Monday, February 18, 2013


Day 8 - I was very much looking forward to this day. bear safari in Katmai National Park. We reported at the K Bay air hangar at 8 am as instructed. We were weighed in and assigned a group. 5 of us along with our pilot would be together as a group for the safari. There were about 20 other people in the room already. I did the math - it looked like they took about 4-5 groups on a bear safari per day. We fitted ourselves with hip waders; rubber boots that came high up our thighs, and waited for our adventure to begin. 

We seated ourselves in the tiny 6 seater aircraft after a safety briefing. V & I were assigned the emergency exit seats at the back of the plane. No there was no extra leg room and for a while I wondered if I would be able to rescue our party in case something went wrong and we had to an emergency landing. Those thoughts were banished as soon as our plane took off and we got busy admiring the views below.

View from our tiny plane

As we approached Hallo Bay, we could see numerous bears on the ground below. We also spotted some moose. Our pilot Mike, skillfully landed our aircraft on the beach. I was glad to be out and free from our cramped quarters. The two other groups also landed shortly after us. We would spend the next 3-4 hours walking around observing bears in their natural habitat. Our pilot would double up as our guide for the course of the tour.

Our plane

Mike had surveyed the area for bears during the descent and must've had a rough outline of our trek mapped out in his mind . He instructed that we follow him in a single file - there would be ample opportunity for everybody to observe the bears at length and take pictures. We were out in the wilderness and it was important that everybody follow the guide for everybody's and the bears' safety.

Hip waders coming in handy
As we started walking, Mark pointed out some fresh bear scat (poop) along the trail. He pointed to an area where the grass was flattened and conjectured that the area may have been used by a bear as his day bed. He explained that at this time the bears were out of hibernation and hungry for food. It was still early for the salmon run and so they only had grass and clams to feed on so far. 

Mike first pointed us to a group of 3 bears. They were a few hundred feet away. Two of them were busy grazing and the 3rd one appeared to be lazing around. We watched them for a few minutes, after which Mike pointed us to another group further out in the field. We started walking towards this group. Mike mentioned that one of the bears in this group appeared to be a dominant male. The other two appeared to graze and nudged close to the dominant male. When they got too close, the dominant male stood up on his hind legs. This was enough to scare the approaching bears away. Another bear tried to join this group but he had to haul himself up from the stream below up to the field. It was a funny sight - seeing the bear haul up his heavy body up the ledge. We snacked on our packed sandwiches while watching this group, careful not to spill any food and leave any litter behind. The other group from K Bay Air joined our group here for a little bit. Our group leaders exchanged notes and our guide decided to lead us to a young female that he had spotted grazing nearby.

We followed our leader in a single file and soon saw the animal. She was beautiful; her coat was light and it had the shine of youth. She was nice and chubby and was busy grazing. Infact, she didn't even look up at us. We stayed behind our guide and watched the creature in awe. She was only about 15 feet away. I had never imagined that I would see bears this up-close on this trip. It was amazing! Our guide kept talking to the bear just the way animal trainers talk to their animals and kept a close eye on her. Our guide mentioned that the bears at Katmai are used to the presence of human beings. They don't pay too much attention to us, unless they feel threatened.

After spending some time with this bear, we headed towards the beach. On the way to the beach we came across another bear. This guy showed signs of being out in the wild for many years. He had a dark brown coat and his body had numerous scars - war wounds inflicted by his fellow beings over the years. We were able to observe this guy from close quarters too.

2nd group with the old guy

Our group trooped to the beach to catch some more bears in action there. There was one lone bear on the beach. He was busy digging up clams from the ground and eating them.Mike instructed us to sit on our knees to observe this bear.  Bears have an incredible sense of smell which they employ to locate food. This guy was doing just that. He sniffed the ground around him and would start digging when he thought the ground held something. Lo and behold, he would dig up a clam, break open the shell and eat the contents. This continued in a loop. Seagulls hovered nearby to grab the food scraps that the bear left behind. We sat face to face with the animal and watched it snack. Mike signaled for us to get up as it was time to leave.

Enjoying clams

We had experienced something magical today - sharing time and space with a wild creature, in its natural surroundings. It reminded me yet again, that life in the wild is not easy and survival is a constant struggle. I saluted these wild creatures in my heart and left with a feeling of gratitude for having this opportunity......

Once back in town, we had a hearty meal at Pho Thai (the same place we ate dinner the previous night). We spent the rest of the evening walking around town and touring the local art galleries.