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Alaska 12: High Grass and Charging Grizzlies
There are eight of us walking in a straight line in high grass doing something I never imagined I would do. We are talking softly as we walk so as not to surprise any of the creatures who created the paths worn through the grass. The woman in front of me is shaking from fear. I am alert and focused and a bit more apprehensive than I thought I would be.
We are alone in the wilds outside Katmai National Park. The float plane that brought us has left to pick up another group. All we have with us is our guide, our cameras and some bottled water. We are wearing waders because we are near water. We carry no weapons of any sort. Not even a pocket knife. The high brush and grass we are making our way through have to be pushed out of the way from time to time.
Watching us as we walk is a mother grizzly and two cubs sitting on a sand beach just a few yards away. They are the reason we are in the grass in the first place. When they walked out of the water to lounge on the beach we had to walk around them to get to our intended destination.
They are curious but not threatened. After all, we, not they, are the potential prey in this situation.
How did we find ourselves walking in the wild among 70 grizzlies on this morning? It all started with a conversation the night before. We were having dinner after a full day of grizzly viewing at Katmai National Park when our guide mentioned she was disappointed with the number of bears we had seen.
Our trip was the last of the season for our outfitter and the declining salmon spawn at the falls had resulted in fewer bears than she expected. We had all been thrilled by the day's encounters but she knew there was a potentially much more robust experience available if changed our schedule for the next day.
If we were interested, she could arrange a float plane to take us outside the park were larger numbers of grizzlies had been spotted. We would walk among the bears with her as our guide to get a more intimate experience with the bears.
We all jumped at the chance. You may think this odd but let me explain. Our guide had spent years working as an in field observer of grizzlies at and around Katmai National Park. She was thoroughly trained in how to behave while among them.
So, this is how we wound up walking on a cool September morning in high grass and shrubs near a shoreline and lake crowded with giant grizzly bears. We had been walking along a fragrant beach littered with the rotting salmon carcasses when it became necessary for us to walk into the grass to avoid running into a family on the beach.
The paths we followed through the grass had been beaten down by the grizzlies we had come to observe. Before we had been on the path for ten minutes, a trio of 250 to 300 pound cubs came running toward us down the path. They stopped in the path about 10 yards away but kept their eyes on us.
We froze. My pulse raced and the woman in front of me gasped.
Our guide, standing in front, talked calmly to the bears. They hesitated and moved a step closer. Our guide raised her arms slowly and calmly admonished the bears to move on.
The bear to the right above and staring at us below charged a few feet closer and slapped down a paw. He was only a few yards away.
Our guide continued her conversation and then slapped her hands together and, a bit more sternly now, instructed the bear to move on.
At this, the cubs quickly turned and sped down the path away from us.
Another larger bear appeared in the grass ahead and to our left. The mom, I guessed, coming off the beach to retrieve her charges. The cubs raced to her and she and they disappeared as they headed back to the beach.
It may have been play or just curiosity but in the wild on their turf it was an exhilarating and somewhat frightening experience. It was also a confirmation of our trust in our guide. After this brief encounter, we all settled in and continued our trek through the grass.
By the time we made our way back to the beach we were in the middle of the action. More than 70 grizzlies were on the beach, in the water and in nearby grass. Many were in small family groups of three or four led by a female. Others, mostly males, appeared to be alone.
In our next post, we will take our time in the wild to observe the bears up close. Join us to spend some quality time with the grizzlies.
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The venture moola blog comes to you from Atlanta, Georgia. Find it at readjanus.com. Copyright Clinton Richardson.
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Travel, business and history with original photos.
Clinton Richardson - author, photographer, business advisor and traveler.
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