Bear Watching in Alaska
Today was a perfect Alaska day. Amy and I have friends up to our place in Homer (Chris, Seth, and Ed) – the five of us went bear watching today.
We chartered a plane from Smokey Bay Air. The five of us crammed into a Cessna 206 for the 30 minute flight over Cook Inlet to Lake Clark National Preserve. As we approached land, the Iliamna Volcano loomed large (10,016 ft). We landed on the beach – which was a first for all of us (but apparently the 9,342nd time for the pilot who appeared to do the landing with his eyes closed.)
We got picked up by our guide Drew in a 12 wheeler (a four wheeler with two “passenger sleds” attached.) Drew took us to our base for the day – the Alaska Homestead Lodge. We met the owners (and our hosts) James and Shelia Isaak who quickly served us an amazing kippered salmon lunch.
After lunch, we piled into the 12 wheeler and headed out to find some bears. It was a magnificent, sunny, pleasant day so we all settled in with high hopes. The first two bears we spotted were far in the distance (a half mile away) out on the tidal shelf. We watched them for a little while, but then went looking for more that we could get closer to.
We hiked along the Johnson River for a while before coming across a 7 ft, male bear (450 lbs, 5 years old.) We tracked alongside it for nearly an hour, coming as close as 50 feet as he ambled down the river. Everyone talks about how amazing bears are, but there’s nothing quite like being right on top of one. He was aware of us, but seemed to be blissfully unconcerned. Eventually he wandered out of range, and we regrouped and went looking for another one.
We saw two more before heading back to the lodge and realized we were being spoiled. Drew told us that there are 50 bears living in a 5 mile radius (approximately 75 square miles) and we’d seen five of them in three hours.
The gang dumped me off at the lodge where I took a nap and then polished off Rain Fall while they went out looking for more bears. They came back a few hours later – unsuccessful – but happy nonetheless as they got to see a bunch of gigantic killer silver salmon jumping around (ok – they weren’t “killer”, unless you are an insect.)
We finished off the day with an awesome dinner at the lodge. Our plane came (landing on the beach again – whew) and we flew home.
We’re all sitting around talking about the day. It was perfect. If you are ever up this way, I highly recommend a day bear watching at the Alaska Homestead Lodge.