The desk clerk, game warden, park ranger: all agree the bears have moved on.
With two young grandsons, we drove north to Stewart, BC/Hyder, Alaska, planning to watch grizzly and/or black bears chow down on salmon as the adult fish fight their way upstream to spawn and die. We hope to see one of these magnificent animals from the bear viewing platform built for this purpose in Hyder.
But then I read some safety measures on what to do if in contact with bears and was left with the distinct impression it is best not to meet one! Especially with vulnerable boys, ages 8 and 10.
Advice when encountering a grizzly is less comforting: If you believe the bear is stalking you, fight back with everything you have....Playing dead in a daytime grizzly encounter tends to reduce the level of injury sustained by most attack victims. Many grizzly attacks are defensive in nature and playing dead may show the bear you are not a threat. Keep your backpack on as it provides added protection. Best position is to lie on your side in the fetal position. Bring your legs up to your chest and bury your head into your legs. Wrap your arms around your legs and hold on tight. Do not play dead until the last moment. Staying on your feet may allow you to dodge an attack.
Double gulp. So I’m actually relieved no-one has seen a bear for a few weeks.
Just ten minutes away is neighbouring Stewart, B.C., our destination for the night. It feels weird to cross an unarmed, unmanned U.S. border, as we did, from Canada to the U.S. On the return trip we---like all travellers---must report to Canadian Customs and Immigration. When we inquire as to why no ‘official’ U.S. border patrol, the reply is: “there’s no place to go after Hyder....only mountains.”
The town of Stewart in B.C. is also surrounded by stunning glacial terrain. In early 1898, the lure of gold brought prospectors and miners to the area. By 1918, Stewart was home to a thriving mining community of 10,000. Population today is about 500 scattered among the remains of century old homes, buildings, gravel roads, and historic relics.
In this outpost, often cut off from civilization in the winter due to avalanche activity, we bed down in 20th century accommodation at Ripley Creek Inn, feeling like pioneers of the wild northwest.
Well, we cross the unmanned US border into Hyder, Alaska, and find the bear viewing platform overlooking a shallow section of the crystal clear Fish River. A few dozen spectators, some there all day, are patiently waiting for a bear sighting. They all shake their heads when we ask, “any bears?” Our two young fellas watch schools of salmon struggling upstream for awhile and then are bored. We decide it’s time to leave.
Suddenly a woman visitor points, whispers excitedly, “BEAR!”
Sure enough, an adult black bear ambles out of the bush across from the viewing platform in full view of onlookers and into the river. He gingerly places his paw in the cool running river as scores of jumping salmon surround him. With a quick swat, he grabs one, splashes back to shore, tears at the fish, stuffing flesh into his mouth.
Bear’s only focus is salmon. Twice more, under watchful eyes, he wanders into the water to swipe another salmon meal.
We are in awe. Delighted. Privileged. Humbled.
Thank you, Mother Nature, for this special magical experience.
*Condé Nast writer Ken Jennings