We'd had a gloriously warm and sunny evening sitting out enjoying our last BBQ at Trapper Creek.And it was another glorious day when we set off next morning for Anchorage. As usual, we mistakenly thought we had plenty of time to pack all our stuff back into the rucksacks, drive the 130 miles back to Anchorage, negotiate our way from the north of the city to the south, stop off at the hostel to drop off a couple of bags, clean the van inside and out and fill up with petrol all in time to hand Fanny back by 3.00pm. But Mt McKinley was out in all its glory and we couldn't resist another run back up the road to catch one last look. So we were late and it all ended up as a bit of a rush, but we managed to hand her back with half an hour to spare before the rental company closed for the day (mind you it cost us a $50 'fine') .
As we had a few hours to spare before our late evening flight to Kodiak we went into town for a beer and bite to eat before making our way to the airport. We needed to get maximum cash possible to pay for our Kodiak Trek and were surprised and dismayed to find that one of our cards had been stopped. Dashing into a bank that was still open in the early evening, they confirmed our misery! We therefore needed to spend as little cash as possible so returned to the Glacier Brewhouse where we could dine and drink in splendour - on a credit card. At the airport we skyped the bank, which explained that they suspected a dodgy transaction when we tried to use the card earlier that afternoon to pay for the car was (it takes a loads and loads of coins to pay for the wash of a large RV that's been on mucky roads over the last three weeks!). All was therefore sorted - phew!
All looked set fine for our 80 minute flight to leave on time, and indeed it did. But Kodiak is notorious for bad weather, and from hearing others on the flight talking, we realised that no other flights had been able to land that day at Kodiak because of fog. In fact the flight before ours had circled for 40 minutes trying to land before having to turn back to Anchorage. And right enough, as we neared the island the sky became more and more overcast with a huge bank of fog ahead (we were really having trouble with 'banks' that day).We were prepared for landing but as we got lower and lower there was still no land or water to be seen below us.It was only when we reached about 100 feet that we could see glimpses of the sea through the fog.We thought "We'll never be able to land in this", but our plucky female pilot pressed on and got us down safe and sound to a well deserved round of applause.
Kodiak was not looking its best and Alaska was unseasonably dark given this was the summer solstice - it should have been still light at that time of night. However, a short taxi ride and we were safely checked into the Russian Heritage Inn in the centre of town at midnight. By the time we went to bed, having re-packed ready for the flight the next day, it was after 1am and we had to get up at 6am for our 6:45 pick up for the flight (arranged several weeks ago and confirmed yesterday). Up and ready - if not wholly awake - we waited on the pick-up but eventually had to ask a shopkeeper opening up for the day to let us use her phone to call the flight company. Eventually we were picked up and deposited at the airport we'd left only a few hours previously to be told the flight was delayed as the aeroplane was unable to return to town last night because of fog.Oh how we could have done with an extra hour or so in bed! Our plane only took 3 passengers and it was full, as we took off through rather murky weather into and beyond clouds to a much clearer sky.As we skimmed over the high slow-clad mountains of the interior of Kodiak Island, we had great views of the landscape and beyond to the Katmai Peninsula and the high snow covered volcanoes that form part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire'.
Safely down at Larsen Bay that is essentially one of the few canning factories serving the massive wild salmon fishing community, we had a very warm welcome from Harry and Brigid Dodge and their black Labrador Reuben. As Harry loaded supplies on to his wee fishing boat we jumped aboard for the hour journey to their summer lodge on Aleut Island in Uyak Bay on the west side of Kodiak Island. The weather here was much better with blue skies overhead.We were thrilled to be on the next stage of our trip to Alaska and the one that had the greatest sense of adventure. Harry and Brigid are Kodiak Treks and are extremely highly regarded.They provide camping, trekking and nature viewing opportunities for small groups directly from their lodge.They have a very genuine and honest policy to practice environmentally sustainable 'tourism' and also work hard with the local community to expand that philosophy within the wider community of Kodiak - a difficult task indeed. Over the next few days we would have many discussions about this subject.
In the sunshine we arrived at the island and were shown the lodge and the cabins that Harry had built himself. Electricity is all from solar panels and heating is from wood burning stoves. The drop toilets have splendid views given they have no doors (!) and look over the bay and island - they are certainly loos with views! Settled in and after coffee and home-made lemon muffins (most of which would be consumed by Reuben), Brigid took us on a walk around the northern part of the island where we looked for birds, seals etc and flora and sat in the sunshine. One of our first 'major sightings' was a rusty old BBQ high on the hillside across the bay. Well, at least we thought it was a BBQ although Brigid insists it was just a log!
One of the 'luxuries' that Harry and Brigid have built is a banya (a Russia style sauna). Although it is a rustic affair it is entirely in keeping with the environment and extremely effective. It was a great way to relax and freshen up. After being well fed and a great night's sleep in the peace and tranquillity of this isolated and remote place, we were up next morning for our main adventure - a 2-day camping and trekking trip. We helped Harry load up the boat with supplies and, as this would be their first camping trip of the season, the tents and other camping equipment. Having spotted bears near the shore, we landed on a pebbly beach and made our way quietly and in single file firstly along the shoreline and then inland and uphill to a vantage point following bear tracks where we sat for a couple of hours to watch four bears on the flat below.Although they were some distance away we had a great view of them through the binoculars as they interacted with one another, had wrestling bouts and fed themselves up on the lush grasses after their long winter hibernation.
Reluctantly we had to pull ourselves away from the bears to head back to the boat while the tide was still favourable so we could get on our way to the area where we would camp the night. The tents were set up quickly and efficiently (Harry and Brigid had obviously done this before!) around a camp-fire pit before we headed along the waterside again for an early evening nature watch. It was calm and peaceful and thankfully dry and some sea otters were active around Harry's boat. By the time we had made our tentative way along the inlet, the otters too swam past and played only a short distance from where we were secreted in the long grass. From our vantage point we saw more bears across the water emerge from the undergrowth to make their own way along the shore plus many birds including several bald eagles. Back at camp and over our evening campfire meal we saw the otters swim past the boat and more bears continuing their evening 'strolls'. It was then into our tents for a 'peaceful' night.
Although the night was a bit chilly, once into our sleeping bags we were soon warm as toast and fell asleep easily. About 3am we both awoke - although at that time we were not aware the other was awake - when we became aware of movement outside our tent. Although the night at that time is still relatively light, we could see no movement but the distinctive sound of crunching grass - just like a cow or horse eating - was clear to hear.Added to that there was the occasional sound of large footfalls and the odd snuffling sound here and there. Sometime during this, M whispered to E 'Are you awake?' to which E replied abruptly and quietly 'Ssshhh!'. We continued to hold our breath and make absolutely no sound for quite some time after the noises had ceased. At some point, however, we did get back to sleep.
In the morning when E emerged from the tent, he asked Harry if he had heard noises during the night and he confirmed that he thought a bear had wandered through the camp. Invigorated by our experience we dismantled the campsite and set off to further explore the inlet and search for wildlife. During late morning we came across another (female) bear feeding herself up and on our return from our lunch spot by the river saw another bear doing what they do most of the time - head down eating. We spent a long time watching them from a safe distance.
As we were making our way back to the shoreline, emerging from thickish undergrowth, Brigid, who was leading the way, suddenly indicated to back away. We could see only a few yards from us an extremely large male Kodiak bear (that Harry later assessed could be 900lbs in weight) making his way along the edge of the undergrowth. We did back off - of course! - and hid among the thick foliage. The bear seemed to be unaware of our presence but as was explained later, male bears can be dangerous and could attack. Also, they are more elusive and are inclined to vanish quickly into the undergrowth. This bear, still only a short distance away made his way through the thick bush and glimpses of him through binoculars certainly highlighted his impressive size and strength.We stayed more or less motionless for 25 minutes until he was gone. It was a wonderful climax to our day-long trek.
Back at the lodge Harry stoked up the banya and we spent a warming 45 minutes relaxing and having a good wash after our two days away.While we were bathing Brigid was making her famous fiddlehead tempura (fiddleheads are the curly tips of young new growth on the ferns found in undergrowth - Brigid often disappeared while we were looking through the binos and would reappear with a bag of fiddleheads).While we tucked into the tempura Brigid and Harry had their turn in the banya.After another delicious meal and another good blether it was off to a real bed for the night.
All too soon it was our day or departure and with the weather being very kind all was confirmed for the arrival of Harry and Brigid's new guests.They were landing by float plane in the cove right by the lodge and with fond farewells we were picked up for the return journey back to Kodiak. Because of the weather conditions the float plane took a different route back to town and we were both thrilled to have seen so much of this beautiful, dramatic and rugged island.
We were both a little tired after our exertions but once settled in again at the Russian Heritage Inn, we made our way for an exploration of the town. To be fair, while it is not a lovely town, it is in a beautiful setting and is quite a bustling little place. The weather wasn't too kind so after a cup of coffee, it was more or less back to our room to rest, do laundry and catch up on 'business'. In the evening we went to Henrys as recommended by Harry & Brigid and had a tasty meal.
The following day turned out to be bright and sunny and we whiled away some time sitting on a bench soaking up the beautiful views over the harbour. Afterwards we went to the very interesting Alutiiq Museum that provides a history of the local people who have lived on Kodiak and the nearby mainland for thousands of years.We were hoping to have a look around the other local museum but unfortunately it was closed. But the National Wildlife Refuge Center [sic] was open, and with its interactive exhibits on the wildlife of Kodiak was well worth a visit. As we were going back we spotted some activity on the harbour where we'd been sitting earlier. Turned out that someone had just driven their car right through a bench (near the one we'd been sitting on earlier) and into the deep water channel. We found out from locals that she had been rescued from the car but the car was still totally submerged.Perhaps a closer shave for us than we'd had with the bears!
Brigid had also recommended the Powerhouse as a good place to eat and it was certainly a revelation for a small place like Kodiak.The restaurant is a bit off the beaten track but still very easily reached on foot from town, and the fresh sushi and sashimi were indescribably delicious and very reasonably priced too. Our waitress happened to have originated from Manchester although she had a strong American accent. M asked if she could still speak Mancunian and pressed her to demonstrate. Soon she was speaking like Vera Duckworth - as if she'd never been away - but as we heard later she seemed to struggle to recover her American accent. We wonder what the other local diners were thinking!
We awoke next morning to a fine day for flying and thankfully (although in some ways, sadly) there was no delay to our flight back to Anchorage. We hadn't expected Era Airways to put on in-flight entertainment on such a short flight and such a small plane, but our flight attendant was an absolute hoot.Her introduction to us was along the lines of:
·Good morning, welcome to your Era flight to Anchorage. I am your flight attendant. My name is Diana Ross. I can't sing very well which is why I'm working here
·Please note the safety instruction card, which you'll find in the pocket of the seat in front of you. You'll see that I've had the captain colour in the diagrams for you
·It is strictly forbidden for passenger to enter the flight deck. The flight deck door is the one with the toilet sign on it.
These quips and comments continued throughout the flight - all delivered with a big welcoming smile and lots of chuckles - and made for a very enjoyable and different experience.
E & M xx