Best Flight Delay Ever!

After six days in Lake Clark National park, the morning of our departure arrived. I awoke early to take advantage of one last bear viewing trip before breakfast only to find us socked in with fog. As I’m not so fond of the early rising, I readily went back to bed until breakfast. At breakfast the fog was beginning to lift. We were advised to be ready to leave the lodge at 9:30 to meet the plane around 10am on the beach. After lingering over coffee, we loaded our bags into the cart and headed out to the beach. The fog had dissipated and it turned into a beautiful, comfortable morning. The weather report revealed that we were in a small clearing and the rest of the Cook Inlet was still socked in with fog all the way to Anchorage. Our pilot was still waiting for visibility to improve before he could safely leave Anchorage. We’d been weather-delayed in Alaska before. Typically it’s raining and raining and raining and we’re just waiting it out in a cabin in the wilderness or in a bar in town. To be weather-delayed under sunny skies is exceptional.

Our clear spot on the foggy coast

As we waited the sow and her three cubs were sleeping in the sun at the mouth of the creek. The other guests from the lodge, who were out on their morning bear viewing trips, were gathered near her. Word was that the sow had caught and ate a salmon before we got to the beach. We could see the sleeping bears through binoculars from our spot up the beach. At 10am the lodge radioed to let us know that the plane had still not yet left Anchorage, an hour away. The guides decided to drive us over to the bears since we were now significantly delayed.

For the next hour, we watched the pile of sleeping cubs as they slowly stretched, yawned and stirred to life, and then wrestled and played on the beach.

The three cubs never played all together. Two would play while the third entertained their own curiosity. Then the loner would come in and one of the others would leave, so then two different cubs were wrestling. They kept trading off like this, while the sow patiently and seriously waited for a fish to swim by.

After about an hour of this playing while mom looked for fish, the sow crossed the mouth of the creek to our side, followed in turn by each cub.

They exited the creek, dripping with water, right next to us and moved along up the beach. The sow was moving at a steady pace, but the cubs were still playing. They would wrestle and then run to catch up and then wrestle some more. flight-delay-1-21flight-delay-1-22flight-delay-1-23flight-delay-1-24As they disappeared over the sand bank into the meadow, we heard the faint sound of a plane engine in the distance. Our plane was arriving. Exceptional weather plus exceptional bear activity. This was the best flight delay ever!

Our pilot apologized repeatedly for the delay and the roundabout flight path we had to take back to Anchorage in order to stay low, under the clouds. Are you kidding?? We thanked him for it! We were excited for the time we had with playful cubs and for the flight route that took us right past Lake Clark’s two volcanoes, Mt Iliamna with its glacier and Mt Redoubt rising through the cloud layer.

Mt Iliamna and Johnson Creek
Mt Redoubt and Cook Inlet

And for the low, scenic flight over the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge.

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge under the cloud layer

It was flightseeing at its best! We had a flexible schedule and were in no hurry, after all, we were on Alaska time.

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