Monday, July 19, 2010

Katmai National Park: Brooks Lodge

"Hey, Bear!"

This is a common phrase used by Alaskans to warn bears while hiking or walking so you don't surprise them.  Try it, it's catchy...

Last weekend, Meg and I took a long awaited trip to Katmai National Park for a backcountry adventure. We flew into King Salmon, and then took a floatplane to Brooks Lodge at the headwaters of Naknek Lake and Naknek River.

We camped for 4 days in the National Park Service campground.  $8/night to camp, compared to $200/night to stay at the lodge.  We'll leave that for the tourists.  Upon arriving, you have a mandatory bear safety talk by the Park Rangers, and then off to see the bears!!  It is peak season right now, and the weather was splitter, so there were a large number of gapers at the viewing platforms.

In order to identify the bears, Meg and I came up with our own nicknames (corny, huh?).  Well lets get to the bears!!

We called this guy "Eddy".  He just chilled behind a big rock creating an eddy.
Left to Right:
"The Pro": we watched this bear grab 7 Red Salmon in about 30 minutes.
"Omar": named after Meg's cat who is slow, old, and simply motivated by food.
"Eddy": see above.  He is always enjoying the jacuzzi, because the confused and tired salmon just bump into him.
 "Stumpy": I guess he just wanted to get out of the water and stay dry while still surveiling for fish.
"Jack and Jasper": named for Sam C's two Alaskan Huskies that are always causing trouble.  These guys would try and steal the dominant bear's food, but their Mom would always bail them out.
"Momma": actually any Sow with cubs had this nickname.  There was one Sow with four cubs (pictures to follow), and two Sow's with two cubs.
This is an example of a bear "snorkeling".  They look under the water for fish swimming by, and then give them the people's elbow.
"Meg": although not a bear, she looked great with a huge smile on her face.  She is standing on the banks of Naknek Lake.  If you look closely, you can see all the bugs swarming us, called 'Whitesox', that were absolutely unbearable.  DEET, Mosquito Net, repeat.
Now everyone wants to see the famous picture of the bear standing on top of the waterfalls and the Sockeye Salmon jumping into his mouth.  Well here are my best photos (this is very difficult as I took nearly 1400 photos!):
These shots were all about being in the right place at the right time, and a whole lot of patience.

After two full days of bear viewing, lots of bug bites, and camp food, we headed out to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes.  It was about an hour and a half bus ride to the valley which differed drastically than the plush Brooks Lake and Naknek Lake areas.  This valley is filled with ash from the 1912 volcanic eruption of Novarupta, in the Mount Katmai cluster.  It was named by the explorer Robert Griggs who stated, "the whole valley as far as the eye could reach was full of hundreds, no thousands—literally, tens of thousands—of smokes curling up from its fissured floor."

Meg surveys the landscape.
A 1.5 mile walk took us to the nearby Ukak River, and it Class VI waterfalls.  A very tight canyon, the Ukak River is the confluence of Knife Creek, Windy Creek and the River Lethe.  

Standing below Ukak Falls.
The rivers and runoff carved some pretty neat features in the volcanic ash and sand.
A lot of times we saw the evidence of a power struggle between the male bears.  Typically, the male bears (boar) would hang out around the falls, and the female bears (sow) would hang out on the riffles near the lower platform.

This sequence shows the struggle over food.  One bear in concern (known as the "Bully") would steal everyone else's catch.  This dude's motivated...
Hear them roar.
"He's coming to get my food..."
"Half for me, half for you."
"Everyone's happy."
I think at one point we saw 24 bears at the falls alone.
Meg headed back to the lodge along the walkway, sporting her 'squito net.
We would avoid the crowds and head to the platforms early in the morning, or late at night.  After the 1.5 mile walk back to the lodge we would partake in some frosty refreshments.  They had a rotating tap at the lodge of Alaskan Brewery beer (Amber for me!), and liquor for Megs.  We relaxed in nice chairs around the fireplace and listened to everyone's bear tales.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the bears were the sow's and the cubs.  One momma actually put her cubs in a tree right outside the lodge.  A boar was trying to kill her cubs so she could mate.  Men are such A-holes...

Momma looking for dinner.  Her name is "Milkshake".
Momma catching dinner.
And finally Momma chasing off an intruder.  The motherly instinct never changes, regardless of species.
This is perhaps my favorite sequence.  Just as we were leaving, "Milkshake" made her way up and down the lakefront right near the lodge.  I snapped nearly 200 pictures of momma and her four cubs.

Napping with the kiddo's.

And the parting shot...

I need a nap too!

I've done a lot of packrafting, hiking, camping, and backcountry skiing trips here in Alaska.  I can honestly say that this was one of the most amazing trips i've ever done.  A perfect mix of creature comforts (literally) and backcountry-esque landscapes and experiences.

If you ever get a chance, come see the bears at Brooks Camp.


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March 4, 2016 at 12:52 AM  

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