By Janelle Eklund
As we crossed high above the inlet, giant mountains loomed ahead. The plane veered to parallel them where we flew over foothill mountains rising in undulating geologic patterns of time. Meadows of green swept the tops of these rocky giants. Out the other window mountains in Lake Clark National Park rose higher, dressed in perpetual white, spilling tongues of glaciers carving new pathways. The view was breathtaking.
The plane descended over bear camp, with canvas colored weather port tubes arranged in a V shape. Bypassing camp we circled around to land on the beach of the bay in front of camp and home for the next few days. The guides greeted us and helped bring our luggage inside the electric fence that surrounded camp.
The purpose of the group of professional photographers we were with was to capture images of bears fishing for meals that would sustain them through the coming winter. For the safety of all, the camp had strict rules: no food or toiletries in your room (there was a cooler in the dining tent for that - where all meals were provided by the camp); no going outside the electric fence without a guide. A schedule for bear viewing was set up to accommodate the guests. Three places were designated for viewing: one at the mouth of the river, one at a double decker platform behind camp on the river, and one down the beach upstream of the platform. The guides kept tabs on where the bears were feeding so we had the best opportunities for great pictures. Another rule was to stay in the group at all times when outside the fence. Separating any distance from the group was a no-no. Staying in a group makes you look big and bears usually stay away from anything that looks bigger than them. The guide(s) carried protection but has never had to use it.
These bears have one thing in mind during the salmon run - salmon. It was almost like we didn't even exist in their presence. They seem to have personalities that fit the description of their age. Older boar bears have fine tuned the knack of catching almost every fish they lunge after. Momma bears are also pretty adept - they have to be as they are feeding up to three or four mouths at a time. Their act of acquiring food doubles as teaching techniques for the youngsters so they can eventually fend for themselves. Like any youngster, cubs watch momma and try to mimic her techniques. But when they are hungry they just dive in on mom's catch and fill their bellies.
Stay tuned next week for the continuing story of Bear Camp with tales of exciting moments.
From my light to yours-
Who We Are
WISEfriends are several writers connected with Wrangell Institute for Science and Environment, a nonprofit organization located in Alaska's Copper River Valley. Most of these articles originally appeared in our local newspaper, the Copper River Record.