48 minute complete video of the entire day, including the flights to and from the park.
Today I visited Katmai National Park, which is the least visited national park in the country. The reason it is the least visited is because the only way to get in and out of the park is by seaplane. And it isn't a short flight either. It takes a little over three hours each way to get there.
Six of us, a couple from California, a couple from Australia and our pilot Mark left the Lake Hood Sea Plane base which sits directly behind my hotel at 8:00 this morning. We were flying in an old six seat DeHaviland Beaver. And as usual I got to fly in the copilot seat. It was a beautiful flight down to the park. Weather was gorgeous. We flew along the Alaska Range of mountains. Through valleys, over glaciers, lakes and streams. And at times over mountain peaks literally just a few feet below us. We also passed over Lake Clark National Park which is what you see in the first four pictures.
Mark wasn't like any other pilot I have ever flown with before. He took more pictures than I did. He had this camera with a lens on it about two feet long sitting on his lap the whole time he was flying the plane. He would fly the plane at all angles and positions to get the shot he wanted, roll down the window and then snap away. And if he didn't get the shot he wanted he would circle back around and try again. Sometimes we got so close to the sides of the mountains I thought the wings were going to scrape. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We all loved every minute of it.
Like I said it was over a three hour flight in very tight confined space inside the small plane but there was never a dull moment and that time passed really quickly.
Below we are flying over Lake Iliamna, the largest lake in Alaska.
Next we made our water landing on Naknek Lake in Katmai National Park.
Below is me in front of the plane at Katmai National Park. When we got to the park we had to go through a briefing with the park rangers on bear safety before we were allowed to leave the camp. After the briefing Mark went back to the plane to service it for the flight back and the rest of us hit the trail to Brooks Falls. You have probably seen pictures of bears standing in a waterfall catching salmon as they jump the falls swimming up stream to spawn. Well, this is that place.
Below is me and a couple from Australia that I spent a lot of the day with. It was about a mile and a half walk up to the falls. We were all a little nervous at first waking up the trail knowing a bear could come out of the woods at anytime time. This wasn't a guided walk either. It was just the five of us. And we knew there had been plenty of bears on the trail because we saw plenty of evidence that bears really do shit in the woods.
We got up to the falls safely but to our disappointment there were no bears up there at all. The salmon were just starting their run and there weren't that many of them yet. No fish, no bears. We stayed up there about a half hour or so and still no bears. We talked to a park ranger that was stationed at the viewing platform and he said they were seeing more bears at the lower viewing platform way back at the beginning of the trail. So we started to hike back down the trail. Just as we started back there came Mark, our pilot, lugging that huge camera and a tripod. We told him that there were no bears so he headed back down the trail with us to the lower station.
We got all the way back to the lower station. No bears.
We were standing down along the river watching some fisherman when all of a sudden four bears, a mama and her three almost grown youngsters came running down the river at a really good pace. The rangers quickly hustled us into the safety of the viewing platform.
They hung around for a short while right in front of us looking for fish in the river.
Brown bears choose to make this place their home because of the salmon streams, mountain backdrops, large lakes, and thick forests.
Then they continued on their way and headed straight for the camp. We listened to the rangers talking among themselves on their walkie talkies giving reports on the position of the bears. We were all very happy. We were beginning to think we had come all this way and weren't going to get to see what we came for. It was great fun watching these huge magnificent animals right in front of us scampering through the river. Shortly after those bears left we saw a lone bear walking along the shore of the river. But he didn't go into the water and soon went back into the woods.
We hung around the lower platform for probably close to an hour when we got a report that there was a bear in the falls. We asked Mark if we had enough time to go back to the falls. He gave us an extra half hour and said to go for it. He stayed behind as he wasn't going to lug that heavy camera back up the 1.5 miles to the falls. The rest of us briskly walked back up the trail hoping to get there before the bear left. We didn't make it. When we got all the way back up there, no bears. Well, at least we were getting plenty of exercise. We hung out there for a while when this huge male grizzly comes out of the woods.
He marches himself right into the middle of the falls.
Unfortunately there were very few salmon. We did see a few jumping the falls.
No sooner did he start looking for his dinner when four more bears come walking up through the middle of the river. It was another mama and three youngsters. They stop short of the falls because mama doesn't want her young too close to the male.
Finally there are bears everywhere, right where we want them to be, but it's almost time to have to head back to the plane.
There are two platforms up at the falls. One right on the falls where the male bear is. And one a little ways back where mama and her younguns are. We bounced back and forth between the two platforms in the time we had left watching the bears.
Katmai National Park has the world's highest concentration of brown bears per square mile.
We got back to the plane and started our return journey back to Anchorage.
The flight back was even more incredible than the flight up. By that time we were all quite comfortable with each other. We all had headsets with microphones and were talking back and forth. Mark was flying the plane here, there and everywhere. Taking us back a different way then we came. He may have had a flight plan but sure didn't follow it. We get to Mt. Augustine, a volcano island that is spewing smoke at the top.
Mark flew around Mt. Augustine several times. He came at it from every angle. Finally I told him he was a real bastard, he actually gets paid to do this. He just looked at me and smiled.
We flew back toward Lake Clark National Park.
Below is Iliamna Volcano with the Redoubt Volcano in background.
We're now back over Lake Clark National Park.
The unique striping on the mountain below was a favorite of Mark, our pilot.
Next we flew across Cook Inlet and over the Kenai Peninsula back to Anchorage.
The three hour flight back ended up being closer to four. I think we used every drop of fuel in the tank. Below we are flying over the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
We got a nice view of the Anchorage skyline just before our water landing.
And then Mark practically delivered me to my front door as you can see my hotel at the top of the Lake Hood Float Plane Base you see in the final picture below.
It's after 1:00am as I am writing this. More later,
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