Alaska Blog 8 – Kodiak Island

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

I’ve been in Alaska, shooting another program for the forthcoming LPTV/National Geographic series The Roads Less Travelled. The 13 part series follows Lonely Planet writers and photographers ‘on the road’ and launches later this year. I worked on the Laos program in the series earlier in the year. My final Alaskan venture was out to Kodiak Island.
Welcome to Kodiak

▲ Welcome to Kodiak

Wow, what else can I say about Kodiak, it’s unbelievably dramatic and beautiful. At this time of year it’s green enough to make an Irishman jealous, but it also features fiords, glacial lakes, rocky mountains, glaciers and salmon streams. The salmon streams are, indirectly, the reason we’ve come to Kodiak. A tasty salmon (or preferably a dozen tasty salmon) is the favourite dish for a Kodiak bear and Kodiak has a lot of bears. The island’s 9000 square km is home to 2500 to 3000 brown bears*. That’s three times as many bears as you’ll find in all the USA outside of Alaska.

* brown bears and grizzly bears are the same creatures. Kodiak brown bears are the biggest brown bears, thanks to that salmon-rich diet a mature male brown bear (a boar) can weigh over half a ton.

Over Kodiak Island
▲ Over Kodiak Island

Beaver floatplane at Camp IslandKodiak town at the eastern end of the island is the only major settlement on the island. Beyond the roads of Kodiak there are just a handful of villages and fishing outposts and a lot of wilderness. We took an Andrew Airways Beaver floatplane and cruised slowly (Beavers can get into the air at 80kph) over that pristine landscape to Lake Karluk at the eastern end of the island.


◄  Beaver floatplane at Camp Island



with guides Rome & Alex

▲ With guides Rome & Alex

On Camp Island we met up with our expert native Alaskan guide Alex and his sidekick Rome and spent the next three days looking for bears. We certainly found them, bears and bear cubs and lots of bear salmon fishing activity.

Bear chases salmon
▲ Bear chases salmon

By the end of our spell on the island we’d become remarkably nonchalant about these huge mammals. They may have sharp teeth and enormous claws, but they’re interested in eating fish, not humans. The general process was we’d see the bear, the bear would see us, the bear would study us for awhile, decide we were harmless and get back to looking for fish.

Bear catches salmon
▲ Bear catches salmon

Bear and cubsOf course my relaxed attitude towards close contact with earth’s largest carnivores may have been influenced by the presence of our two expert guides. Alex and Rome also toted guns although only as insurance, they’ve never had to use them. At the end of our Kodiak visit we returned to Kodiak town and with a few hours to kill before our Anchorage flight drove out to Fort Abercrombie park, on the edge of the town. Walking back to meet the others at the car I turned a corner and found myself face to face with a bear. And with no expert guide with a gun to look out for me.




Bear and two cubs
▲ Bear & two cubs  

I jump back, and then remember the instructions, do not back off, definitely do not turn your back and run. Confront the bear. So I do. But the bear has also jumped back and bears must get the same instructions: ‘don’t run away from humans, face the human, show it you’re not afraid.’

‘Oops,’ the bear must have thought, ‘I’m doing this all wrong.’

So the bear turned round and confronted me too. We study each other for a spell, but essentially the bear wants to get back to the patch of vegetation it was quietly munching on until I disturbed it. Which is exactly what it does.
Bear heads back into vegetation
Bear heads back into the vegetation

Click for more of my Alaskan travels, I’ve posted blogs on Alaska for LPTV, Train to Whittier, Prince William Sound, Valdez & McCarthy, The Root Glacier, Kennecott & McCarthy, Nome, The Kenai Peninsula and finally Kodiak Island.