Back in Bear Country

Skilak Lake Alaska

Somewhere in the midst of my sleep-induced head bob that was kinking my neck, I peeped out the window at the low cloud cover hanging over Alaska. I watched intently until the layer of cotton started presenting tears, through which I could see the land that first stole my heart in 2006.

In short flashes, I could make out the cold gray volcanic peaks with milky snow laced all over them. My heart began to beat harder. It took me an entire year to make my return, but I was finally back.

Although it was around 10 p.m., there was still enough summer sunlight to clearly see the dark water and the valleys that hid a multitude of wildlife — including moose and grizzly bears. Which to the horror of my dad, I am determined to find and photograph (a grizzly), after striking out last year.

After a grueling 16-hour travel day, we dragged ourselves off the plane in Anchorage and met up with Skip Matthews, our friend, guide, and host. After the usual welcomes, I crashed on a mat in the floor and had one of the best nights of sleep in a long time. After “sleeping in” until 8 a.m., we spent all of the next day assembling our pontoon raft, feeding Alaska’s enormous mosquito fleet, and prepping our fly-fishing gear.

I am writing this at 11 p.m., and we are to leave in six short hours. Maybe it’s the Monster drink I had earlier, or the thoughts of standing in frigid, blue, glacier water fishing for the finest trout in the world in just a few hours, but sleep is not going to come easily tonight. Tomorrow, we are going to float fish the Russian River all the way to its finish in Skilak Lake, the same lake that I fell in love with last year. We plan to camp on the lake and continue fishing in the morning, before pulling the boat out and finding a place to camp on the way back to Anchorage.

My primary mission for the next three days is to catch fish, but my secondary mission is to spot wildlife and get some respectable photos. I think this two-day camping trip is my best bet because there is nothing civilized within eyesight of the cabin or on the lake. Just be us, the land, and whatever calls the land home.

To be safe, Skip armed us with bear spray and instructed us on how to use it. It looks like a big can of mace and I would probably have better luck at stopping a charging brown bear by using foul language. Luckily, he carries a 12-gauge shotgun with slugs coming out of the business end. That will help me sleep a little better at night. With the late salmon run in progress, the bears are out to eat, and those steaks we are cooking in the field on Wednesday night smell pretty good!

I’ll report back sometime on Friday when we come back to the real world. Greg out.

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  1. Greg,
    That can of bear spray has been proven to work MUCH better than ANY gun on a brown bear. Your chances of getting mauled are a lot higher if you choose the gun over the spray. Chances are the bear is bluffing, if he isn’t and you try and shoot this bear while it is running at you at 40 miles an hour, while freaking out and you miss that bear or worse, hit it, no matter if it dies from it’s wound or not, it WILL get several swipes at you. Keep the can handy at all times. If you use it properly, you won’t miss, the bear will stop and go the other way, leaving you guys with a lovely memory but with all your pieces in tact. I am telling you, don’t use that gun…it won’t work without leaving some scarring on your end. Just be aware of your surroundings, handle food properly and keep a safe distance and you won’t need either one. Bears are pretty respectful of humans personal space anyways.

  2. The “real world” doesn’t have all that much to offer anyway. You are advised to stay out of “civilized space” for as long as you possibly can! If I remember correctly, they did a scientific study on this…one day of life Out There is equivalent to 3 or 4 weeks “Here”. Enjoy!

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