Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Pack Creek, Admiralty Island
Well it's been a long time since I've been a bit afraid for my life. Today was one of those times. Admiralty Island is home to the largest population density of Brown Bears (Grizzlies) in the world. It's a "forever wild" sanctuary and you have to get a permit just to step foot on the island. It's regulated by the US Forest Service, State Conservation Dept as well as US Fish and Game Bureau. This is one case of the government getting it right. There's only a few months out of the year you can go and during those months only 28 people a day can go and of those people you can only walk to 2 spots on the island. One is the gravel point at the head of a creek the runs up between two peaks on the island and one is further into the rainforest along that creek, about a 30 minute hike through some of the most dense forest you can imagine.
Butch, Curtis and I landed smoothly after a bumpy flight (we hit an air pocket and Curtis almost launched through the roof of the plane - there would be no napping on this flight) and were greeted by one of two rangers on the island. The current administration has cut the funding for what used to be a dozen or so rangers that would tend to the place, now it's down to 3. Harry is in charge of the other 2.
Harry gave us the ground rules which are in place to protect the bears. Then we marched off to the first viewing spot at the mouth of the creek.
One brown was fishing about 30 yards from us. It quickly caught a fish and took it off to the woods. I got a few shots but not really what I wanted. We sat and talked for a bit then a sow and her cub appeared at the far end near the woods. They played for a while in a deep hole, swimming and chasing fish. I've seen plenty of bears on TV but this was like seeing one for the first time entirely. It was so bloody cool watching the cub rough-housing with it's mom and playing in the deep water. It would float around, chase fish then run to catch up to mom as she would check different parts of the stream, getting close to us but never too close. Another young mail appeared across the creek from us with a bit of a youthful trot and it was game on! He started jumping into the water trying to squash fish. It was hilarious. This didn't work so he tried chasing after fish, one then another then the one beside him, ahead of him, over his shoulder - for about 200 yards out towards the open waters.
He turns and came charging back towards us and I got some of the best shots I could have ever dreamed to get. It took this motivated grizzly a few minutes but he finally caught a large salmon
and trotted quite happily around our point into a grassy field where he feasted in the sun. OH - that reminds me, we've now had 3 of the best days of the entire summer in regards to sun. It's been very cold and more rainy than normal so I'm exceptionally happy to score such good weather. A person could have spent a month trying to get the lighting and shots we did today. It was awesome. Then we moved onto the viewing tower located about a mile into the woods, up Pack Creek.
Heading into the rainforest got my heart absolutely racing. They had just told us there were over 1,000 huge bears living on the Island - that's one bear per square mile. Normally animals that big require huge tracks of land to live off but there's so much food so readily available year round, it's the perfect place for many bears to live together in balance with the fish and plants. So walking through that dense forest knowing we were literally surrounded by some of the largest animals on the planet was kinda like the feeling you got back when you watched Jurrasic Park. It's so hard to describe, especially as fried as my brain is right now but believe me, it was really fun, scary and amazing all at once.
Then we rushed onto the float plane, back to Juneau where we met a couple who run a charter fly-fishing guide service. We shot them and their kid along a stream with lots of stinking, rotting fish carcasses and tried to make the best of it. Then Curtis and I contacted Dennis of Glacier Cycles who met us at our hotel with 2 bikes for us to use. Dennis had other commitments so he couldn't join us but he did drop us off at a trail head that led to some of the most spectacular waterfalls I've ever seen. gt;
The 30 minute climb was exactly what Curtis and I needed. We were like kids on Christmas morning, tearing up the mountain and stopping every 300 yards to either take photos
or shout something like, "This is AMAZING! We're mountain biking in ALASKA!!" We didn't have waterbottles so we drank from the glacial stream.
I opted for a snowcone.
Yes, there were snow fields in August! I wish we had an entire day to sus out all the trails here but I was very thankful to have the 1 hour that we did. So big, big thanks to Dennis for hooking us up.
We're amped from the ride but exhausted from so much running around and then standing around to film. No, I'm not complaining one bit. This trip is all-time-epic for sure. But man, I'm whopped. And worried that just days after I return I will face the yearly suffer-fest known as the Shenandoah Mountain 100. And with only 1 bike ride in the last 2 weeks, I'll be hurting like nobody's business. But I guess that's the price for being on such an epic journey so I'll take it. Or pay it. Whatever. My brain sorta stopped working an hour ago. I just keep thinking about how much more sleep I need - tomorrow it's up at 6am and onto another small plane headed to Gustavus Island where we'll look for whales to film and interview native Alaskans. Then we'll hope a ferry to Tenakee, another small native community of roughly 90 people. No cars are on the island so I'm stoked to see the place. Saturday we spend the day in Hoonah, another indian community and then it's back to Juneau where we'll collapse for a night before heading home. Might not have internet but I'll do my best to keep this updated. Ok, time for this camper to zonk out.
Thanks for reading.
Posted by Jason Berry at 11:37 PM