Up close and Personal with Bears

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A Mama Grizzly walking past my lodge.

A Mama Grizzly walking past my lodge.

Silver Salmon Creek Lodge 45 minutes by fixed wing from the Anchorage plane hub. I have never seen so many small planes in one place, sea planes, old planes, new planes, red, yellow blue planes. ( Apology to Dr Seuss) Every colour and model parked alongside either the gravel roads..(runways) or estuaries for float planes. My chosen plane was literally a tin box… And after a lengthy warm up period we took off west along the main land of Alaska. We flew over river mouths looking for and spotting beluga whales below us. They chase the salmon into a river mouth before having a feeding frenzy but schedules prevented us witnessing this massacre! The pilot pointed out all the volcanoes and the scenery beneath us kept unfolding. Vibrant green meadows, pools of deep midnight blue water, trees, braided river mouths, turquoise water channels, islands and eventually a long sandy beach where our pilot touched down perfectly.

Typical scenery on the flight in.

Typical scenery on the flight in.

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Our group of 14 required two planes and on arrival on the deserted beach 4-5 ATV’s hooked to trailers (with cushioned seats 😀) collected us for the short drive to the lodge through a couple of fords and plenty of mud! I thought, happily,I was back on the farm. By now the sun was shining and lunch was ready. Introductions all round: our group included a writer, a Scotsman, a Pom who lives in German, one Canadian, one Kiwi and a handful of Americans. Bankers, farmers, an horologist, two vets, a nurse, a neurosurgeon, a dentist and computer ‘geeks’s. I mean that in the nicest way😀and moi. All of our group were photographers from those with enough gear to sink a ship through to a point and shooter… The 12 -24 mm lens was the one that impressed me! The staff were fabulous, they included a half Kiwi, Alaskans and so forth- the chef Vinnie haled from Texas and was excellent…pork ribs to die for and fresh perfectly cooked halibut and of course the dark pink, very rich salmon caught 5 minutes away so it doesn’t get fresher than that. I have survived the week on a satchet of hot coffee topped up with the unpalatable filter coffee…tasted good, my friends know I have a coffee addiction! However the Russian River Chardonnay was perfection after a long day bear viewing! So what happens at Silver Salmon Creek.

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Silver Salmon Creek

Silver Salmon Creek

The lodge is set on 40 acres and surrounded by the Lake Clark National Park. The Park is 2.6 million acres, surprising how few people have heard of it! Dave the owner of the lodge owns a Cessna 172 and the signs as you exit the lodge that say “look both ways for aeroplanes” are not a joke! We were divided into a variety of groups depending on your days chosen activity.

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Bear viewing being the most popular, but salmon fishing was also popular… The limit is two salmon daily. I caught three and released two. The 14 pound silver was quite a fish- and she is still swimming upstream to spawn and then sadly unlike trout she will roll over and die. I fished with a rod and lure but some folk were fly fishing.

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My 14 pound Silver Salmon.

The streams are idyllic and every so often a bear wanders into the river and the fishermen retreat to watch the bear catch a couple of fish. Bears have right of way everywhere in the park. Bear viewing is an adrenalin rush.

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We wear muck boots (Kiwi gum boots) as the fields are swampy in parts.the lodge rents waders, muck boots and fishing tackle and tripods and large lens….a pretty darn good service. So we head out to the river mouth to look for bears, there are about 9 different bears in the region this week, lone females or females with cubs. The male Grizzlies stay in the woods fortunately. Sometimes we sit and wait, other times we spot the bears and drive so far then stealthily walk across the fields to where they are. We generally give them about 100- 200 feet between us but sometimes they’ve been as close as 8 feet, no kidding! These bears are the 6th generation of bears used to humans so they ignore us but we are always told to huddle together when the bear gets close.

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The Bears frequently stood up on their hind legs.

The Bears frequently stood up on their hind legs.

The bears are busy filling up on the salmon before winter. The cubs are around 8-12 months maybe and they can’t catch fish yet. One Mummy bear lay down on her back near us and her two cubs suckled her…then they went for a sleep and we just sat in awe and silence watching this intimate bear family moment. So privileged. Then Mother bear tries to catch fish, often unsuccessful…they expound huge energy fishing and cover miles every day. They see a splash and leap,often missing their prey. Then they snorkel looking for salmon, funny to watch. After an active dive or two they shake their heads like dogs, a site to enjoy and all one can hear is the clicking of 14 cameras! When she catches a fish she often eats half of it before sharing with the cubs, a few fish die as they have already spawned and the cubs sometimes find these. The human group size is limited and the gun toting park ranger was around most days checking his territory and visitors to the park; a very pleasant fellow actually. A film crew arrived one afternoon to document a fly fisherman. There is one other lodge further up the road. The roads are local, everything comes in by plane or boat. No jetties and a tide that can drop and does 30 feet! One afternoon we sat in silence listening to the stream bubbling across a stony section of river, the odd plop of a fish jumping and observing the bears wandering silently along the river bank…so special. At times the bears are very vocal, the noise is similar to a contented cow mooing! There are bear foot prints in the mud and trust me those feet and claws are massive. Back at camp a cub tore strips of the laundry door! They have a keen sense of smell and will come into camp and steal the empty aluminium fish boxes, and cart them off forty feet before giving up… Every day we have had the big old mama grizzly wander through the campsite.

The entire 6 days has been adrenalin filled with daily bear encounters. Thank you to Dan and Tanya from Natural Exposures who have been taking groups of photographers to this unique spot for many years. 

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On two days I went by boat to Duck Island where the Horn Puffins live, the first trip we only saw a few as it was very windy and they had taken to the ocean fishing. Trip two was calm and what a transformation, puffins on every rocky outcrop darting back and forth in great activity, photographing a puffin in flight was challenging but so rewarding when one succeeded. These birds have exquisite face paint…beautiful. On another coast was an ancient fish cannery now closed down and derilect. Sitting around the camp fire was a fun way to relax at the end of the day but most people were in bed early, these days are tough, walking in boots through swamps takes it out of you!!! And bed becomes a desireable destination so we can leap out of bed at 6-30 and do it all again.

imageAfter all the perfect bear shot always awaits us! I travelled with a company called Natural Exposures and it was an Invitational trip. However you can apply to them and they have some amazing trips on their agenda. They’ve won awards for their trips so seriously check out their website.

Northern Lights - Alaska

One of the added adrenalin filled moments was waking up at 4 am and witnessing the Northern Lights.. This is what memories are made of!

Postscript – writing a blog on the iPad has a few difficulties so please accept my apologies re layout etc.

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16 thoughts on “Up close and Personal with Bears

  1. love your blog Lynn,

    Transports me into your experiences.

    Hugs

    Jenny

    On Sun, Sep 6, 2015 at 3:11 PM, KIWIGRAN – my escapades, my images, my

  2. Looking forward to seeing the photos and hearing about this great escapade, the trailer so far is mouthwatering, and you are the right person with the right lense to do it justice.

  3. Pingback: Travel Trivia | KIWIGRAN – my escapades, my images, my thoughts :)

  4. Pingback: Travelling alone through Alaska. | KIWIGRAN – my escapades, my images, my thoughts :)

  5. Pingback: Travelling alone through Alaska • Fortis Travel

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