Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Katmai National Park - July 2017 Solo Camping Trip


Suggestions

  • The float planes take off from a different location from the airport and you can make arrangements with the float plane operators to pick you up from wherever you are staying.  
  • If you are planning to bring alcohol to have it in the camping site, pack it from home because it costs a lot in King Salmon.  The alcohol prices in the Brooks lodge are reasonable.  Pint of beer $8.
  • The flight to King Salmon cost a lot so think about using your airline miles to fly here (only Alaskan).
  • Take the tour or do it yourself (if you are brave enough) - wading the river and have close encounters with the grizzlies.  Once you do this, you may not want to go to the platform to watch the bears.
  • Go early in the morning, @8am, to rent the waders and they get rented off pretty quick to different tour groups.  It depends on the water level at the river at that year.  We are lucky this year and water level is low.
  • Evenings could be chilly, so always carry light weight jacket and a winter jacket.
  • You can get the white gas or propane gas in the Brooks Lodge store and if you are not planning to camp/cook be prepared to pay expensive buffet style meal.
  • You are not allowed to carry any food items in the trail so don’t go crazy on carrying too much snacks to take for hiking.  You can still leave some in the food storage near the visitor center so that you don’t have to go to the camp site if you are hungry (it is about 0.3miles from the visitor center).
  • If you are coming here with the small children, please please try to find a way to keep them close to you during your time here, you don’t want to be surprising  the grizzles.
  • The Brooks lodge itself is very nice and very conveniently located.  But getting a place here is pretty difficult, so plan in advance. Also, it is expense for solo travelers to stay in the lodge.
  • You are not allowed to take pictures from the co-pilot seat in the float plane, but view from the co-pilot seat is really good.  So decide whether u want to enjoy the view or take pictures.

My Experience

I was originally planned to camp out in King Salmon in one of the hotel properties and but as I landed in King Salmon, looking at the place I was wondering whether it would be safe to campout because of the grizzlies.  Soon after landing, I checked for hotels in town but not that many and expensive, so I decided to have an early encounter with the grizzlies if it had to be :-)  So walked to Antlers Inn where I was planning to campout and it was not bad.  Flora, the hotel manager at the time, was really nice and told me all of the disclaimers about grizzlies attacking me and how the Inn is not responsible.  Agreed to all, pitched a tent little further away from in the Inn and left to have dinner.  If you are not planning to campout like me, the Antlers Inn is a very nice property located very close to the airport and close to the only pub in town.

After having dinner and beer in the pub, not many vegetarian options, returned to my palace around
9pm.  The tent was still there so felt safe (what a stupid logic …you may think :-) ).  Had very nice sleep even though it was windy and raining.  Flora, had shown me the restroom that I could use in the Inn properties which is very nice of her.  Took shower and left the Inn around 7 to thank her for accommodating me in the properties.  When I told her about me taking the float plane, she offered to give me ride to the floatplane docking place because I didn’t make arrangements for them to pick me up.
Most of the people who were traveling to Brooking lodge were day travelers who are going to see the bears or to see the geological wonder - Valley of 10000 smokes (there is no smoke now only the valley remains). 

After going through 20 minutes bear orientation in the visitor center and I was ready to claim my camping spot.  But I was the only one who was going for the camping site at that time.  And the almost half mile walk was eerie and me wondering when the grizzly going to show up next to me or on me :-)  Just when we were attending the bear orientation, there was a mama bear outside very close to the visitor center and seeing that bear that close increased my excitement walking in the wooded trail to the camping site.  The campsite is supposedly fenced with the electric fence but I am not sure about it..touching it didn’t give me electric shock (yes...I touched it).  The campsite is really well maintained.  After storing my food and pack in their rooms, 
left to explore the wilderness.  Again, walking back alone didn’t make me feel any better but me singing songs and shouting along the way made me feel stronger :-)

You will come across grizzlies anytime in the park, I meant the Katmai National Park.  The main attraction for most of the people is the viewing platforms from where you can watch the grizzlies catching salmon and the problem is that there is only one bridge to get to the trail head of the platform  from the visitor center or Brooks lodge.  If there are any grizzlies closer to the bridge or closer to the trail getting to the bridge, all need to wait ’till the bear moves 50 yards away from the trail or the bridge.  Sometimes it takes more than 3 hrs for the bears to move if they are sleeping or chilling.  It is called, the bear jam that you will come to hate.  Walking in the trails to and from the platforms is an experience by itself because you don’t know when you may encounter a bear.  Watching the grizzlies catching the salmon at the falls is a great experience.  There’s a pager system like in restaurants to get to the upper falls if it is crowed.  While waiting for your chance to go to the upper falls, you could visit the lower falls to watch the grizzlies.  You are allowed to stay in the upper falls for only an hour if there are others waiting.  On my way back from the platform, I barely missed a grizzly by a min on the trail from the falls platform to the main road.  A group of people who were following me had to step off from the trail to give way to the grizzly and I didn’t even know about it :-)  

I met an Indian couple, Aditya and his wife, Prashali, from Seattle on the way back from the platform and we went together back to the camp to have lunch.  After having lunch, we got stuck near the Brooks Lodge for more than hour because of the bear jam.  On the way to platform in the evening to watch the bears, we encountered a bear near the main road just 15 feet away and we moved fast before it made it to the main road.  We could spot at least 23 (yes..twenty three) grizzlies near the top and bottom falls at a time when we visited in the evening.  There was a lot more bear and salmon activity in the evening.  We returned to our camp around 10pm and it was still bright at that time.  I singed up to go to the valley of 10000 smokes the next day.

After some delays in the trailhead due to the bear jam, made it to the bus for the valley trip.  If you are staying in Katmai for more than two days, you can do something different than watching the bears, it is a good trip.  The scenery is good and the hike down is well worth it.  There’s nothing smoking in the valley but the landscape is beautiful.  There were two quick stops on the way to enjoy the views and for the bathroom breaks.  The hike is moderate to strenuous depending on your hiking level.  There is no wild life in the trip because all of the bears are where the Salmon is and we didn’t spot any wild animals.  In my mind, if you are not very much interested in geology or not bored watching the bears all day, this tour is NOT a MUST do.

During the hike in the 10000 valley of smokes, met a like minded hiker, Ruth, and we decided to do
the Dumpling Mt. trail near the campgrounds.  She attempted that trail the previous day but turned back because her friends didn’t want to go further.  We decided to give it a try today.  I am glad that I met Ruth, otherwise I won’t have attempted that trail at all.  The trail is very bushy and there’s no way to spot a grizzly in that trail.  We were making noises while hiking and it is a beautiful with great views of the park.  If you have time and someone to go with you, you should hike to the Dumpling Mt..  On way back from the hike, just before reaching the campgrounds, Ruth mentioned that she had seen a grizzly closer to the gate and as we approached the gate, she 
said there’s a grizzly.  I thought that she’s joking and when looked at on my right side there’s a grizzly just 30 feet away coming towards us.  Quickly opened the gate and went in to campground to see the grizzly moving just 15 feet away from us.  We were laughing about how close we came to meeting our brown friend.

We decided to eat dinner before heading out to the platform to watch the bears.  Aditya joined for dinner at the campground and they were telling about their experience of walking in the river coming face to face with the grizzlies in a guided tour.  A few other people joined us for dinner and they were talking about their experience wading the river without anything between them and the grizzlies.  So Ruth and I decided to do that next day without the guide but by ourselves.  But the wadders are in great demand and we couldn’t reserve one the previous night. After dinner, we all left to the platform for more bear watching and we got stuck near the bridge for more than hour because of the bear jam.  There was lot more salmon activity in the falls near the platform and the bears near the falls were having a feast.  The bears avoid humans as much as they could, they could easily hop over the small 3 feet gate to come to the platform where we all stand to watch the bears.  
But the bears never bother to cross the gate and it is the same with the “electric” fence in the campground, they never cross the electric fence which is not electric.

The next morning, packed the tent and had breakfast before headed to the Brooks trading post, at 8am, to get the wadders for the today’s adventure.  Ruth left early to get the waders before anyone else shows up to collect them.  We wish that we had at least one or more people joined us for this adventure.  Two people didn’t look like a gang to scare the grizzlies.  But when we left to the river, we didn’t find anyone on the trail or in the river.  It was a scary feeling walking through the tall trees in the trail to reach the river.  We encountered a mamma bear and her two cubs just when entered the trail and we came close 10 feet to a grizzly that was in the river bank as the trail started going closer to the river, so we walked off the trail and walked in the bushes to avoid the bear.  Once we reached the river, we felt relieved because of the more open space and more visibility.  There were not many people fishing or wadding in the river, only we and the grizzlies :-)  We saw a grizzly about 50 yards away, suddenly it started charging towards our direction and I was close to peeing in my pants :-) but the grizzly stopped about 45 yards away catching a salmon.  We realized that it was just charging to catch its food and relieved to know that we were not its food.

We had to move around a lot in the river to avoid bears.  We had to guess whether we were in their path or not and move away, and while moving away we had to make sure that there’re no other grizzlies wherever we were moving to.  At one point, we were surrounded by 7 grizzlies in the four directions when we were on one side of the river.  We walked around the river for about two hours before returning back to the Brooks lodge.  I don’t think I will stand in the platform and watch the bears when I visit this place next time.  Watching the bears standing among them and moving around them is more exciting than standing in a platform.  It is quite amazing how these grizzlies don’t care about the humans as long as we stay away from them.  The rangers mentioned that the grizzlies in this park behave differently than any other parks because of the way they managed here as well as the amble availability of the food.

After celebrating the guide-less trip to wade among the bears, with beer, we went to the other side of the bridge to catch the shuttle to get to the flight.  The flights on that day were taking off from the Brooks lake, so we get to see the Brooks lake also in the trip.  The flight out of Katmai was very scenic and the pilot flew the flight over the Brooks lodge and Dumpling mountains.


People I Met

There are people come to King Salmon during the summer just for ten weeks to work in the fishing industry and one of them mentioned that they normally catch about 100,000 tons of fish in that 10 weeks period.  Since it is almost end of the season, some of them were taking day trips to the Valley 10000 smokes from King Salmon.  Met a elderly couple (70+) from Virginia, who drove from Richmond visiting all of the national parks on the way and canoed from a the river inlet (forgot the name) for about 8 hours to Katmai NP.  They were talking about going to Wrangell before heading out to Oregon to watch the solar eclipse.  Met a number of photographers who visit the national park year after year, no wonder it is hard to get camping permit
here :-0  There were three 80 year old lady friends traveling together the national parks in Alaska, who made the trip to the Valley of 10000 smokes.  One of them was telling me that she's into Buddhism and went to Bhutan for a month for meditation.  Asked her why Bhutan, she had said that it's the happiest place of earth.   Ruth moved to Washington state and decided to spend summer in Anchorage working in the hospital, spending her weekends camping and hiking around the area.  Aditya camped in the Brooks lodge without any camping stove and they were trying to cook food in the camp fire, they reminded me of me trying to camp in the Hurricane Ridge first time with Walmart sleeping bag and almost frozen at night.   

Summary

This is one of the best outdoor experiences I have ever had.  I am glad that we hiked Dumpling mountain trail as well as walked among the grizzlies in the river.  This year is one of the best years to visit Katmai because the water level is low, we could walk along the river as well as see the bears snorkel to catch the fish.

1 comment:

  1. Most excellent write up, Gunny! I felt like I just re-lived part of the weekend.

    ReplyDelete