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pomkiwi

7 Nights on a Small Boat in Alaska

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pomkiwi

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Last year I wrote up a trip I made with my son to Alaska with the main highlight being 4 days at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park.

 

This year I decided to return with the aim of seeing bears in a greater variety of locations and habitats, hopefully showing a greater variety of behaviours as last year was pretty much exclusively contact with bears in sedge meadows (not that I was or am complaining). I considered Brooks Falls but decided not to partly on the basis of reports of the numbers of others likely to be there and also the fact that the only accommodation options involved camping in a small tent - this did not appeal greatly in terms of comfort but more importantly in view of the couple of days of appalling weather we had last year. In the end we had a period of equally poor weather this year so I was pleased with that decision!

 

I ended up booking a week with a company called Adventure Kodiak to be spent on the boat Single Star which slept up to six guests and would be moving around the bays of Katmai National Park with the main aim of seeing bears. Overall the trip was a great success both in terms of wildlife sightings but also the time spent in beautiful surroundings with nobody else for 30 or 40 miles. There were a few snags which I will come to but I would thoroughly recommend the trip.

 

Next up, logistics and practicalities.

 

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Pamshelton3932

I'm really looking forward to this one!

 

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pomkiwi

@Pamshelton3932 Thanks - it was a good week :)

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Zubbie15

This looks like a great trip, I've already bookmarked the company's site for future reference.  I've only seen grizzlies once, they are very impressive for sure. 

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Atdahl

I too am looking forward to this report since I have had my eye on an Adventure Kodiak trip myself.

 

Can't wait for more! :)

 

Alan

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pomkiwi

Practicalities

 

I found the Adventure Kodiak website via a Google search: https://www.adventurekodiak.com

Confusingly there is at least one other business using a similar name but it is clear when you have found the correct site. I communicated via e-mail and although I didn't start planning until March this year had no problem getting a space for July. If you want lots of pictures of bears fishing it is important to note that the salamon run in the bays visited does not normally begin until the very end of July / early August.

 

I arranged flights with BA from London to Seattle and later that day flew to Anchorage en-route to Kodiak Island. An 11 hour connection allowed me to get to a hotel and Alsaka Airlines checked my luggage through without me having to collect it and recheck in Anchorage. 

Kodiak Island is notorious for fog and low cloud closing the airport. It is essential to allow a buffer day at each end of your trip. My flight out to Kodiak was supposed to land at 7am but we pulled out on final approach and I then spent 10 hours back in Anchorage before I could try again (successfully). On the way home all of the morning flights from Kodiak were cancelled or several hours delayed (I was OK for my afternoon flight). The larger jet flights with Alaska Airlines are supposed to be more reliable but still not guaranteed.

 

Kodiak Island is large but the town less so. There is very little in the way of a road network and car hire extremely expensive (close on $300 per day for a small saloon when I looked). There are some nice walks / hikes on Near Island which are bear free as far as I know. (When you read about Kodiak it is often implied that bears are rarely seen but I was told that this is not the case now - the daughter of the owner of my B&B had been attacked last year in town). Kodiak is a fishing town and the fleet were headed out for the salmon run when I arrived:

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I stayed in a B&B which was friendly and comfortable. I ate in a couple of cafes and a sushi restaurant which was fine (if not prize winning).

 

The following day was wet but my flight to the Single Star (normally the trip is Sunday pm from Kodiak returnuing on Saturday am but as the previous guests chose to fly back from Katmai I was given the chance to fly out on Saturday to meet the boat there). A comfortable float plane took myself and the other guest over (poor weather meant no views or photos):

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The Single Star is a sturdy boat with space for 6 guests in 3 cabins. 2 are forward with bunks and a shared bathroom and one aft with twin beds and its own bathroom. I would not recommend sharing a forward cabin with anyone you do not know well - they are compact and getting in and out of the top bunk will seriously disturb your cabin mate. The website gives a good idea of the boat which was comfortable, very safe and well provisioned. For those who like a beer or wine you need to bring your own with you. This is the Single Star at anchor in Geographic Harbor:

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Bear viewing and shore excursions are done from an aluminium skiff with individual seats and a ramp at the front that can be lowered. You do need to bring chest waders with you for getting on and off the beach and wading through rivers / lying on a mud and sand for photos.

Here the skiff is shown being buzzed by a float plane on take off :):

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Next the trip begins...

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pomkiwi
Posted (edited)

Travel and Kodiak

 

The flight from London to Seattle went smoothly.  We had some good views of the south of Greenland where the glaciers appeared to be in retreat:

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I arrived into Anchorage at 8pm after a flight sitting on the right hand side of the plane (but clouds obscured any good views). The haze from wildfires gave the place an eerie half-light and at this point I went straight to bed as I'd been travelling for 22 hours.  Early the next morning I was back at the airport for my flight to Kodiak. All went smoothly until about 100 feet above the runway the power went on and we climbed steeply away. There was one consolation:

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It was a quiet plane for a few minutes until we were told that as visibility was so poor we were going back to Anchorage. We were told to collect our bags and go back to check in to sort a new flight. I will give a strong hint to anyone in the same situation - go and sort your new flight first and leave your bags a while. I did this and got one of only a very few seats available, many others did not get to the island that day.

 

I arrived about 4pm and was very lucky to met by the person I had arranged a harbour boat tour with some eight hours earlier! We had agreed a shorter trip and within 40 minutes of landing I'd left my stuff at my accommodation, got cameras and waterproofs sorted and we headed out.

The harbour tour was rather more fun than the name suggests as it is actually a trip around the sheltered bays of Kodiak town - we didn't go into any harbour or quay at all. I got to see bald eagles - from a distance and in light rain. One I liked more for the trees than the bird and in the second the eagle is carrying something that I think is probably a half eaten fish:

 

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Puffins were seen pretty much everywhere and this tufted puffin demonstrated a rather less efficient take off than my plane earlier in the day:

 

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We got to see a couple of sea otters who were generally more relaxed than any we saw later in the trip. They are cute when swimming:

 

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But surprisingly large when they haul out on to rocks:

 

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By this stage the rain was falling steadily so we headed in, failing to spot two whales a hundred yards away (apparently).

 

I slept pretty well and the following morning walked several miles along the paths of Near Island enjoying the peace and quiet of a temperate rainforest covered in a carpet of moss:

 

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Then on to the Single Star and Kukak Bay.

 

Edited by pomkiwi

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shazdwn

Great start, can't wait to hear about the trip itself

 

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Earthian

Just when i was settling in with a bowl of ice cream. 

 

Oh well, guess i shall have to replenish my bowl frequently..

 

Great start and quite exciting. Thank you for the tips. Great photos too.

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pomkiwi
Posted (edited)

Kukak Bay

 

Thank-you to those who have made encouraging comments. After a good long walk I was picked up at lunchtime and met my fellow passenger, Patti. Patti came from New York via Austin, Texas and was good company. We were to be the only guests on the boat this week and that meant that with only three crew we had lots of space. This became immportant early on.....

 

Our flight out to Kukak Bay was in a de Haviland Beaver built in 1952 - not often I get to fly in a plane older than me:

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After 30 minutes of flying over very misty coast and sea we saw the Single Star, put down in the bay and transferred ourselves and bags into the boat:

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It was damp but still as we settled in. The tide was out and unfavourable for reaching the shore until around 8pm when the decision was made to head out for a short while. We soon found a lone female bear skipping along the beach:

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She spent much of her time turning over large rocks and tossing them away as if they were kids toys:

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She was searching for crabs and other shellfish and seemed to find a ready supply. Every so often she would give us a stare:

 

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At times seeming to frown at our impudence for disturbing her:

 

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After half an hour, with light fading and rain increasing we headed back to the boat.

 

The following day it rained:

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It carried on all day:

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We all agreed that there was no point in going anywhere and spent the day getting to know each other in the confines of a 6m x 4m cabin. A boat anchored close by did send a group out, we met them later to be told that no bears had been seen and one expensive camera had been drowned...

 

The following morning dawned still damp but with a lovely light:

 

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We ate breakfast and headed off to Hallo Bay.

Edited by pomkiwi

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TonyQ

An excellent start to your report. I will follow with interest 

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Abhi

Following this with great interest 

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pomkiwi
Posted (edited)

A Display of Dominance

 

The trip from Kukak Bay to Hallo Bay took a couple of hours along a very misty coast. We anchored in the shelter of a small island about 800m from the shore and waited for the tide to come in (and hopefully the weather to clear). Puffins flew around the boat:

 

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After lunch we got into the skiff which Mike ran up to the beach, lowered the ramp and we stepped onto land. The first thing we saw were a set of fresh wolf tracks but sadly no sign of the wolf.  We walked up through the dunes and fireweed and nearly on top of this dozing male bear.

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He settled back to sleep and we quickly let him be. The landscape was best described as sylvian and in the distance we saw another bear:

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We walked in his general direction and thought for a while that he was taking an interest in us:

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In fact he was ignoring us and set of in a straight line (we just happened to briefly be on that line before quickly moving to the side):

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It soon became clear that ihs objective was the other bear we had left sleeping half a mile upwind. Without breaking pace this male went straight towards the unaware sleeper:

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When he got about 4m away he rushed the smaller bear and turned him over:

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A brief protest followed but the bigger bear just tossed him over again:

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After this the smaller bear sat and moaned in what I take to be a submissive posture as the large male wandered around and scent marked  all over the sleeping area:

 

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After that he left without a backward glance and marched on - unfortunately straight towards us again!

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We again moved submissively and admired his power and scars as he walked off into the distance:

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A pretty amazing and humbling first close encounter..

Edited by pomkiwi

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Earthian

Wow. How far were you from the bear? Isn't it dangerous to walk around bear habitats?

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pomkiwi
Posted (edited)

@Earthian I understand that the rule in Katmai is that you do not approach a bear closer than 50 yards - unfortunately nobody tells the bears! We kept around 70 yards from the conflict and in the last shot he came past us about 30 yards away but we had moved out of his path. In general bears are dangerous if you surprise them, if you walk between a mother and cubs or if you are between a bear and it’s food. We were with guides who were watching the bears closely and looking for any indication of agitation or distress. We were walking in open country and if we did go through vegetation we kept to the path in single file to avoid any accidental meetings.

Later on when with a mother and cubs we were approached within 10 yards but they were very comfortable with us - basically ignored us. We would not have been comfortable with an adult male so close.

Edited by pomkiwi

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pomkiwi

Quieter Encounters

We spent another couple of hours in the meadows behind Hallo Bay.  We saw a couple of families comprising of a female and spring cubs (cubs born in December 2018 or January this year). This was something I'd hoped for as I had only previously seen older cubs.

The first family were in some longer vegetation and reinforces why we kept out of the long grass - it would have been all too easy to have stumbled on to this cub:

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We soon caught up with the mother and sibling and were able to watch her feed them for a few minutes:

 

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They all fell asleep and within 5 minutes we found another bigger bear with 3 spring cubs:

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She was a beautiful bear who was very relaxed around us - the temptation to reach out and stroke was great but resisted:

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The cubs were exploring almost all of the time pausing only to practice their fighting skills:

 

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All too soon it was time to head off and we went back through the dunes pausing only for a relaxed bald eagle:

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As night fell we learnt that there is a large glacier behind Hallo Bay - we hoped it was a good sign for the next day that the clouds had lifted:

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LarsS

Thanks for sharing this trip report @pomkiwi! Looks like your trip kickstarted from the moment you arrived, finding one bear after another. You managed to take some great shots!

 

Spotting bears in Canada is something I want to experience one day. Looking through your pictures I wondered how close you can get.  50 yards sounds like a safe distance indeed. But the 10 yards was probably the most exciting experience! The cubs look very playful and cute.

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pomkiwi

@LarsS Thank-you. I'm not sure about Canada but I'm sure there are similar opportunities to Alsaka - I have mainly seen photos from forest settings from there. The trips I've been on in Alaska go to places where they know bears will be, the only exception is in very hot weather when the bears will spend almost allof the day in the cool of the forest.

It is pretty exciting when the bears come close but we did scare the cubs away if they got too near to prevent them getting used to interacting with people - it would not be fun once they got to a couple of hundred pounds in weight!  We also had to be very sure that we had no food of any description on us, as this would attract bears.

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Towlersonsafari

what wonderful pictures @pomkiwi  I have never seen a sea otter on land before  but some of those bear photos are splendid-it sounds like quite an adventure

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LarsS
1 hour ago, pomkiwi said:

@LarsS Thank-you. I'm not sure about Canada but I'm sure there are similar opportunities to Alsaka - I have mainly seen photos from forest settings from there. The trips I've been on in Alaska go to places where they know bears will be, the only exception is in very hot weather when the bears will spend almost allof the day in the cool of the forest.

It is pretty exciting when the bears come close but we did scare the cubs away if they got too near to prevent them getting used to interacting with people - it would not be fun once they got to a couple of hundred pounds in weight!  We also had to be very sure that we had no food of any description on us, as this would attract bears.

 

I haven't really looked into it yet, my assumption was Canada would be the  best place to spot bears. But will keep Alaska in mind if I start planning. In open areas sounds better than forest settings.

 

In the USA I learned bears literally have a nose for food and the need to store things outside in the bear proof boxes on campgrounds. Carrying food with you near bears sounds extremely tricky to me then.

(Didn't see a bear during that trip though, which wasn't the goal btw)

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pomkiwi
Posted (edited)

More Close Encounters

 

Unfortunately the cloud rolled back in and the morning was very dull. 

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The tide meant that we were not able to go back to the beach until early afternoon in any event by which time it was beginning to brighten up.  No fresh wolf tracks and no sleeping bears meant an uneventful walk through to the meadows where we met one of the younger bears we had seen yesterday but only from a distance, this time he was closer.:

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We were headed towards the family from yesterday which meant crossing a river well above waist deep on my waders - they didn't leak.

 

There was a bald eagle busy preening who was very tolerant of our close presence. We lazed in the sun for about 20 minutes watching the cleaning and then moved a few yards to get a picture of him in front of his territory:

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We moved on to find 'our' bear family dozing on the river bank:

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Mum woke the kids to admire the view:

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Then she settled to feed them:

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After this it got (more) interesting. The mother got up and two of her cubs followed on. The third was fast asleep.

The adult moved around beside us and one cub decided to investigate these strange clicking objects - it was about now I realised I was at the end of the line of humans and closest to the bears:

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As the last photo was taken we gave the little one a stern talking to and he turned tail. For those curious this gives an idea of where we were relative to the bears ( this was just before the little one came to investigate and came about half way across the muddy area):

 

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We (mainly me) were now between the mother and the sleeping cub, a source of potential concern if you were paying attention a few posts back.

Me to the guides, 'So now I'm between Mum and the sleeping cub'.

Guides, 'Yup'.  

Me to the guides, 'Does this matter or is it OK as Mum has chosen to put me here'?

The guides, 'Yeah it's OK.......Probably'.

 

Anyway the sleeping cub woke up and promptly panicked as he was on his own:

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He headed towards Mum and this point realised some funny clicking things were in the way:

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He stopped for a second and there was quite a lot of huffing from the cub and also from the adult. When I briefly looked the adult bear was paying attention only to the cub and wasn't looking at us. The cub reached safety and there was a touching reunion:

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I received what may has been an accusatory glare from Mum but we were all good:

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We spent quite a lot longer with the family and many pictures of general cuteness were taken , bears playing, bears fighting etc.

In the end they settled off to sleep and we left them as we found them - amazingly the four of us had spent over two hours with them without anyone joining us.

MFH_7684.jpg.8b06a65001d35c68db92f11776999bbc.jpg

 

Edited by pomkiwi

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Pamshelton3932

Wow!  What a fantastic afternoon.  I'm not sure I'm still fit enough for waders, but I'm thinking about giving it a try.  I really loved the photos with the glacier in the background.  Honestly, I loved them all-each was better than the one before. 

 

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pomkiwi

@Pamshelton3932 Thank-you for your comments. We only really used our waders ‘in anger’ that one time. Otherwise we were stepping off the front of the boat onto the beach or walking a few yards in calm water in other locations. We would generally only walk for a few hundred yards at a time on easy terrain. The main benefit is we could kneel, sit or lie on the ground wherever we were.

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Zim Girl

What a fantastic encounter, wonderful pictures!

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TonyQ

Wonderful bear sightings- the cubs really are cute. What a great experience to be able to watch them for so long

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