July 26, 2016: After a day of cruising up the Inward Passage from Vancouver, we finally docked in Ketchikan, Alaska this morning. Jim and Chris and Kay and I signed up for a great adventure — we are scheduled to take a float plane to a remote part of the the Tongass National Park to see black bears catching salmon from the river where they go to spawn. The floatplanes are all de Havilland Beavers, built between 1937-1967. About 1700 of them were built and about 1100 of them are still in service, largely throughout Alaska. Approximately 1 person in 70 in Alaska has a pilot’s license, because the distances are so great between towns. The Beavers only hold 8 persons in very cramped conditions, so Chris and I had to do some pleading to get our camera gear aboard. For those who knew my Dad, the packed cabin was very reminiscent of some of our family flights to Baja, except we actually had seats in the Beaver!
The flight was super cool, and we were amazed by how little runway/sea space the planes take to take off and land. We landed after a short flight of about 20 minutes in a small inlet adjacent to the Tongass Wilderness Area. While we were waiting to dock, we watched the spawning salmon jumping like crazy and smacking their bodies on the water’s surface. Our pilot told us that they do this to help loosen their egg sacks so all the eggs don’t clump together as they are being laid upstream. It was raining lightly, and all you could hear was the smack of the salmon and the wind gently blowing in the trees.
We hiked in a short ways to the observation area for the bears, after being thoroughly briefed about “bear dos and don’ts”. Since this is all a wilderness area, although there is a viewing area, the bears roam freely through the area, including the path we are on, so we’re all a little anxious that the bears are going to be observing us instead of vice versa. We spy proof of bears recently passing by the trail, and answer the age old question about bears’ bathroom habits.
We luck out right away, as there is a bear feeding in the stream right below the observation platform just as we arrive. There are dead salmon parts tossed all over the banks, left by the bears as they went in search of other salmon. It seems pretty wasteful to me, but apparently, bald eagles frequently follow after the bears, and occupy the same habitat so they can take advantage of the salmon buffet left by the bears. Sadly, we saw no eagles this day, but the bears’ antics were interesting enough.
Our original bear walked out of our viewing range, but then a lady bear came down from the other side of the stream to feed. You could easily see why the bears choose this place to fish; fro where we were standing, we could see great schools of salmon in the shallow stream water/ Every so often, one would make the attempt to go up the rapids rapids, fighting just as hard as they could. Finally, our original bear returned, and we got to watch him actually catching some salmon. What a highlight!
We returned to the ship, and had some time in town to do some souvenir shopping. Yes, you guessed it — Jim stayed onboard, and we had a fairly early sail away as we left for Juneau.
However, the fun was not over; we had a wine tasting to enjoy with our newfound Gainey Vineyard crew. Todays’ tasting focused on the vineyard’s Bordeaux style varietals, which ended up being just a prelude to a thoroughly enjoyable dinner, also featuring the Gainey wines. Well fed and lubricated, we made our way to bed to prepare for tomorrow’s adventures.