure.
More to come in the next Blog post!