Enjoying nine weeks of an Alaskan summer without seeing the state’s coastal brown bears would have been unthinkable. I wanted to get up close to them and yet not too personal. I succeeded with the great help of Alaska Bear Adventures and their pilot-tour guide, Derick Broderman.
Only in Alaska can we expect to see bears with no bars or cars between us and them. This is as wild an experience as we can get, and my tour was a wonderful as they come.
I saw more than a dozen coastal brown bears, and some of them came quite close. These are the same species as the grizzly bears that live in inland Alaska. But coastal brown bears are bigger than grizzlies because they have a richer diet, especially salmon.
The most reliable places to find coastal brown bears are two of Alaska’s national parks, Katmai and Lake Clark. Both are across Cook Inlet from the Kenai Peninsula, where I stayed for five of my nine weeks in Alaska. Unlike the even larger Kodiak brown bear subspecies, we haven’t hunted them in Lake Clark and Katmai National Parks, which are the only places where we can with reasonable safety get out in the open with them. But bears have been scarce in Katmai recently. Alaska Bear Adventures flies to either of these parks depending on where more bears are hanging out.
So we went to Lake Clark National Park. No roads penetrate this wilderness, which people can reach only by plane or boat. I had never been to there before, so this trip boosted my total to 40 of our 58 national parks.
On my fifth trip to Homer I got there in a six-seater Cessna 206. I had the co-pilot’s seat, which gave me greater visibility and got this shot as we came in for a landing on the beach at Chinitna Bay of the Cook Inlet where Hook Creek and West Glacier Creek enter the bay.
Click on the picture above to enlarge
Not since I traveled to Somalia in November 1963 have I had the experience of landing and taking off from a beach. In neither case was I concerned, but both times we had to fly through clouds so thick that visibility was zero, which did concern me. While we were flying blind in Somalia, here in Alaska we were in radio contact with all the other planes in the area. But I didn’t know that until afterwards.