Today was bear watching day! We met our float plane on Beluga Lake in Homer at 8:30 am. First we got fitted for hip boots since we were going to deplane in the water. There were about 14 other people that joined us today, so we split up between two different planes. As we were boarding, Cole got selected to sit in the jump seat in front with the pilot - what a treat! Flying on a float plane is not like commercial, though we still got a very brief safety speech, we all had our own window and aisle seat! We were also given headsets for ear protection and so we could hear any directions the pilot gave us. The views were wonderful, although we couldn't see the tops of mountains due to some cloud coverage.
We landed on a small lake in the southern portion of Katmai National Park. All we could see for miles was barren tundra! It was extremely desolate, but also quite beautiful. One of the pilots introduced us to some berries that grew in the groundcover and Cole gave them a taste. We had about a half hour walk to our destination. We could see the river winding up ahead of us, and every once and a while you could see a brown spot moving around in the river…our first bear! We did see a bear and two cubs on a ridge as we made our way to the river. As we were crossing the river trying to make our way to a ridge that they sat at the previous day, two bears made their way toward us. Our guides told us to quickly sit down on a small rocky area in the middle of the river. We all sat down and watched as the first bear completely ignored us and went on catching sockeye/red salmon as if we weren't even there!
Some of us were hoping that we would continue on to the spot from the previous day since it was grassy, but nope, we spent the next 3 or so hours sitting on the rocky area in the middle of the river. As it turned out this was a great place to watch the bears. Over the next several hours multiple bears, including as many as 11 at the same time, wandered past us or in our line of sight. The mother bear and her cubs spent nearly an hour around us hunting, playing, and exploring. We ate our picnic lunch as the bears fished around us. The red salmon were not very sporting in the game as they were trying to swim without too much energy upstream, but they were really pretty shining through the water. At one point there was a large one swimming right in front of us and a large bear had his eye on it! He started making his way toward us and Keely started getting a little nervous, luckily the fish got swept downstream a bit and the bear moved on.
Around 3:30 we started packing up our stuff, and walking back to the plane. A few of the bears watched us leave, including one of the cubs that climbed down the ridge just to see us off! The entire experience was amazing. At any given point we were as close to 15-20 feet away from a huge bear - or multiple bears. There were very few times when there wasn't one in our vicinity, and even then we could see them off in the distance. The flight home was a bit disappointing as we were in the clouds the entire way. Dan sat in front, but didn't quite get the views that Cole had. The rest of us took that time to take a quick nap before heading back to the house.
We got home and headed out for pizza. Dan and Jane didn't think that we needed 3 larges, but the kids guaranteed that it would be gone within 24 hours with an early morning fishing trip planned the next day it would make a great on-board brunch. After dinner Cole and Kevin played a quick game of ping-pong and then we all headed to bed since we had to be at the dock at 5:45 for halibut fishing!