Photo: A brown bear running across the tide flat at Pack Creek.
A south wind was blowing up a chop and sending rain into my face as we anchored off the landing spit at the Pack Creek bear viewing area. The idea of going ashore and spending the day looking at bears seemed a lot less appealing than when we’d made the reservations. But we’d paid our $100 and we didn’t want to waste it.
We landed the dinghy on the beach and tied it to a clothesline arrangement designed to pull it off shore away from any marauding bears. Then we walked over to where a ranger, carrying a rifle and dressed in dark green rain gear was talking to some other tourists.
When he had sent the group on their way he turned to us to give us our orientation. He explained that the bears, all brown bears (aka grizzlies down south), had become accustomed to being around people so that instead of running away when they saw you, they would ignore you.
“There are some rules you have to follow,” he told us. “Some of them will seem petty and others silly, but you have to follow them.” We’d be safe as long as we didn’t do anything the bears didn’t expect. There were two places to view bears: a tideflat with a salmon creek running across it and an observation tower up a trail upstream on the same creek. We should see the tideflat area first. He pointed towards the tideflat. “Walk where the sand turns to gravel. The bears walk on a path in the woods above you and on the tideflats below you. Keep walking. Don’t stop for anything. When you get to the viewing area, you have to stay in a triangular area marked by logs. Don’t stand on the logs. That would make you look big and alarm the bears.”
We did what he said and arrived at the viewing area where another ranger, Nancy, greeted us. Nine other people were standing in the triangle and sharing a very powerful spotting scope. It had stopped raining so I got my camera out.
“She’s got one!” came a cry from the viewers. We looked out to see a bear standing in the creek with a salmon in its mouth.
For the next hour or so, we watched the bear running up and down the creek accompanied by a flock of eagles. Finally, she got out of the creek, flopped down on the grass and went to sleep. Time to move on.
We walked back to the landing spit and found the trail to the observation tower.
“Don’t walk to the tower just to see the bears, you may not see one,” Nancy had warned us. “Go for the hike through the old growth forest and to see the fish in the creek.” The walk was beautiful; it led through a forest of tall spruce and hemlock alongside devils club and skunk cabbage.
We had crested a hill and were walking down towards the creek, which we could hear, when I glanced off to our right and saw a bear grazing among the skunk cabbage about 40 ft away.
“Put your camera away and get your bear spray out,” said Steve. With our bear sprays ready we walked by, trying to be as nonchalant as possible. The bear ignored us, but I was awfully glad to turn the corner and see the observation tower with is bear -proof metal ladder.
But Nancy was right: there were no bears visible from the tower. We stayed awhile on the tower, looking down at the creek where large chum salmon were just barely visible against the gravel of the creek bottom. Eagles were perched on trees across the creek and occasionally made swoops at the water but the fish must have been too large for them. Like us they were waiting for the bears.
I had given up and put my camera back in its case in preparation for leaving when I glanced downstream and saw a bear coming towards us. I got my camera back out and waited. The bear disappeared into the forest again. Then, a few minutes later it burst out of the trees and climbed up onto a log just below the tower. In a few quick movements, it jumped into the water, grabbed a fish, climbed onto another log with the fish in its mouth, jumped off again then ran across a gravel spit into the forest.
Photo: Brown bear with dog salmon.
When we returned to the landing spit, the wind was blowing 20 knots, waves were crashing on the beach and a rain squall was coming up the canal. With the help of two rangers, we pulled the dinghy in, carried it across the spit and launched it in quiet water. But when we motored around the spit, waves crashed across the dinghy’s bow and we got thoroughly soaked before we got to Osprey. But the rain that hadn’t interfered with the bear watching; just with getting back.