"an elegant tapestry of quotations, musings, aphorisms, and autobiographical reflections" (James Atlas)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Encounters of the bear kind

The holiday is over, but of course the brain is still processing all the diverse experiences of our trip to Canada and Alaska last month, turning them into wonderful memories. How do I start to describe all the amazing things we've seen and done? The drive through the always beautiful Canadian Rockies, meeting some of the nicest people one could ever meet, the interesting but short visit to Seattle, the cruise to Alaska? Well, these were all highlights, but today I want to try to describe our stay at Knight Inlet, and hope to convey a sense of how special this place is.
The only way to get to Knight Inlet is by float plane (or helicopter, depending on the weather). On a dull morning, we waited for the weather to clear in Campbell River on Vancouver Island, and finally got the all clear, after being entertained by a couple of seals playing near the landing. I was lucky to get the co-pilot's seat - a cosy affair. The clouds dispersed somewhat, and the view of the inlet and it's islands was breathtaking from above! The Great Bear Rainforest stretches as far as the eye can see, and there is little sign of human encroachment. Twenty-five minutes later we land on the mirror-like waters of Glendale Cove.
Knight Inlet is a former logging camp, now converted into a very exclusive lodge with approximately 15 rooms to accommodate up to 30 guests. The lodge is a floating construction. The friendly and helpful staff take care of all the formalities and show us to our cedar-panelled room. "The Palace" houses three couples and a shared lounge with a cozy wood fired heater. Excellent wildlife art adorns the walls, and the floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge look out on the water. We arrive just in time for lunch, beautifully prepared by the two resident chefs. The activities and fresh air give everybody a good appetite. And then of course, we have to go see the grizzlies - after all, that's why we were here!
In order to observe the bears, we first needed to dress in appropriate gear. This meant donning float jackets, gum boots, and plastic trousers, since we had to take a short boat trip across Glendale Cove. It pays to wear several layers of warm clothes, and a hat! Once we arrived on shore, a brief walk took us to an assortment of old buses, one of which we boarded for the short drive through the forest to the stands. The observation stands are located along a salmon spawning channel which is diverted from a creek. The salmon here are plentiful, a fact the bears have learned and remembered. Even before we get to the stand, we spot a mother bear and two cubs splashing in the creek! Everybody is thrilled and wants a good look at their first bears! Mother bear is very protective though, and shoos the cubs into the shrubbery, until the bus passes. Incidentally, the buses don't stop, in order not to disturb the bears unnecessarily. We come to a halt at the stand and climb the stairs to a secure, elevated platform from which to observe. And not much later, there comes the first bear! This is "Bear Central", where the animals pass through on their way to and from the spawning channel. They are VERY close, sometimes walking right underneath us, not even 2m away! We all hold our breath and all one hears is the clicking of camera shutters. The bears seem not at all disturbed by our presence, and I must remind myself occasionally that these guys are fast, wild, and dangerous. And absolutely adorable! Over the course of our stay, we probably see up to a dozen different animals. They amble about in the creek and channel, and have only to reach out and snare a juicy salmon, and they are very fast fish catchers! No wonder, with claws as long as my fingers! The staff know their bears, and have names for them. One bear in particular, Flo, is very recognisable because of her pale face, and she is a bit of a show-off, ambling around the stand and virtually doing somersaults for us! Two and a half hours of bear-watching fly by, and we have to head back to the lodge. Everybody is so excited! After appetisers, drinks and a yummy dinner, we all head off to our (very comfy!) beds, and dream of ursus arctos horribilis!
Over the next day and a half, we go watch bears again and again. It's like whale watching, you don't notice how the time goes by. At other times, we take a boat tour of the estuary, and see more wildlife - seals, mink,heron, bald eagles, geese, deer, otter, and a huge variety of birds. Our guide, John, loves the birds and tells us their names. We see bears, a mother and her cub, "Peanut", digging for food on the estuary flats. Kayaks and boats approach to view them, but these beasts only have one thought - food. They need to put on as much weight as possible before they hibernate. Other activities are a tracking walk, kayaking, marine cruises (whale watching), and releasing baby salmon, which are bred at the lodge. But we're just suckers for the bears and keep watching Flo and her companions catch fish!Certain spots of the spawning channels are deep, so that the salmon can get away from the bears, and we notice that there are huge numbers of fish in those spots, even though we are told that fish numbers are down considerably from last year.

It's a special privilege to be able to see these creatures in their natural habitat and learn more about them. The people at Knights are very responsible in their attitude towards the wildlife and environment, working towards making the experience a treasured memory for us and at the same time actively promoting good practice. Staying here certainly will be something I'll never forget!

1 comment:

  1. What a wonderful place Donna - your writing makes it come alive and your photos are beautiful! Can't wait to catch up - hope you are feeling better.