As we started really planning our Alaska adventure we talked about things we wanted to do. We realize this is our one and only time taking a trip to Alaska so we wanted to do “those Alaska” things. We talked about taking a bear viewing tour but having a fear of flying I had a hard time seeing myself in a small plane. Joe started checking on a boat bear viewing tour. We did find one but you had to be on the boat for 6 hours. Then we started thinking about what happens if the water is rough. Six hours on rough water would not be a lot of fun. We started looking at plane tours and started talking to people who had gone on them and well it just happened.
We scheduled our tour for a Wednesday morning at 7:45 with Alaska Bear Adventures. Monday their office called to say we’d either have to go in separate planes, Joe in one and I in another, or we’d have to reschedule. That wasn’t going to work for me so off we went on Tuesday afternoon on a beautiful 60 degree day to find some brown/grizzly bears on Lake Clark in Katmai National Park. I’m not even sure how I convinced myself to do this except for my love of Joe and I knew the opportunity would never come again.
FYI – the difference between a brown bear, grizzly bear and Kodiak bear is the region they live and the food they eat. We saw coastal brown bears which eat mostly clams, salmon, and meadow grass.
We needed to be at the airport at 1:30 so with three cameras, a tri-pod, and our binoculars we headed to the airport to have our back packs weighed (10lb limit), we had already been weighed, and to get our “Alaskan Sneakers” (hip-waders) on. Those things stayed on until we landed back at the airport 6 hours later. There were twelve of us going divided into 3 planes. We had five in our plane and the pilot, Derrick, a young rather funny guy. Off we went for an hour flight. All three planes landed on the beach of Lake Clark. Before we even landed we saw our first bear digging for clams in the beach. Out of the plane we all went to get instructions on what we could and couldn’t do. The biggest couldn’t was not to ever run. Of course, none of us wanted to become bear food so no running. We walked in single file behind one of the pilots/guides and another pilot/guide brought up the rear. Once we got about 50 yards from a bear we all got close together and knelt down to take our pictures and just watch. The single file march was to keep us controlled and the kneeling down together was so we didn’t look threatening to the bear and they would come closer. Of course if the bear came to close we had to all stand up as a group so we DID look threatening to the bear and it would back off. The hip-waders were for kneeling and walking in the mud. The mud was so deep in some areas that the waders would get stuck and you had to hang on to the tops and pull. What a blast. We went from the beach back in the plane to taxi to a meadow to watch more bears and their cubs and yearlings. We saw two sets of this year’s triplets and several last year yearlings with their moms. The bear weren’t very big yet because they haven’t been long out of hibernation and they were still shedding their winter fur. We spent three hours on the ground moving from different sights observing around 20 bear all together. What a spectacular afternoon.
But it even got better or close to better. We got back in our 6 passenger Cessna for our flight back but first got an aerial view of glaciers and a volcano. The views were breathtaking! We were flying at 10,000 feet around an inactive volcano. I have never seen so much beauty but I have to admit I was a little afraid. It helped to have a camera in my hand to take my mind off the actual flying. But at one point I had had enough and just sat back and tried to enjoy the ride.
Derrick, our pilot, was excellent and made our trip really enjoyable with his sense of humor and conversations. I think Joe and I felt we were in good hands. We had only one moment when Derrick thought he was a cowboy and banked the plane a hard left and shouted “Yahoo” that gave me a fright. He did it only once and I lived through.
Would I do it again? Most definitely. You don’t have to ask Joe if he’d do it again. He would have gotten back on the plane the next day. This was an absolutely terrific experience for both of us.
We are so blessed and I will say that over and over again.
Stay safe! Love to all.