(Actually, there were more than three bears.)
This is the story of something that happened long, long ago and far, far away. In other words, it happened here, about three weeks ago.
August 24, 2011. It was any normal morning. After two weeks on the job, I was starting to figure out the routine—up at 6:30 to get a shower and get upstairs by 7:00. Help with the breakfast prep, serve breakfast, clear tables, and begin washing dishes. Once everyone else left and the kitchen was in reasonable shape, we could eat our own breakfast.
By 8:30, I had finished my own breakfast, taken some things downstairs, and was coming up again to help with the rest of clean up. As I walked into the dining room, the girls turned around and asked me if I wanted to go on a plane ride in about an hour. With Glen and two guests. To see bears.
A plane ride? As in, a float-plane, bear-viewing trip? Sure, I’ll go!
So at 9:30, more or less, I trekked down to the beach with my backpack, a sack lunch, water bottle, sweater and coat both, gloves, hat, camera, and bug spray—oops, the bug-spray-can sprayer didn’t work, so I left it behind. Jael went with me and helped me find a pair of hip boots before Glen, the guests, and I got into the float plane.
After take-off from the bay in front of the lodge, we flew north up the lake. The mountains were green at first…
Then brown and barren...
We kept climbing, and the mountains rose with us, growing taller and colder in the gray morning light. That is, I thought they were tall, until I saw another mountain rising into the clouds ahead of us—it looked twice as tall and ten time as large around as any of the others.
Below us, the ice sheets ran along smoothly, before breaking off into sharp ripples. Huge crevices looked like bird tracks scratched into the ice.
I took pictures every few minutes, until I noticed my batteries were running low. Then they died. I swapped to my other batteries, only to realize that they were also low. Oh, well—may a picture of every tenth mountain, rather than every third one? Oh, look—a lake: a lovely, mustard-green lake—I need to take a picture of that too!
And by the time I got that picture, we were climbing steeply with a peak just to our left—on my side of the plane! We flew past still taking pictures, banked and started back. Oh, and there was a second peak on the other side—I just hadn’t seen it because I was too busy looking at the first one.
We circled again, passed a steep wall of red cliffs, and started descending into a fairy valley, with a river running up to a small lake, and a glacier running down into the lake.
And in the lake, these:
We couldn’t land in that lake, because of the glaciers, but we flew across a small ridge to a neighboring lake and landed.
As we taxied in, Glen pointed out a mother and two cubs about half a mile down the shore. We beached and waded to land—still dry, thanks to our hip boots.
After anchoring the plane to a pine tree, we sat on the beach and ate lunch, spotting another mother and cubs in the brush half a mile in the other direction. We’re surrounded!
Not to worry, though—Glen was carrying a .50 caliber pistol. Thus armed and guarded, we packed up the rest of our lunch and started along the shore toward the point where we’d seen the first group of bears. They were long gone, but we spotted bear tracks in the mud, wolf tracks following moose calf tracks, and more bear tracks. As we got closer, guess who popped out of the bushes and scampered along the beach for us?
And her cub.
They went on, and after a while, we went on. We stopped by the bushes to change our hips boots for hiking shoes and started across the ridge toward the glacier.
As we came over the crest, the glacier came into sight…
And this guy came into sight right below us. We stopped to take more photos, of course. My batteries, fortunately, still worked. Then we went on again, picking our way down a rock slide to the edge of the lake.
We saw plenty of big icebergs, out in the middle of the lake, but I wandered down to look and this little guy. Just as I took the photo, the ice squeaked and broke in half.