Sunday, March 1, 2009

mcneil river...from myspace trip august 2005

mcneil river...what an amazing place. would love to go there again. i'll post in some pictures of charlie. i'm so happy i got to see mcneil before larry retired. he retired after our season. there was only one group after us. there was pressure to allow hunting just outside the sanctuary, which seems unfair to kill bears who are habituated to not fear humans. may change the experience of future mcneil river guests. i do recall when we were there we saw an article of a previous attempt to let in hunters. in the end mostly non-hunters had been awarded the tags...those who opposed the hunt simply signed up for the tags in great numbers beating out the hunters. i thought it quite brilliant really. i'm not opposed to hunting. it's a necessary evil in some ways. humans have often messed up with natures balance and we attempt to rebalance it...generally we fail though. i am also fine with people who use the meat from the animals they hunt. my opposition to hunting is with trophy hunters and people who hunt where the animal has no chance. it should be a challenge for hunters and fair to the animals. our state has voted twice to not allow hunting from planes/helicopters and yet the government makes acception and kills wolves in just this way. they can't find people who want to hunt wolves i guess and the wolves compete with humans. of course, as a recent letter writer to the adn pointed a village recently it was discovered that over 50 caribou were killed and left to rot. baby caribou sat crying over thier mothers, dying of starvation. the village elders refused to assist with the investigation of who had done this...even when they knew who had. the crime against nature and state law goes unpunished to this day. such waste should never be accepted.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007
there are three sanctuaries in alaska. amazing there are only 3 with a place so huge. i've been to 2 so far. the first was round island, the second is called mcneil river. in order to get to mcneil river for bear viewing one must apply for a permit. it's run on a lottery system. i think i was told less than 10% who apply get slots. i got in my first try. i think that was because i applied in august, off season, and i just put my name in. they only take 10 people per 4 day slot. you pay to sign up for the lottery, $25, then you pay for your permit when you are given a spot. then you also have to make float plane arrangements. i drove south from anchorage to the kenai peninsula. my float plane took off from homer. homer is a great little town. it's a 5 hour drive from here. i try to get down there at least once a summer. one summer we flew over to a little community called seldovia. i'd love to live across there....if i didn't have to work. dont' see that happening anytime soon.
i met a few other folks who would be with me over there for the week. you are allowed to get to mcneil river the day before your permit starts to set up camp and then you have an extra day on the other end to tear down camp. we were all excited. one guy was from colorado i think and he'd tried 8 times to get the lottery position. the other girl on the plane was lisa. she ended up joining me on the polar bear trek. in the end only 4 of the 10 who got passes showed up. we had to weigh in for the plane....all our gear had to be less than 70 pounds. sounds like alot, but camera gear alone can add up. for anything over the 70 you've got to pay extra and possibly have it fly out the next day.
we had an uneventful flight over to mcneil river. we flew towards mt augustine which is quite close to where we would be staying. it's an active volcano. it wasn't active when i was there in2005, but was active the next year. we flew over the river before landing at high tide at the camp. you could see several bears down below. they were all over the place....and this was thier slow time.
we settled into our camps and pitched our tents. we got oriented and educated about rules and such. our food was all stored in the cook cabin. the outhouses were what seemed like miles away...through brush. there was no way i'd be heading to those in the middle of the night in major bear country. on this trip i learned why they really put vestibules in tents....
for the most part we had cloudy, rainy and windy weather at times. we had lots of great bear activity and the rangers were super nice. since it was end of season and the rangers were pretty relaxed and familiar with the various bears of the area, we were able to wander a bit together. every day we woke up early, packed up, put on our thigh high gaiters and crossed the bay at low tide. there were bear tracks all over the place and occasionally we even saw wolf tracks. while we slept and the tide was going out apparently the bay was well used. it's strange really, but we all would set up our beach chairs and wait for bears to walk by us. it was the four of us and whatever ranger we had that day. we had a different ranger each day. we had our lunches with us and if we needed to pee we had to go really close as the place was full of bears and you couldn't wander too far. one time, we were all sitting on a sand bar against a cliff, surrounded by water. if you had to pee, everyone just looked the other we got to know each other pretty well. we did head up to the famous mcneil falls that first day. i guess in july, this is where you go and stay all day. i'd go stir crazy i think so i was happy we got to wander a bit. there wasn't much activity at the falls. i guess the salmon run must have been pretty slow at that point.
a bear named, charlie(well that is what we called him) he was a ham and i think many of my best pictures are of him. he'd return every day and we always saw him a few times. we also saw various mom and cubs. some were first year cubs, others the second year. after that they get booted. sometimes the males will seperate the cubs from mom and if successful, they can rebreed. there were a couple of cubs who were second years that had been hanging together though they were from different moms. the rangers thought they may have a chance to survive if they stuck together. there was also a bear that had broken a leg. it seemed to be healing and charlie was really nice to this bear...he had to have known the bear was injured and was very careful to play gently and let the bear get the upper hand every so often. it was impressive. we got to spend hours watching the bears and all the various salmon catching techniques. you could watch the mom's teaching the young her ways. in the evenings we would head backas the tide was coming in. a few times we pushed the tops of our thigh high waders.
of course, where there are salmon, there are eagles. so we had many bald eagles around us. no matter how much i see these amazing birds i'm always amazed. i do miss those days in ketchikan when i woke each morning to the chitter of eagles in the trees where i lived. i was on the water and it was beautiful. there were also red fox. i can only recall seeing the one red fox and i think i was the only one who got a shot off. shot that is...!!
our last day of bear viewing our ranger was larry aumiller. this was a special treat....larry is a wonderful man who has run mcneil river sanctuary for the past 30 years. we didn't know it then, but we were one of his last groups. he retired at the end of that season. he had become frustrated by continued attempts to open the area around mcneil up to hunting. these bears are habituated to humans. they aren't fearful of us and don't see us as a threat to them. they often walked within a few feet of us...makes them a pretty easy target for a hunter. as larry has been there every summer for 30 years, these bears know him. thier parents knew was amazing to be able to be out there with him. he was personable and loved to chat. i think i made an impression....a joke picture i'd had taken a few days before had been making the rounds in the rangers cabins. i still can't believe nobody in thirty years had ever had thier picture taken squatting over a pile of bear scat (that's bear for shit). the picture would have been better if i'd dropped my pants, but i hardly knew these people and there were grizzley bears all around us. since larry was so familiar with the bears and now i know since he was retiring...i think that made him really casual with us. there were some dead/dying salmon left from the tide so he set those super close to where we set our beach chairs up. charlie enjoyed a snack super close to us and then walked like 30 feet away to take a nap....that is how relaxed these bears were. larry also took a nap.
the rangers carried a gun with rubber bullets to scare off the bears. i never felt in any danger...well, occasionally a little scared going to the outhouse and sleeping alone in a tent in thick bear country. it was a great experience!! not sure i'd want to go back with larry being gone now. i hope the board of game doesn't screw this place up...
today....rain!!the guy came to put up the the storm door, but turns out it won't fit. i'll have to get it special ordered...we'll see what that would cost. i still think it would be a good thing to have for keeping the weather out. i took blossom and rio to the bog for a quick loop. loads of errands to run. blossom and i did manage another 4-5 mile loop up in north bivouac trails. the fall colours arejust spectacular. if the weather had been nicer i may have gone for a nice roadtrip. i probably should my next stretch off. the snow is getting lower and lower on the chugach range. tried to get blossom into that rally class and they must have cancelled it. i signed her up for another agility class, but that doesn't start for several weeks. the smell of fresh baked cookies is still in the house....rainy days are baking days....


  1. What awesome photos of these bears! Love them!

  2. we all fell in love with charlie...he was quite the ham