July 24, 2011
Today we had our third bear encounter in three days. You heard about our chocolate chip cookie bear yesterday and Brendan arrived back in camp after some front row bear interaction the day before.
Michel stayed at camp today and Brendan joined my dad and I on the Eielson shuttle bus. From our last couple days on these buses we have learned that most the wildlife is in “the middle” of the park right now. The park road is some 90 miles long and most of the wildlife has been between mile 35 & 60.
We saw three wolves early on and Brendan got some good photos.
One of the wolves was tracking a squirrel or hare so we watched from the bus as it pounced into the brush.
I have been eyeing an area called highway pass. It has some nice lush tundra and the peaks and ridges are not too aggressive.
We got off at hiway pass and hiked to the peak of this ridge.
I set up my video camera for some journals and then had some lunch. This is my kind of nature. Big sky. Big sun. Soft ground.
After relaxing at hiway pass for a few hours we chose to hop back on the bus and head back toward the park entrance and get off at mile 47.5. A well known spot to watch wildlife. Before we got 5 miles down the road towards 47.5 the bus driver spotted a bear in a drainage just off the road. This bear was one of the bigger bears we had seen with a real healthy coat of fur.
It was tearing up the soap berry bushes in the drainage. As we drove off the driver, Anne, encouraged us to get off after a half mile and walk back to watch the bear through dads spotting scope. “…you didn’t come all this way to ride a bus, get out there in the food chain!” is how I recall Anne putting it. That was encouragement for us.
A half mile later we were watching the bus disappear around the next mountain. Things got real quiet and my dad suddenly bursts out …”Oh man, I left my glasses on that bus!”.
We grabbed the next shuttle coming up the road and, after some dispatch radio work, we caught ‘food chain Anne’ at Tolkat river.
45 minutes later, glasses in hand we caught yet another shuttle back out to where the drainage we saw that bear. We hopped off the bus before the drainage and walked along the road. As we crept up over a ridge where the bear was we saw a whole lot of nothing. That bear had made it’s way through the soap berries in that drainage and appeared to be gone. We figured it couldn’t have gone too far so we decided to split up and look for the bear. Bear spray in hand, Brendan and I went down the ridge while my dad moved up the ridge. After 20 minutes or so we were 3/4 of a mile from my dad but could see him up the ridge. Brendan pulled out our binoculars to scan the ridge. After a few minutes Brendan blurts out, “That bear is sleeping right behind your dad. I don’t know if he sees it but he is walking right towards it!”
We immediately start yelling and gesturing to get my dads attention. He wasn’t looking at us and we were so far away he couldn’t hear us. Feeling a bit helpless we started walking back up the ridge and took another look in the binoculars. It appeared my dad had noticed the bear and was gesturing for us to come his way. As if we didn’t understand there was a bear 200 yards from him he started miming bear signals… Give me a B. Give me an E. Give me an A. Give me an R. The next time we looked through the binoculars he was STILL waving us over… At this point he had gotten down on his hands and knees and was scratching around the tundra like a monkey which, I guess, also meant BEAR. After we made our way the mile or so back to him, he runs up in a huff, “Stephen, that bear is asleep right up that ridge!!”. We know dad, we know.
Watching a bear sleep is kind of fun. More fun than watching it chase you. We set up our scope on the road and got up close with the bear.
They sleep like humans. This one was waking up every now and again to adjust it’s head or put it’s meaty paws under it’s chin. In non- human-like fashion, it also woke up every once in a while to sniff the air around it. Hopefully not smelling Gleasons.
After 90 minutes or so it popped up and kept moving as if we were not there. Off it went up and over the ridge and into the horizon.
Tired and fulfilled we headed back to camp. On yet another shuttle.