In the stream with the Salmon and Bears – Does that make us food?
Let me see, where were we…oh yeah, having the discussion about finding more bears. The discussion quickly centered on “the Lake” as the place to be – that would be Kukaklek lake. The two bear guides recommended we spend more time up there but Charlie, the lodge owner, cautioned that there may not be many more bears there and that he would like to limit the number of trips to the lake due to the fact that there are some very treacherous rapids to traverse in the jet boat to get there and it was a stressful trip for the boat drivers. The solution appeared to be a camping expedition at the lake where we could stay for a few days and then be picked up. This also had some drawbacks as the weather at the lake is know to be windy, sometimes (much) more rainy, and colder than where the lodge is located. We went to bed that evening with Charlie promising to have some options for us in the morning. Come the next (BEAUTIFUL) day, the options were to go camp for 4 days/3 nights or to stay at the lodge but take two day trips up there as the campers where dropped off and picked up. Given the uncertainties of finding more bears and the more austere conditions and unpredictable weather, I opted (in disagreement with Dee) to take the 2 day trips and not camp – more on that later. So we took off for the Lake and braved the significant rapids in “the gorge” to get there. Charlie did a great weaving job between the rocks and the whole trip was about an hour and 15 minutes. As we arrived at the campsite on the edge of the lake there was a large blonde bear eating grass on the beach – I turned to Dee and said “I sure screwed this one up – I already regret not choosing to camp”. She didn’t say “I told you so” there and then but it was a frequent theme for the next 20 hours or so….
After leaving Russ and Phil to set up camp, Charlie drove the boat a short ways up a small stream. It was immediately apparent why there were more bears here as there were wall to wall Sockeye Salmon in the stream. After a short walk up the stream in our waders, we came upon a small island in the middle of the stream where we set up to take our photos. It didn’t take long before we had company and it became clear that this would be a special day in a special place. Although the sun was in front of us in the morning hours, we were still able to get what I consider to be some pretty compelling images….
We were also invited to the Bear’s lunchtime and importantly, we were not on the menu. They were perfectly content to chow down on the Salmon and not pay much attention to us – even though we would have been much easier to catch! It was a humbling experience being there with those incredibly powerful animals, with no protection, yet not feeling threatened in any way.
I have many more photos to share from this day but I want to save some for tomorrow. I’ll end this post by saying that at the end of the day I had this tangible feeling of loss – for the time that we would NOT be spending with these magnificent beasts. I took this last picture of Dee as we walked back to the boat for the trip back to the lodge. You can almost see the words coming out…”I told you…