you’re soaring in your 4-seater over the verdant island-dotted channels of Alaska’s Inside Passage. As your seaplane banks around the cove at Admiralty Island, you spot your first grizzly, tugging at a tree stump by the water’s edge. A bump and a shower of spray, and you’ve landed at Pack Creek.
Unfold yourself from the cockpit and climb down onto the float of your seaplane. Your first gaze around Pack Creek confirms your complete isolation. Not to worry – your bear guide Ken has decades of experience in the wild, and his stouthearted presence reassures you.
With only a spyglass, you move gingerly down the beach, staying downwind of the grizzly. At 30 yards, he grunts and shoots upright. It’s not you but another grizzly coming down the beach that has alarmed him. He mock-charges, and the younger one scurries off. It’s only a show, but still you are struck by the speed of the great bear’s feint, and you take a step behind Ken.
The grizzly returns to his stump and in the soft breeze, you can hear him whinge and strain as he tugs. As you soak in this privileged audience with this remote grizzly, something titillating yet peaceful stirs in you.
The bear finds a clam. His attention is drawn up onto the beach and he meanders, one clam at a time, towards you. You can hear the scratch of his 7” claws in the gravel, see his wet nose pry open shells and rip out succulent morsels.
He’s making a big mess of the beach, with holes here and there, a string of ravaged shells.
He pauses once, and looks over – directly at you. “Who, me?” you shake yourself. You’ve been noticed. The staring eyes of this strapping bear give you a flash of panic, but good ole’ Ken is unruffled, and the grizzly’s attention, more curious than comminatory, returns to the clams.
It’s an hour… then more… that you crouch on the stones, watching this moving clam feast. The grizzly’s company now feels so natural that your gaze shifts to the sun-rippled bay and the encircling snow-capped peaks.
When you look back to the beach, this 700-pound grizzly has curled up on the stones and dozed off, right before your eyes. He’s so close that his still coat gleams in the sunlight, and with a spyglass, you watch his whiskers twitch.
You’re fooled for a minute that you could reach out and stroke him, but he’s as wild as this treasured island and you’ve been one of a mere 28 permitted daily guests at Kootznoowoo, or Fortress of the Bears, for the afternoon.
You collect a smooth stone off the beach to take home – a touchstone.
That was a trip of a lifetime. You say, “Let’s do it again next year”.
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