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2007 Alaska Trip Report

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For as long as I have been interested in bears, the huge Coastal Brown Bears of Alaska have maintained a strong grip on my imagination and an irresistible siren song. For a number of years now, Allan and I have also seen Alaska as a destination that will take our clients' bear viewing experiences to the next level.

Many of you who have travelled with us on a Bear Trails tour here in Canada have enjoyed seeing grizzly or brown bears in their natural habitat, typically from a boat, hide, or elevated viewing platform, and those of you fortunate enough to visit the Bella Coola River Valley have even experienced the unique thrill of viewing grizzlies on foot, on their turf as it were. However nowhere in the Northern Hemisphere can you come face to face with more and bigger brown bears, often at close range, than in Alaska's legendary Katmai National Park. Two decades of carefully managed bear viewing here has produced a unique environment in which bears are incredibly tolerant of human observers, provided they conduct themselves in a predictable and non-intrusive manner, and can be safely viewed on foot for prolonged periods, often in close proximity. You could say that a mutually observed, inter-species truce exists in this very unique and wild corner of the globe.

I recently had the good fortune to spend 3 weeks exploring Central Alaska with a view to Wildlife Trails offering tours there starting in 2008. I began my tour in late August on Kodiak Island, Alaska's "Emerald Isle", the legendary home of perhaps the biggest Brown Bears of all. Once the tip of the Kenai Mountain Range, Kodiak has been cut off from the mainland for thousands of years and its mighty bears have grown large in genetic isolation. However their famed size and fearsome reputation born of generations of pulp fiction have made them a major draw for big game hunters for more than a century, and they are understandably wary of humans and notoriously elusive. Sadly by the time I arrived the sockeye salmon run had petered out on Kodiak Island, and with it my long held ambition of seeing a Kodiak bear with my own eyes. However the thriving fishing port of Kodiak is the closest population centre to the bear viewing mecca that is Katmai National Park, my intended destination, and the bears there are plenty big enough, take it from me.

I travelled by floatplane across storm tossed Shelikof Strait to a remote wilderness lodge on the Katmai Coast that offers surprising home comforts in the wildest of places, where the only neighbours you meet out walking are bears. After settling into my warm and cozy cabin, complete with en-suite bathroom, and enjoying a hearty lunch, it was time for the main event: my first encounter with an Alaskan Brown Bear (Alaskans refer to coastal bears as Brown Bears, and inland or mountain bears as Grizzlies).
Having boarded the covered skiff used to transport guests to the various bays and river mouths where bears gather, I didn't have long to wait for my first sighting. We'd barely turned the corner into the first bay to the west of the lodge when my guide, a 20 year veteran of bear viewing in Katmai, spotted 2 bears ambling along the beach towards the mouth of a small creek. The first bear, a healthy and rotund sow, reached the creek first and immediately plucked a pink salmon from the water, barely breaking stride. The second bear was a tall, gangly male, obviously a "teenager" on the cusp of sexual maturity. He made a beeline for her, clearly intent on stealing her prize, but she stood her ground and simply ignored him. Despite the initial impression of an impending confrontation, it quickly became apparent that he wasn't nearly so sure of himself as his swagger suggested. She eventually finished her salmon and departed the scene, and he did likewise after lingering for 15 minutes while we observed from the skiff sitting just offshore.

Over the next few days we made daily pilgrimages by boat to a larger bay where a braided river sent snaking fingers across the tidal flats to the open ocean. Here expectant bears lay in wait for the spawning Coho salmon massing just offshore. The earlier run of Pink salmon had been unusually thin and the bears seemed unsure of what to do with themselves with so few fishing opportunities presenting themselves. Most seemed resigned to a long wait and just lay down and tried to conserve their energy in anticipation of the coming bounty. However we did at least get to go ashore and walk amongst these sleeping giants who seemed benignly oblivious to our presence. The first morning we put ashore across a small creek from a particularly handsome adult male who was taking a nap. As we set up our tripods no more than 30 yards away, he cast the occasional glance in our direction with what appeared to be well practiced disinterest, but didn't murmur.

For me this was quite a special moment as I had seen only one mature male in all the years I have been bear viewing (in Canada they are notoriously wary of humans). After a while a younger, blonde coloured bear came wondering along the beach behind us, crossed the stream in front of us, and he and the larger bear had a bit of a staring contest before deciding to ignore each other. Finally the large male roused, sat up on his haunches, had a good scratch, got to his feet, and started walking towards us. Our guide Perry seemed totally unperturbed by this turn of events and his confident manner spread to the rest of us, though I think we were all a little nervous as the bear crossed over to our side of the stream, and ambled right by us. Afterwards myself and another guest paced out the distance between our tripods and the tracks the bear had left behind. It was 50 feet (15 metres). It seemed like a lot less when he was actually there!

On my final morning at the lodge we were heading back to catch the lunchtime floatplane back to Kodiak when we spotted a sow with 3 cubs of year (COY's) walking along the beach where I'd seen my first Alaskan bears on the first day. While I was photographing the family group from the skiff, I suddenly noticed a speck of orange in my viewfinder and realised there was a Red Fox sitting in the foreground! After the bear family departed the scene the fox trotted off along the beach only to meet a large male bear coming the other way. It was amazing to see the scene unravel through my video camera, and the bear playfully bluff charged the fox who simply sidestepped him and scampered by, looking supremely cocky. It was a wonderful moment of interaction between species and a great way to say goodbye to the lodge and its wild neighbours.

After bidding a fond farewell to the lodge I flew back to Kodiak where I stayed for 3 more nights. I took the opportunity to explore the town which was once the epicentre of the Russian expansion into North American in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the lucrative trade in fur seal and sea otter pelts that the Russians so coveted. Some buildings from this period survive to this day, despite Kodiak being devastated by a tsunami in 1964. The town has excellent museums showcasing both its native Alutiq and Russian/American history and culture, as well as a couple of Russian Orthodox churches, and is a fascinating place.
While I didn't get to see a bear on Kodiak, before I left the island I did at least get the opportunity to embark on a half-day fly-in tour to another location in Katmai National Park which produced some of the most intense bear viewing I've ever experienced. We flew back across Shelikof Strait to a sheltered natural harbour from where the National Geographic Society embarked on the very first survey of the Katmai Volcano in the early 1900's. The volcano subsequently erupted in spectacular fashion in 1912 in what was the second largest volcanic event in recorded history. A salmon spawning stream runs inland from the apex of this natural harbour and plays host to some of the most spectacular bear action in Alaska. At some points the stream is only 10 yards wide and its undercut banks are shaded by overhanging trees. The first bear I saw fishing on the river had concealed itself in the shade of the opposite bank and had been sitting there for at least 20 minutes before I noticed it less than 15 yards from where I was sitting on the opposite bank!

Eventually our guide led us upstream to a wide gravel bar on one side of the river and we settled in for what was to be an action packed hour-and-a-half. There were 2 or 3 bears already fishing close to the opposite bank when we sat down, but before we knew it there were bears emerging from the treeline all around us. A big female with a very healthy looking cub walked out onto the gravel bar behind us and gave us a long hard look before moving upstream to fish. 5 minutes later we were looking over our shoulders again as the sound of snapping twigs heralded the arrival of the largest bear I'd ever seen. Our guide estimated the weight of this battle scarred behemoth to be 1,200 pounds. I'm not sure about that but he was certainly the first 1,000+ pound bear I'd ever seen with my own eyes, and he was built like a tank.

He seemed totally unperturbed by the sight of 6 humans only yards away and slowly ambled off upstream while we all held our breath. He made his way slowly to a prime fishing spot, displacing every other bear in his path, and then simply slumped down in the water and went to sleep. Other bears continued to fish up and downstream of him, but he just lay there for what seemed like an eternity, presumably cooling off. Eventually he broke from his reverie and began slowly heading back towards us, snorkelling with his head under the water, looking for dead and dying salmon. Eventually he fished out a particularly rancid looking salmon and eviscerated it in front of my camera. He then continued to work his way downstream, passing right by us, herding several younger and smaller bears before him. Some of them ran into each other in their haste to get out of his way, and left, right, and centre bears were having Mexican stand-offs with each other as the big male lumbered along, seemingly blissfully unaware of the chaos he was causing. It was quite comical but incredibly exciting at the same time. It had been quite an afternoon.

It was quite a wrench to take our leave of the bears when it came time to head back to the floatplane, but the tide waits for no man, and none of us had any complaints about how many bears we'd seen, or how close we or rather they'd come as we waddled off in our hip waders. The show was far from over however, and after taking off our pilot flew low over the stretch of the river where we'd just been, allowing us to see the full panorama of the scene, and just how many bears there were down there. We proceeded to fly up over the mountains where the river's headwaters lay, before flying over glaciers, smoking fissures in the flanks of active volcanoes, seemingly endless moon like expanses of volcanic pumice ash from the 1912 eruption, and finally Kaflia Lake where the self-made "Grizzly Man", Timothy Treadwell met his sorry end in the "Grizzly Maze". Then we headed out over Shelikof Strait and saw 3 or 4 giant Fin Whales below us. I'd seen both Blue and Fin Whales in Quebec last year, but it is only when you see them from above that you can fully appreciate the sheer scale of these magnificent creatures.

It was time to say goodbye to Kodiak however, as well as Katmai at least for the time being, and the following day I caught a flight to Anchorage where I'd stopped only briefly on my way to Kodiak.
Anchorage is Alaska's biggest city and some critics say that it's as far from real Alaska as it is possible to be. The joke is that, "Anchorage isn't Alaska, but you can see it from there!". I think that's a bit harsh. After all how many cities in the world do you know where you can see Beluga Whales from the waterfront, or meet a Moose in your backyard? I'd read about a coastal cycle path that runs south from downtown Anchorage along which it was possible to see both moose and belugas, and was keen put this to the test.

I rented a mountain bike from the B&B where I was staying, bought a packed lunch, and set off south along the 10 mile trail. Unfortunately the tide was way out putting paid to any hopes of seeing belugas, but I didn't have to wait to long for my first wildlife sighting. I passed a lake where I spotted a couple of Red Throated Grebes as well as a wide variety of ducks and other waterfowl. Then I continued on a mile or so and had to slam on the brakes to avoid a Porcupine crossing the trail. This was particularly exciting for me as the Porcupine is one of the few North American mammals I hadn't seen yet. Unfortunately I was so wrapped up in the moment that as slow moving as a Porcupine is, it was still out of sight by the time I'd got my camera out of my backpack to record this important first. I continued on and the miles went by uneventfully. I'd just passed the 9 mile marker and was beginning to lose faith when I went round a bend and was confronted by a fully grown bull moose standing just off the trail! I ground to a halt abruptly, ever so slowly reached for my backpack to get out my camera, all the while conscious not to startle this very large potentially dangerous animal. I needn't have worried however as the moose was oblivious to my presence and just went on a munching on a low lying tree. He was by far the biggest moose I've ever seen and was quite magnificent. I was able to photograph him from only 20 yards away for a full 30 minutes until he moved further off the path and I decided to leave him in peace. It was certainly a very memorable bike ride!


The next morning I was on a train to my next destination: world famous Denali National Park. The park is about 250 miles north of Anchorage and I can't think of a more civilised way to get there than on the Alaska State Railroad. The train travels at a fairly sedate pace allowing you to really soak up the scenery, and the young and enthusiastic guide interpreters provide fun and informative commentary on everything from history to geology along the way.

Early the following morning I made my long awaited first foray into the park. Denali's popularity is well known but the park authorities have done an excellent job of accommodating the thousands of visitors that flock to the park each year without allowing the park to become overcrowded. To do so they have however had to limit visitors' freedom and independence to some extent. Hikers are still encouraged to go wherever they please, and there are no marked trails in the park, with the park authorities preferring to spread the load over what is after all, a vast wilderness area. All but the first 5 miles of the park's only access road are however closed to private vehicles, and all visitors not wishing to walk in, have to do so on one of the park's official tour or shuttle buses. Some of you may baulk at this but once you've seen the roads in Denali and the terrain involved you will understand how unmanageable it would be if hundreds of vehicles were allowed on them. It would be gridlock wherever a bear or moose is sighted, and consolidating visitors on a few, larger vehicles ensures that the traffic is sufficiently light to preserve Denali's wilderness feel.

Denali has its own version of the "Big 5": Moose, Caribou, Dall Sheep, Grizzly, and Wolf. Visitors have every chance of seeing the first 4, but some are lucky enough to see rarely sighted predators like Wolf, Lynx, Golden Eagle and Gyrfalcon. Of course the highlight for many visitors to Denali is the chance to see Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, and perhaps the most visually striking mountain in the world (certainly a lot more of McKinley is visible than Everest). Sadly only 20-30% of visitors leave the park having seen Denali or "The Big One", as the native Athapaskans prefer to call it, as it is often shrouded in cloud.
I had timed my visit more to maximise wildlife sightings - early September is considered to be a good time to see wolves and bears, and is also the start of the moose rut - but it was clear on that first morning in the park that it was to be a special day: as clear as the cloudless blue sky and the view of McKinley from 70 miles away! Boy did it look massive. I'd seen 3 moose within 5 minutes of entering the park, and by the end of the day I'd seen no less than 25 grizzlies, 3 of them close to the bus, and completed the "Big 5" with a distant sighting of a lone black wolf striding purposefully along a dry creek bed. As special as seeing a wolf always is to me, surprisingly my personal highlight watching the shaggy coated alpine grizzlies stripping berries from low lying branches, surrounded by red fireweed. I've see countless brown bears catch spawning salmon, or grazing on estuarine sedge grasses beside the ocean, but this was like watching a whole different species, so unfamiliar was their behaviour and surroundings.

If my first day in Denali was hard to top, the second came exceedingly close. Again McKinley was clear as a bell throughout the day, and I had another grizzly extravaganza with sightings of at least a dozen individuals from the bus. A lot of wildlife sightings in Denali tend to be of the distant variety, but in some ways with the wildlife dwarfed by its majestic surroundings, you really get the sense of the sheer scale of the place, and its status as a complex ecosystem with every organism within it intertwined. I did at least get some closer sightings of two reasonable sized herds of Caribou and some Dall Sheep which often appear as white specks on a mountainside. I also had even more success with Moose sightings including one magnificent bull with a harem of 3 cows in close attendance. Then there was the lone grey wolf that came trotting along the road towards the bus before veering off into the bush. Two wolf sightings in as many days, plus two days of clear views of Mount McKinley! How lucky can one man get?

The next day I was on the train again, reflecting on an amazing couple of days in Denali, as I headed back to Anchorage. I didn't stop for long however, and early the next morning I found myself driving south to explore Kenai Peninsula. I had been looking forward to this last leg of the journey ever since I'd flown in from Seattle on the first day. The plane had flown over the Kenai Peninsula on its final approach to Anchorage and I'd been absolutely captivated by the sight of the incredible icefields that cover its mountainous spine of the peninsula, and the countless glacier offshoots that gouge their way downwards to the sea.

I was only 15 minutes out of Anchorage, hugging the shoreline of Turnagain Arm, and already the scenery was breathtaking. My first port of call was an isolated community at the base of the peninsula, on its eastern side. It had been an isolated military outpost during World War 2 but these days main claim to fame is as a gateway to famed Prince William Sound. This oasis of rugged fjords and sheltered waters became world famous for all the wrong reasons in 1989 when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef and spilled thousands of gallons of crude oil into these pristine waters. Almost 2 decades later it once again looks like a pristine wilderness untouched by humans, but the effects of the spill are still being felt and the long term after effects are still not clearly understood.

I was to take a small boat cruise (maximum 6 passengers) with a retired marine biologist and 19 year veteran with the US Fish & Wildlife Service in Alaska who was intimately involved in both the clean-up, and the years of environmental impact studies that followed. The previous day he'd been out watching a pod of Humpback Wales bubble netting and lunge feeding on schooling baitfish, but glaciers were the objective for today. Of course in Prince William Sound wildlife is never far away and less than 5 minutes out of the harbour and we were gazing up at a huge colony of Black Legged Kittiwakes nesting on cliff ledges either side of a 200 foot waterfall! We then spent some time visiting some of the sound's creek mouths where Black Bears are often seen catching spawning salmon. We glimpsed 2 or 3 grab a fish and quickly retreat into the dense forest, but they were incredibly well camouflaged in the shade of the old growth trees. The sound's recovering Sea Otter population were far more conspicuous and we saw several large rafts of these endearing marine mammals, including a number of crèches made up of females carrying their pups on their bellies. I was taken aback by how large they were in relation to the Sea Otters I've seen around Vancouver Island. In Alaska it is not unusual for a fully grown sea otter to be 5 feet in length and weigh 100 pounds.

The highlight of the day though was the dozen or so glaciers (the densest concentration of glaciers in Prince William Sound) found in rugged and incredibly beautiful College Fjord, all of them named after Ivy League colleges. Each was striking and stunning in its own way, but the sheer 200 feet high face of 1¼ mile wide Harvard Glacier was quite something to behold. My abiding memory though is of the incredible groaning and cracking noises that preludes a section of the glacier calving. It's as loud as thunder.

My next stop was the Kenai River where at the height of summer hundreds of fly fisherman stand should to shoulder and compete with the equally numerous bears for the Sockeye salmon that spawn there. I spent 2 nights at a lovely eco-tourism lodge on the banks of the river, and a very pleasant afternoon drifting down the river in an inflatable raft but didn't see any of the bears and moose that are often seen along the river.

I then headed to southeast to the town of Seward. It's a popular port of call for the Alaskan cruise ships and the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, a vast marine park encompassing rugged fjords, isolated offshore islands, and some of the most fertile waters found on the planet. The park is home to an amazing array of wildlife including Humpback Whales, Steller Sea Lions, Sea Otters, and Horned & Tufted Puffins.

Kenai Fjords National Park is however perhaps best known for the dozens of glaciers that grind their way down to the ocean from the Harding Ice Field high up in the surrounding mountains. The very glaciers responsible for this dramatic landscape draw visitors to the area to see history in the making. One of them, Exit Glacier, is even more or less accessible by road from Seward, affording visitors (even those with modest fitness levels) the rare opportunity to walk right up to the terminus of a glacier. Sadly, whereas I'd been exceptionally lucky with the weather in Denali, I experienced the flipside of the coin in Seward as fog and torrential rain descended on Kenai Fjords National Park. Not even the reduced visibility could take away from the dramatic scenery on the half day fjords & glacier cruise I enjoyed there however, and nothing can detract from the sheer awe of seeing a glacier calve into the sea from a short distance away. I also saw a couple of humpback whales, steller sea lions, lots of sea otters, and both species of puffin.

From Seward I drove across to the west coast of Kenai Peninsula and then down to the southernmost point that is accessible by road. The eclectic town of Homer lies on the north shore of Kachemak Bay, across the water from the mountains and glaciers of Kachemak State Park. It's most famous landmark is without doubt the narrow 5 mile spit that juts out into the middle of the bay. Surrounded by ocean, mountains, and glaciers the tip of the spit enjoys one of the most beautiful natural settings in North America. The spit was almost entirely lost beneath the waves in the 1964 Katmai earthquake and resultant tsunami. It sank about 15 feet leaving only a narrow slither of beach either side of the road that runs its length. The sprawling town of Homer much of which is perched on a steep escarpment slow overlooking the bay, is a thriving and vibrant community of commercial fishermen, descendants of original Alaskan homesteaders, artists, writers, and alternative lifestyle seekers. Bawdy fishermen's taverns stand next door to avant garde art galleries and boutique restaurants, and modern incarnations of 1960s hippie communes to original 1930s homesteads.
I managed to venture out more than once into or cross the bay during my stay in Homer, seeing humpback whales and sea otters, visiting a seabird colony where I saw a Peregrine Falcon, sea kayaking around one of the islands, and hiking in Kachemak State Park.
However one of the main reasons for my visit to Homer was to travel back across Cook Inlet to two more bear viewing locations in Katmai National Park that are accessed from Homer rather than Kodiak. The first of these was a remote and very environmentally conscious wilderness camp where the BBC's "Big Bear Diaries" was filmed. The owners of the camp have elected to eschew home comforts in favour of maintaining the least intrusive presence possible in this pristine bear habitat. In place of permanent structures the camp is made up of portable metal framed and vinyl skinned Hansen Weatherport huts, each of which sleeps 2 guests and is centrally heated, and a large similarly constructed central building which acts as kitchen, dining room, and guest lounge. The only permanent structure on the site is a 2 storey wooden shower block with propane heated showers and composting toilets. More adventurous travellers willing to share in this back to basics approach are rewarded with the unique opportunity to truly live among the bears (they often wander through the camp), and spend more time out in the field viewing them and enjoying more intimate, up close and personal encounters than anywhere else in Katmai.

The adventure begins long before you even arrive at the camp. From Homer you fly 1 hour west in a small Cessna bushplane, flying over the open ocean, glaciers, and active volcanoes, before landing on the tide exposed beach in front of the camp. While at the camp you spend as much as 10 hours a day out in the field, viewing bears on foot. The style of bear viewing is probably more physically demanding that at other locations in Katmai as you typically hike to where the bears are, sometimes wading through water to reach them (wellies are provided), but it is well within the limitations of anyone with moderate fitness levels.

Although my time constraints meant that I could only spend 2 nights at the camp I got to visit 2 different watersheds within hiking distance of the camp where bears fish for salmon, and had close encounters with as many as a dozen bears, some of which I got to know quite well during my stay. The evening I arrived at the lodge I got to watch the sun set on a bear fishing on the tidal flats, less than a 10 minute walk from the camp. With the day drawing to a close she seemed to call it a day, walked up the beach towards us, and walked past calm as you like less than 5 yards away. The following day with my guide I hiked to the neighbouring bay where we saw half a dozen bears working the streams criss-crossing the exposed tidal flats, including a sow with a particularly photogenic cub of year, and a mature boar. That evening I knelt on the bank of another river watching a very rotund female with a huge rear end that the guides called Audrey fishing nearby when a tall and particularly handsome male appeared on the scene. My guide immediately identified him as Digger, a bear they had watched grow up but hadn't seen all season. According to the guides, although just reaching sexual maturity he was in all likelihood going to be the next dominant bear in the area: the heir to the ageing Ted, star of "The Big Bear Diaries". As he walked under the bank I was sitting on, he looked up and we made direct eye contact. It was difficult to disagree with the guides' assessment!

The following morning (my day of departure) the weather was glorious and when we reached the river we saw two bears heading towards each other on the opposite bank. One was Audrey and we thought we were about to witness a tense confrontation between her and another mature female. Quite the contrary: pleasantries exchanged they both lay down within feet of each other and spent the better part of an hour digging up salmon carcasses buried by the shifting sand, like two friends socialising. I was checking my watch and watching the sky for the inbound bushplane that was to wrench me from this scene of tranquillity when Digger appeared over the rise of a sand dune opposite us. He made his way down to the stream, forded halfway across, and sank down into the shoulder deep water to cool off. After sitting there for 10 or 15 minutes he got up, crossed over to our side of the stream, and made a beeline for the fallen log we were sitting on. Under the watchful gaze of our guide he walked to within 3 or 4 yards of us, paused, had a almighty bowl movement right in front of us (the smell was quite something believe me!), and then wandered off nonchalantly as if having made his point. It was quite the goodbye from the Coastal Katmai bears!
I flew back to Homer still in awe of what I'd seen in the 3 different locations I'd visited in Katmai National Park, but my Katmai bear experience were still not over. On my very last day in Alaska I flew by floatplane from Homer to world famous Brooks Falls in the interior of Katmai. Here, millennia ago two tectonic plates that the Brooks River flowed across were wrenched apart by a seismic event that formed a natural obstacle right in the patch of the Sockeye salmon that spawn further upstream. Bears have probably been exploiting this bottle neck since before humans made an appearance on the planet, and if you've ever seen those iconic images of brown bears standing above a waterfall grabbing leaping salmon in midair then they were almost certainly captured here.

July is when the majority of the eye popping, blood red Sockeye salmon pass this way heading upstream to spawn, but in September when I visited the flow of traffic is reversed. Rather than standing above the falls and plucking the energetic salmon from out of thin air, the bears gather below the falls and gather the dead and the dying: those salmon that are spent having spawned and are washed back downstream over the falls. It is still quite the spectacle however, as it always is in those rare places where bears gather in large numbers in a relatively small space. Unfortunately at Brooks Falls the human visitors tend to far outnumber the bears but it is still and experience not to be missed. There are three viewing platforms at Brooks Falls: one overlooking a footbridge close to where the river empties into Brooks Lake, and two overlooking the falls. In September (unlike July) most of the action is at the footbridge which acts like a seine net in that it is clogged with spawned out salmon which of course attracts bears in large number.

My abiding memory of my visit to Brooks Falls was looking out over the wide expanse of water either side of the foot bridge and counting no less than 24 bears in my field of vision, many of them sows with 2 or 3 cubs. Well that and the 5 sleeping bears I found blocking my path when I tried to hike to the upper falls platform! Although the falls are no longer the fishing hotspot that they are in July, a number of bears, typically the dominant, large, adult males still congregate there in autumn, more from force of habit than anything else. Sure enough, once I reached the falls having negotiated the sleeping roadblock, I was greeted by the sight of two absolutely enormous boars patiently biding their time, staring intently into the chest deep frigid water they were sitting in. One moved back and forth along the width of the falls, grabbing a salmon here and there but finding most unpalatable, while the other sat virtually motionless except for the occasional, almost imperceptible bob of the head. I watched them for over 30 minutes and in that time I barely saw him move a muscle let alone catch a salmon. Talk about determination!

Unfortunately all too soon it was time for me to bid a fond farewell to the Katmai bears, fly back to Homer, and begin the drive back to Anchorage airport. My visit to Brooks Falls was however a fitting climax to a memorable trip that allowed me to realise another long held dream, that of walking among giant Alaskan brown bears. I hope many of you will be moved to do likewise or just to experience the wonder and majesty that is wilderness Alaska. I am really looking forward to helping you realise those ambitions.

Yours Sincerely

James Manson

North American Operations Manager

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