Oliver arrived with the boat in the late afternoon, dropping off two people, firewood, water and some supplies. We were a bit sad to leave this quiet, full wilderness but the promise of being able to go to the bears instead of waiting for the bears to come to us was exciting. The boat ride from camp back to the lodge was about 40 minutes on very calm seas in a beautiful bluebird sky afternoon. We saw a bear looking for scraps in the surf on the beach while her 2 spring cubs looked on. Oliver stopped to let me take some pictures, but not for long as we had to get up the river before the tide got too low to float the boat.
We were dropped off at the edge of the slough where someone with an ATV waited. He asked if we wanted to go to our cabin and shower and settle in or if we wanted to go out bear viewing. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon with rain forecast for the rest of the week. We can shower later! He took us to meet up with our guide, Brian, out in the field.
We joined Brian and Chris & Tanya (a couple that we would spend the next few days with) just in time to see the bear they’d been watching cross the slough right in front of us.
The bear then crossed the road/runway and stopped to graze in front of a small cabin. An older man came out and threw something that looked like bread to the bear. I was shocked. In all the places we’ve been where bears live, the people have been so careful about keeping food and garbage away from bears. Then, over the lodge radio, “Jerry’s feeding the bears again” another guide said. “I guess I’ll go talk to him again” replied a dejected voice. It turns out that Jerry is the original homesteader of this track of private land nestled in Lake Clark National Park. There are now 5 landowners, three of which run commercial lodges. Jerry will be 90 this year and only comes out for a week or two each summer anymore. He probably starting feeding the bears when no one knew better.
After the excitement there, we drove along the slough to the Silver Salmon creek. The tide was going out, but it was still too deep for us to cross. We hung out for a bit watching some fishermen while we waited on the tide. When the water went down a bit more our convoy of four ATVs and trailers drove through the creek to access the beach over a ridge on the other side. The sow and two cubs that we had seen from the boat were still out there working their way along the shoreline. In addition to our group of people from the lodge, there were 4 airplanes on the beach that had brought people over for the afternoon. They usually spend an hour or two bear viewing and then head back. We drove ahead of the bears so we could stop and the bears would walk past us. Park rules state that we aren’t allowed to approach within 100 yards of the bears, but if they walk up to us its okay. So we put ourselves along their path. And they walked right past us. The sow didn’t even look at us kneeling in the sand 10 yards off her path. The cubs checked us out – by sight and by scent – as they trotted past keeping up with mom. They were too close to us for me to get them all in one frame at 70mm.
There were a lot of people and it felt a bit like we were chasing the bears. The sow didn’t care. It still makes me uncomfortable and I thought to myself, “Clint would hate this place”. (Clint owns the Katmai bear viewing place we’ve been previously and is passionate about protecting the bears from human encroachment in all forms. He ran a really nice place).
The sow, with cubs trailing, went into the woods out of sight. We turned back to the mouth of the creek to see who might come along there. Two juveniles showed up. These bears are siblings that the staff at the lodge have watched grow up. This spring their mom kicked them out and they are on their own for the first time. They will likely stay together through this year and den up together this fall. Next spring they will go their own ways. They, too, walked right past us without a care. This is Rob’s shoulder in front of me so you can see how close she is.
It was time to head to the lodge for the best shower ever! The lodge is a compound. It consists of several guest cabins, a lounge cabin/game room and main lodge that has a living room with a wood stove and more bear photography books than you could imagine, plus offices, laundry and the dining room. There are “rustic” employee cabins tucked behind the guest spaces. The cabins and lodge have indoor plumbing, solar power and diesel generators to provide electricity and wifi. It is far from rustic. They move the guests around in carts pulled behind 4-wheelers, generally 4 people to a cart. (This picture shows a luggage cart with blue tarp, behind the “people” cart, behind the ATV. You get the idea) There were about 20 guests while we were there – plus 6 guides, a couple of housekeepers/servers, a cook, a baker and the couple who own and run the place. Compared to our quiet 5-person camp it was chaotic!
This was our cabin. It has a great view over the slough to the mouth of the river and the beach.
After dinner, even though I was exhausted, I joined Brian, Chris and Tanya to head back out to look for bears. The sun was still out, I could catch up on rest when it rained! Rob decided that time to catch up on sleep was now and he went to bed. I headed back out to the beach where there was a sow with 3 cubs working the shoreline. They were digging up fish carcasses at the waterline that had been thrown out by fishermen in the inlet. Well, that’s what the sow was doing. The cubs were just playing.
There’s a 10 o’clock curfew in Lake Clark national Park, so after watching them in the fading light I was off to bed…a cozy, warm, soft, comfortable bed.