I got the chance to venture out to the wilds of the Anchorage area today. It was much needed though my muscles have since reminded me that I am not only getting old, but have atrophied while sitting around the hospital at my son’s bedside. I was taken to an area to the south that a friend of mine often ventures to. The area was surrounded by peaks stretching up about 2000 ft and we had fully intended to summit one of them. As the two of us ascended and the thinning air caused much anguish, my friend decided to turn around and head back down for his health. He was recovering from a medical issue from the week before and still not 100% yet. So, I obliged, as doing the opposite would likely lead to me having to drag him down the side of the mountain.
I suppose now would be a good time to mention this little snippet as well. We were in an area where a lady was attacked by a bear earlier this month.
Here’s the article: http://www.adn.com/article/20140707/woman-suffers-serious-injuries-bear-mauling-near-anchorage
They didn’t find the bears, by the way.
So coming back down the mountain trail, we followed a trail down into the valley. The valley cut east further into the mountain range and skirted a rushing creek that ran at a drop off of 100ft down from the trail. We had seen some faded bear prints and some scat along the trail, but nothing that had seemed overly alarming.
There was a local four wheeler adventure tour in the area at the time, and if you read the article, you know that they are there quite regularly. When we happened upon their parked four wheelers, we took our time and moved a little more cautiously. This was a business with people who likely just came out to see some nature, who never leave the confines of their plush suburban setting. Two guys with a dog, with camo and assault rifles probably wasn’t what they were expecting to see. Though as we pushed further up the trail and they did finally see us, we were polite and gave them the path to pass by. In turn, the guide gave us the heads up that they had seen a sow and two cubs down near the creek. To which we made it a point to ensure we pushed past the area she had mentioned.
We pushed another kilometer in and found a secluded spot near a very scenic waterfall. Stopping for a break and snack we took the time to snap a few photos as well. I had dropped my pack near where we had entered the area and was taking pictures of the waterfall, while my friend had pushed down and set up on a smoothed over rock to enjoy his apples. In the midst of snapping a photo a breeze blew by. On that breeze was a smell that will hang with you once you know it. Think of a wet dog, taking a crap right next to you on a hot day while eating a fish. Immediately I sprang off the rock I was perched on, snatched my borrowed AK47 and tore down the path to check on my friend and inform him that I had just smelled a bear. The smell had faded by then and we let the thought pass though staying on the alert. I pulled my pack down to where he was sitting and proceeded to munch on some pork jerky, while his dog did everything short of putting his nose into the bag to grab some from me. We sat and ate for maybe another 5 minutes and then came a snap and a thud of a tree across the stream from us.
Literally a stone’s throw (I checked it after the fact) was the sow and her two cubs.
She hadn’t noticed us. The bears had the look of wanting either a sip of water from the stream, or to try and snatch one of the sparse king salmon that had begun to populate there. Either way, her lack of knowledge of us could have proven to make the situation even more dangerous. A bear with cubs being spooked from about 25 feet away with a clear path to run right at us spelled disaster. To prevent this scenario from happening we called out “hey bear” to make it aware of us. She stopped. She stared. When she took another step towards the creek my friend fired a warning shot no where near the bear. She didn’t seem to care too much about what the sudden loud noise was, until a second shot went skidding by her on the rocks.
After the second shot she booked it up the side of the hill lead by her cubs, who kicked a rock down that bounced off of their mother on the way down. She made it about half way up and turned and stared at the dog who had begun to make an awful amount of noise due to the situation. She eyed him for a few minutes while she gave her cubs time to scamper off. Finally breaking concentration from the situation I noticed that my military training had kicked in and I had a solid kneeling position established with the safety of the AK disengaged. I was ready to rock that bear with some 7.62×39 as soon as it touched the water, and had let instinct take over. After a brief stare down we deemed it safe enough of a stand off distance and started snapping a few pictures of the encounter. This was the quintessential Alaska moment, coming across a bear in the wild, and luckily we had come out on top. Though, it could have easily turned tide and gone the other way.
Now, as it has already happened to my friend, I fully expect it. There is going to be some bleeding heart out there that reads this and says, “why did you shoot at it”. Well, a good and healthy dose of respect for nature probably won’t suit you, but that’s the truth of it. We could have attempted to use bear spray in an area where the breeze was swirling, but for that to be effective we would have been hurting the bear regardless, and potentially ourselves. Besides in the moment, it was out of reach. Rather than wound the animals, wouldn’t you say that a warning shot turned out to be the most effective means we could have hoped for anyways? I’ve also heard, “why didn’t you just let the bears be?” Another great question, however, if you look at the terrain of the picture above, we weren’t making it out of there before that sow could have decided she wanted to make us lunch. If you’ve never watched a bear climb a steep hill, it’s a lot faster at it than we are. So, that’s that. Bear got scared, but overall, things turned out just fine.
We continued on with the hike, though that encounter certainly remained to be the highlight of the day.
Stay hidden; Stay Safe.