Monday, August 3, 2009

#57 - Wrangell to Anan Creek, then Santa Anna Inlet

Today we visit the bears at Anan Creek. It will be a long day with many segments: a 3-hour motor to Anan Creek; anchor, launch dinghy, motor to shore; a 30-minute hike to the bear observatory; 2-hours with the bears; a 30-minute hike to the anchorage; motor dinghy to boat, stow dinghy and retrieve anchor; and finally a 2-hour motor to Santa Anna Inlet. I'm exhausted already.

We rise early and leave Wrangell behind us at 6AM eager to get to bear country before the tour boat crowds. We go north around the top of Wrangell Island, then down Eastern Passage through the Narrows to Blake Channel then out the bottom crossing Bradfield Canal to Anan Creek anchorage.

Today's lengthy voyage.

It's flat water, sunny with little wind down Eastern Passage to Blake Channel. The Channel itself is calm and picturesque. There's no boat traffic and we see a couple deer walking along the shore below the low tide line.

Pretty Blake Channel looks like a great place to come for a more thorough visit.

We arrive at the Anan Creek anchorage. This is a temporary anchorage at best due to it's 100-foot high-sloping bottom contour. The Douglass Guide recommends leaving an anchor watch aboard, but everybody wants to see the bears. We'll take a hand held VHF ashore with us in hopes that if Wild Blue pulls anchor and floats away, someone will try to call us on the VHF.

Wild Blue anchored with other boats in 100+ feet of depth. This photo was taken for insurance purposes, just in case the anchor comes dislodged.

We launch the dinghy and motor ashore to the ranger hut at the entrance to a lagoon near the base of Anan Creek. It's already busy with shore parties arriving from tour boats and other yachts. We pay our $10 per person fee and receive a ranger briefing about how to avoid bears that cross the path on our 30-minute walk to the observatory. Just as the four of us begin hike, we notice a tour guide carrying a large shotgun, and preparing to escort a party up the path. Gosh, maybe that $210 tour fee would have been a worthy investment!

It's eerily quiet except for our clapping, singing and loud talking. We quickly realize that Alex forgot to bring the bear pepper spray repellent. We go on our way reviewing what to do when we see a bear. I think the ranger said place the girls in front facing the bear, and then the boys should run like heck; or was it bunch up together and be large-like? At last we come to Anan Creek and the steep incline up to the bear observatory.

Wild Blue is still anchored securely while we're half-way up the trail.

The park rules are “always stay on the trail”.

But when a bear gets this close, we're NOT staying on the trail!

Anan Creek has a choke point where the river narrows and falls twenty feet or so. The salmon have to run up this gauntlet to reach their spawning ground. The bears congregate here to fish for salmon. Some bears fish from the side, while others wade into the river. Either approach get good results. The observatory is a platform overlooking this choke point on the creek. The bears are quite close but don't seem to mind us watching them.

Anan Creek has lots of water flow, great for salmon returning to spawn and great for hungry bears.

The creek is filled with salmon and they are jumping up over rocks and falls, and sometimes into the mouths of bears.

And this bear easily mouths a salmon.

The bear takes the salmon over to his private dining spot.

The bear samples his dinner.

The satisfaction shows on the bear's face.

Now the bear seems to want to play with his salmon.

Most of the bears we saw today were black bears. The black bears are less aggressive than the brown bears. When a brown bear arrived later in the morning, he immediately chased away two black bears that were fishing his spot.

This brown bear has his own private fishing spot. If black bears give him any trouble, he chases them up a tree.

Mommy black bear and cub are up a tree giving Mister Brown Bear his space.

Bears get tired of eating salmon day after day. Every so often they want a change in their diet. Something special, something more. Maybe like what awaits behind this door's peephole? It's OK to come out now Peter!

After a fine time “dancing with bears”, we backtrack down the path to the ranger hut and our dinghy. We find Wild Blue right where we left her, solidly anchored, so we stow dinghy, crew and anchor and push onward to Santa Anna Inlet.

The Inlet is almost serene: there's flat waters, calm winds, a setting sun, and mild climate. It's perfectly still except...... those damn, noisy jumping salmon! Everywhere you look salmon are in the air flipping, twisting, rolling, then diving with a big splash. Some individual fish do multiple jumps and splashes. How are ever going to sleep with all this racket!

A wonderful day in Alaska ends with sunset over Santa Anna Inlet.

1 comment:

  1. That's ashame, looks like a paved highway going in there now. I was there in the 80's, and did less damage logging 70 million board feet of timber nearby...Alaska, the new, New Jersey. I'd rather see it burn than be trampled and paved by tourism.