The flight leaves Kodiak Island at 4pm. We have one last day to make the most of exploring this wild place. We passed by Fort Abercrombie Park, a World War II site with a beautifully rugged coast rumored to have a sow and cub hanging around, to wander further out of town. We ended up at Monashka Bay, the end of the road.
I’d heard through the Kodiak Camera Club that there was an “aggressive” bear hanging around here. We arrived to several people along the river mouth, fishing pole in hand, bear spray on one hip, and a handgun on the other. We parked and walked over a salmon-filled creek to the picnic area and trailheads. The river is to the right, behind a thick stand of spruce trees.
As we walked through the picnic area toward the wide, rocky, low-tide beach, we saw the bear. She was walking along the edge of the bay towards the river. She was far enough away and moving with intention, so we were not concerned in the moment.
We walked to the beach to see around the trees to the fishermen up the river. They all pulled in their lines and simply stepped back to let her pass. I guess that’s just another day of fishing in Kodiak.
Are we going to hike here or go somewhere else? There are bears all over this island, no matter where we go. Here, we know where the “problem” bear is (we hear she’s been stealing fish from people, not good for her longevity if this persists). Yes, I decide. Let’s make a plan and go for it. If we encounter a bear that isn’t aware of us, we will slowly and quietly retreat. If the bear sees us and doesn’t flee, we will stand our ground or slowly back away. To avoid either of those encounters, we will make noise as we hike, talking, talking, talking. Rob has bear spray on his hip, he’s trained to act in high-stress situations, and he’s a Buck Wild approved wilderness guide.
We consulted a map and chose the loop trail. It follows the coast up along the ridge, dips down to the rocky beach on the point, and then comes back around through the woods. Up and up we go over soft, spongy, pine-covered trails. It’s damp from the recent rains, but comfortable. It’s nice to walk without a rain hood that deafens the sounds of the forest and acts as a blinder to my view. We crested a hill to a small opening in the forest, a wildflower grassland with a well-worn, informal side path to overlook the bay.
At the edge, two bald eagles are looking back up at us. Although they have a persistently stern look, they are clearly not happy that we’re here. I grabbed a quick picture, and we retreated to another spot down the trail to marvel at the bay and leave the birds in peace.
All of the colors of blue from summer sky to teal to turquoise are in this water. It is so crystal clear that i can see to the bottom from up here. Flanked by lush green landscape, it looks like a tropical bay.
The trail turned back into the dark woods and led down a steep hill to the beach. Our path runs between the big rocks of the beach to the right and a marsh to the left. The ocean brings all sorts of things to these vast, remote shores. Ropes of bull kelp interspersed with fishing buoys, lines and parts of 50-gallon drums. There’s a substantial make-shift shelter where we lingered.
Continuing on, we dropped down further in elevation. At some points, the trail is in the marsh. I had packed my hiking boots for the trip home, and I’m wearing my hiking shoes, which although waterproof aren’t meant for wading. We scrambled over the rocks down to the beach to get past the first wet area. It wasn’t long after rejoining the trail that there was another, larger flooded spot.
We reconsidered our options. There was a fair amount of distance to cover before we’d turn back into the forest and gain elevation. The water on the trail kept getting deeper and wider. We decided to turn around. Serendipity – 50 yards back, near the shelter, lay my iPhone in the middle of the trail! That would’ve been gone forever (insert your own wildlife-making-phone-calls joke here).
We retraced our steps and arrived back at the picnic area. There are more people around now. A couple is cleaning fish on the tailgate of their pickup truck as their labrador closely supervises. An Alaska State Trooper is walking around ready to help avert any human-bear encounters if need be. And he put up this sign:
The word is that she is still hanging around although we won’t see her again. Fishing is permanently closed from the road bridge inland so the salmon have a chance to return to their natal streams. This section of the river is chocked full of salmon. We wandered down to get a closer look and to watch the fishermen.
It was time to return our bear spray and rental car and leave this enchanted land. I will come back. Alaska always calls me back.