Our adventure begins shortly after launching the dinghies and leaving the protected anchorage of Windfall Harbor for our three mile trip to the Pack Creek Bear Preserve. It’s flat calm in our anchorage but as we continue north, the seas and wind build dramatically. We spot several brown bears along the shoreline but dare not stop for viewing in these windy conditions. By the time we reach Pack Creek, we have twenty knot winds, three foot seas, and rain blowing sideways. It is a challenge to come ashore and tie the dinghy to the cloths line out haul pulley system. Ranger Lucas meets us along the beach and quickly assist us in hauling the boats offshore.
We gather in the lee of the wind along the sandy spit for our safety briefing. With no bears in sight at the viewing spit, we say goodbye to Ranger Lucas and opt to hike the 1 ½ mile long forrest trail to the viewing tower. There are six of us today, a good number just in case we encounter any bears on the trail. Once inside the rain forrest, the winds are blocked and we enjoy the solitude of the woods. We see plenty of fresh bear scat as they too use these well worn trails. We are all armed with bear spray but there has never been an incident here with the bears. They are used to us being on this trail. We see several side trails that the bears use on a regular basis but they are off limits to humans.
Reaching the top floor of the tower, we all shed our wet rain gear. We see no bears in the stream but there are some pink salmon waiting to spawn. It’s nice just to linger out of the wind and rain. After an hour of no Bear sightings, we retrace our steps on the woods trail. Reaching the trail entrance, Ranger Lucas radios us to hike back up the trail a few hundred feet. There is a large male brown bear sauntering down the shoreline towards us. We watch from the cover of the forrest as the bear walks by within 100 feet. The bear never acknowledges our presence and soon Ranger Lucas gives us the all clear to head back to the spit.
We spend the afternoon at the viewing spit watching the bears as they advance out into the stream with the falling tide looking for stranded salmon. Our viewing sight is limited to a 50 ft. X 50 ft. area and is defined by several huge fir logs which make for a good place to sit. This area is not fenced off and the bears are free to come and go freely. Bears know to expect us in this area only. We are not allowed past the log perimeter.
Many of the Pack Creek brown bears return year after year. Some have grown up here and now have cubs of their own. We are happy to see the well known sow, Mocha appear with here twin 3 year old Cubs.
It’s great to see her again with her cubs in such good health. Over the past three years, Mocha has been here during all of our visits. She is the daughter of Chino, another well know bear here at Pack Creek. The cubs seem to be well on their way to learning how to fish on their own. Mom will probably abandon them this fall or early next spring.
Another sow, Teenage Mom, wanders out of the woods, but her cub is not with her. She seems anxious. The rangers report that she has lost her cub numerous times over the past few days. They say she is a good mom but the cub is easily distracted and wanders away. It’s not a good situation because another bear might kill a lone cub.
Sister, another mom with two young cubs, is feeding nearby.
We take notice as both she and the young cubs suddenly become very nervous.
Teenage Mom is on the stream bank directly across from them. Suddenly, she makes a dash towards Sister and her two cubs. The ranger suspects Teenage Mom thinks that one of Sister’s cubs is her missing cub. Before we have time to react, Sister and her two cubs are running full speed directly towards our viewing area.
Ranger Dillon instructs us to all sit down and not move.
Just as Dillon is about to move between us and the three bears, they come to a halt just twenty feet from our viewing area.
Sister and her cubs are completely unconcerned about our presence. Their attention is focused on Teenage Mom. They may have come near us for protection. After a few tense moments, the three make a dash for the safety of the woods. Teenage Mom chases after them in hot pursuit. They all disappear and we listen intently for any serious confrontation. It is well known that a mother bear is fiercely protective of her cubs. A short while later, we are relieved to see Sister and her two cubs emerge from the woods unharmed.
Thinking that all the bear mama drama is over for the day, we all start making our way as a tight knit group towards the beach trail. We are soon halted as a brewing confrontation between Sister with her two cubs and Mocha with her two cubs unfolds directly in front of us. Both moms are standing their ground over a choice salmon spot. We watch as Sister makes a bluff charge towards Mocha. Why did she charge at Mocha? Ranger Dillon thinks that she may still be upset from her previous encounter with Teenage Mom. We are now outside the confines of the viewing area an all six bears are less than one hundred yards from us. Ranger Dillon is not comfortable with us staying so exposed. We turn our backs to on this unfolding drama and quickly head towards the beach landing. We say goodbye to Pack Creek wondering how this drama is resolved and also if Teenage Mom ever found her cub.
With a gale brewing in Stephens passage, we delay our departure from Windfall harbor for another four days. Winds outside are gusting to over 40 knots. The surrounding mountains of Admiralty Island offer perfect protection. Windfall Harbor is an appropriate name. This time gives us a chance to visit with all of our Krogen friends when we are not out fishing, crabbing, or bear viewing.
Just another great week in Alaska. Thanks for following along.