We have always been fascinated by Alaska, especially wanting to see the magnificent grizzly bears salmon fishing at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park. For Brad's birthday in 2017, we flew to Anchorage and went on one of our most memorable journeys.
We picked up a car from Anchorage and drove to Whittier, a small town 95km Southwest of Anchorage. To enter Whittier, you have to drive through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel — the longest (4km) highway tunnel in North America. It is a one lane tunnel but for both cars and trains in both directions.
We stayed at Whittier overnight and went on a glacier cruise (26 Glacier Cruise) next morning. It was a half day cruise on a comfortable catamaran into the Prince William Sound where majestic glaciers were common scene. The weather was sunny and water was calm, perfect for a cruise day. We were spoilt by the intimate views of those captivating glaciers and also were delighted to witness pods of orca whales and hundreds of sea otters floating around on their back enjoying the sun. To top off the trip, lunch was piping hot salmon chowder which went down like a dream.
Next day we drove 3.5 hours to Homer where we would catch a small sea plane to Brooks Falls the following day. Being always active, we spent that afternoon kayaking in the Kachemak Bay and then hiked to a beautiful glacier lake. The guided kayaking tour turned out to be one of the most fun things on this trip. Our guide took us around to see a lot of wild life including sea birds, sea otters, star fish and seals. We came across this sea otter mum & pup duo, peacefully sun baking with pup laying on mum's stomach and mum busily cleaning her baby's feet. They were locals, very friendly with our guide who knew them by their first name :)
The following day was the big day - full of anticipation! We went on board a 10-person sea plane, after 90 minutes of amazing mountain and lake views, we arrived at Brooks Falls, the most famous place to watch bears in Alaska. The peak salmon fishing window here is only two weeks' short and that's when most bears are around. We were there at the right time. However, on that day we almost lost faith of seeing any bears at all. At Brooks Falls, humans need to respect bears' laws because it's bears' home and humans are just visitors. When a family of bears play on a footpath, humans have to wait until the footpath is cleared before they can go ahead. That was what happened that morning. We were held up for two hours before we could go to the river where all the actions were. But we did pay full respect to the landlord's laws.
Once we were allowed to go ahead, the exhilaration couldn't be held back either. On the way to the river, we stumbled upon a big boy about 10 meters from the footpath. He didn't take much notice of us, we went past him as quietly and quickly as we could. Along the upper river, we saw hundreds of salmon trying tirelessly to jump upstream while a few large bears stood in the middle of the river, absent-mindedly catching a salmon now and then, ripping off the poor fish's skin and then dumping the rest back to the river.
We learned that bears have a hierarchy according to sex, size and disposition and they fish accordingly. The dominant ones, normally large mature male, get the best fishing spots; females and subadults normally only get to eat the leftovers at the lower river. The alpha male gets the prime position at the top of the waterfall while everyone else is below it. Also the bears actually are highly strategic, they often only eat the skin, eggs and brain of salmon, the most fatty and calorie dense parts of the fish.
That day we saw about 20 odds bears of all sizes at different parts of their home. Two subadults play wrestled with each other; a few families with mama bear teaching pups fishing skills; lone adults drifting around seeking trouble or fun.
On the way back, our sea plane pilot decided to take on a more scenic route flying low and close around snow capped mountains. The ride itself deserved a medal! After a day of spectacular wildlife, it couldn't be a better way to conclude the day, well for most people at least who are not prone to motion sickness, Ying almost didn't survive :(
We look forward to returning to Alaska and exploring the Denali National Park and the Arctic Circle and so much more.