11 August 2023, Crosswinds Lake, Katmai NP
Woke up during the dark hours to the sound of rain on the tent. Good, maybe the clouds will dump their loads and be gone, I thought hopefully as I rolled over.
Still raining later, still dark. Shortly it seemed to tail off, but quickly started again.
The morning light finally chased the rain away. At 6:35, I beat everyone up again, in time to see the day's first float plane come in ten minutes later.
My perimeter tour only sighted a solitary bear swimming across the a narrow channel in the lake. Overhead the clouds stayed unsettled, though I spotted a few patches of blue sky. Hallelujah!
By breakfast, the blue spaces had multiplied, and I noticed a few rays of sun. Might be a good day... even if it came with a dollop of wind.
Again we leisurely geared up for the day. Again we would hit the hot bear spots, watch the natural world unfold before us. As we trekked across the spongy land to Moraine Creek, the sun alternated with a misty rain. The conditions proved ripe for a modest rainbow.
We took seats on a bluff we'd visited yesterday, watching the bears below. This time the rainbow came in with more vivid colors,
adding color to our early photos.
Some of the bears we recognized: there was Grandpa, sitting patiently on the gravel bar, his head moving methodically left then right, looking endlessly (and rarely acting on anything) for an easy salmon mark. There's Goldibear and her three two-year-old cubs, moving up the river.
Again the dramas unfolded.
After a short time, though, we decided that the strengthening wind made an exposed blufftop perch uncomfortable. Instead, we moved a bit upstream - passing the remains of a salmon in the grass
- to find a patch of brush adjacent to a sandy beach, anchored by a larger bush blocking the wind. In the middle of Moraine Creek fifty yards downstream, three or four bears ambled about, fishing.
We settled in for a long stay.
More of the daily dramas ensued.
Many of the bears' dives into the water came up empty; a few successful forays resulted in an arguments when the hunter reached shore. We watched it all from our sheltered position.
As we passed time, cheering on our favorite bears, I kept hearing sounds from upstream beyond the large bush - sounds of another bear splashing in the creek. I didn't fret, knowing that Ashley had posted herself with a view up-river.
You know the score. Ashley glanced that direction and said, "Glen, you'd better stand up," as she stepped off the beach. In a moment, an immense blond grizzly, dripping wet, stepped out from behind the bush. She walked along the narrow shoreline, casting a disparaging glance at us as she passed barely fifteen feet away from me. My heart skipped a beat or two. No chance of me moving fast enough to grab my camera!
With the excitement/terror (since I stood closest to the bear) past, we settled back in for more less-personal drama. I got a sequence of shots of a successful salmon-nab while our guides assembled our lunch.
The wind refused to back down. Eventually we moved on, back to the first bluff we'd visited yesterday. Far from the dozen bears of our premier day, only three bears plied the waters today. Far less action than earlier, but we didn't mind. We did get a chance to see a mama bear playing with a cub.
The spongy mat of ground cover invited us to lean back and rest our spines, looking for patterns in the sky. Laying flat gave us some respite from the wind. When I sat up, I could look down and see the rippling waves course down the river courtesy of the blustery day.
We briefly considered extending our hike, but the worsening wind changed our minds. Instead we shuffled back to camp,
freed our feet from our boots, and geared down. Back in the group tent, I conducted the interviews for the 'Meet The Crew' feature while the wind buffeted our dome of vinyl. Before I finished, we got another 'living under the flight path' moment as another floatplane passed through the view-frame of the tent door.
Later, I visited our loo with a view to tidy up my colon for the night. As I sat contemplating the scene, I heard the roar of propellors. This time, the plane passed 20-25' directly over my head. I could have thrown a roll of toilet paper and hit it...
A word about meals - our hot food (delicious, all of it) was served up in wide-mouth cups with a combo spoon/fork to eat it with. For cleanup, a guide would pour a small amount of water in each cup, add a few drops of dish soap, and screw on the lid. She would then pick up a cup, shake it for 10-15 seconds, pass it to the person sitting to the left, and pick up another cup. The two of them would both shake the cups, then pass left in 10-15 seconds. Eventually every person had shaken every cup. Time to pour out the soapy water, add water for rinsing, and repeat the cycle. Many hands make light work...
Thus ends our Bear Bacchanalia. Tomorrow, depending on the weather, our flight out should arrive around 9:00. Yogi and BooBoo, Gentle Ben and Ursula, we will miss you...
Meet the Crew: Mei and our guides Ashley and Colleen
Q: Your turn to nominate the winner of the free Katmai package.
Mei: I'd choose my friend Mark. He's a competitive rock climber, so he loves the outdoors.
Colleen: Gotta be my dad. He's spent time in Alaska, and he's a big fisherman. He would absolutely be in awe out here.
Ashley: My mom. She shared her love of nature with me, taking me on camping trips when I was young. She would be so excited to see this place and these bears!
(For what it's worth, I personally would nominate Anthony, my personal trainer at the gym. He dearly wanted to join me on my dogsled trip, but couldn't afford it. I think he would flip out over this.)
Q: What would you be doing right now if you weren't here?
Mei: I'd be walking my dog on the beach.
Colleen: I'd head out into the wilderness with my dog and my partner.
Ashley: By all rights I should be rock climbing right now, but that trip got cancelled, so I signed up for this trip.
Q: Mei, you came from Taiwan. What great place would you recommend to people visiting your home island?
Mei: Yu Shan or Mt. Jade. It is the highest point in Taiwan, nearly 13,000 feet, and is in a protected parkland. It's beautiful.
Q: Where is a place you want to travel?
Mei: The Galapagos Islands. The animals there are so amazing!
Q: What or who inspired you to become a guide?
Colleen: A good friend of mine. She is passionate about nature. She's offerred me so much support and encouragement to pursue this job.
Ashley: The stories of early explorers really got me thinking how great a job it would be to explore and share nature.
Q: To which national park would you like go next?
Mei: Some park that's not crowded and that has good weather!
Q: How did you learn to be a guide?
Ashley: I just jumped in and did it! On my first job, I did everything, leading all sorts of trips. Hard to believe, but I didn't get into our office for five full months!
Q: If you could go back ten years in time and give yourself advice, what advice would you give your younger self?
Colleen: I'd tell myself that your heart knows best. It took me some time to really realize that.