The train ride back to Anchorage took us along the Chugach mountains and going as slow as you do you can see some magnificent animals, like the Dall sheep eating along the cliffs high about the train and then Beluga whales swimming up the Turnagain arm of the Cook inlet is unbelievable to see. Beaver dams dot the landscape creating the most interesting pounds. Again I laid over in Anchorage and next morning took a small plane to King Salmon where I flew to Brooks Lodge. There is no air strip there so you fly in on a sea plane, mine had seating for 6. The plane I flew in looked and felt like it was my age. I jiggled and shook all the way there, and the air turbulence did not help any. I swear the wings on that plane flapped just like a bird.
We landed in the lake and taxied to the shore but of course you need legs like stilts to jump to dry land so needless to say these short stubby legs didn't even come close, I only got wet up past my calves just below the knees. Now you're ushered into bear school, do not pass go do not collect 200 dollars and taught proper bear etiquette. We were not frisked but told to give all candy, gum breath mints etc. over to them. Failure to hand over all food could put us at risk of being a bears dinner. The Bears of Katmai park were there for the Salmon and because they lived on Salmon unlike the Bears of Denali that ate berries and other vegetation with an occasional meat feast they were twice the size ranging around 800 lbs. to 1400 lbs. OK, now they have my attention. Because in my mind’s eye the bear I encountered on my second day looked to be the size of a VW bug. We were given a bear button to wear at all times to prove we had been to bear school and if we failed to have it on we could be ask to leave the park. There were only three meals a day served in the mess hall and 2 hours for each meal. You missed the time you missed the meal. No snack machines no soda machines. I left and went and picked up my luggage and found my cabin. They were log cabins equipped with wooden rocking chairs for sitting and enjoying the view and a passing bear. I dumped my gear and grab my camera and off I went. Now I thought staying 50 feet away from all the bears was not a problem I had no intention of getting close, brought my zoom for that. This proved a little harder than I thought. They were everywhere. They had viewing platforms that had gates to keep the 1400 lb bears out. Ya, now I feel secure. I found my way to the waterfalls where the bears sit and catch the Salmon as they are trying to jump the waterfall getting up stream. I waited for a while but did not see any action so I walked the banks of the river until I came up on some anglers fly fishing. I stood and watched for a while till a bear came out of the brush and grabbed a fish that was hooked on the anglers line. Out came the knife and lines cut and fishing was over for them, so I went back to the falls. There was a couple from England there all set up and waiting. I struck up conversation as we all waited for bears. It got late and dinner had started and it was an hour hike back so we started packing it in for the day, did not want to miss dinner.
When from across the river a bear appeared we all grabbed our cameras and started clicking away when the bushes right next to use started to rustle and shake. In a wink of the eye we had more action than we knew what to do with. There had been a bear 10 feet away, for who knows how long just sitting in the bushes along the bank next to us not moving a mussel till he saw the other bear. Hell broke loose between the two and of course the only thing all the three of us could do was stand there with the deer in the head light look. they were fighting in the bushes and the noise was deafening you could smell the stench of fish on their breath that’s how close we were The exit to the platform was right next to the bushes where the bears were fighting. The bushes shook and you could see a patch of brown fur flash here and there but the bears themselves where not in full view. Then came a loud almost scream like sound and the bears took off one after the other. Now I am starting to count all my, crap my pants moments, and thinking I have never felt this exhilarated in my life as I had on this trip. As scared as I had been I could see how people could become adrenaline junkies. We talked a mile a minute about the bears as we huffed it back to the mess hall. But alas we went to bed without our supper, nothing but water. I was the first one to the mess hall in the morning and my new found English friends were right behind me.
More to come.