An Excellent Bear-tacular Madventure

It's difficult to believe what can happen in the span of two days. This morning I was staring into the eyes of a grizzly bear inches from my face as I open the tent zipper to see what pushed in the front wall. It was a jarring wakening. Two days ago I was on a plane comfortably sitting with Hahnah and Sarah returning from Arizona.

My friend from Juneau, Ryan Conarro, was finishing up a program for the Nome school and wanted to embark on a kayak trip. Always looking for an excuse to kayak I easily volunteered myself after I returned from Arizona but it would have to be only 2 days and couldn't promise anything if the ice stuck around. It turned out to be an excellent time as the ice just moved offshore keeping the water dead calm the first day. We left from the Lost Train 30 miles outside of Nome and paddled 14 miles to the Topkok cliffs before the ice pack prevented us from going any further. During the paddle down we saw 5 bears and Ryan was able to get some great shots close to shore.

I have always seen bears in this region and knew we had to make some distance back away from the cliffs before setting camp. The paddle back was nice with glorious calm and a nice sunset around midnight or so. Around 1 am we had paddled about 7 miles away from the last bear sighting and were able to set up camp with a roaring bonfire. I put enough wood on to last through the night, however, Topkok being Topkok the wind blew in a stiff 30 mph at around 2am and the fire was soon chewed down. We slept great in the tent though the wind woke me a number of times. At around 9 am there was a great big WHACK! on the tent and we both jumped up and said "BEAR". I peaked through the vent hole and sure enough came eye to eye with a a big furry face. Grizzly Bear. We yelled a bunch more to get the bear moving while I rummaged around for my .44. I opened the other side of the tent and got out and crouched so I was the same height as the bear keeping the tent between us. Time seemed to slow down and things were surreal but I kept talking/yelling. I didn't want to risk shooting it as it wasn't overly aggressive and if I didn't place the shot correctly the bear was so close it could easily tear us to shreds.

He/she was noticeably a young bear probably just out of the den looking for food (most dangerous kind). I could actually see the bear thinking, debating whether to lunge for us. After what seemed a long time I stood up and then the bear stood up. It finally turned away a little after I kept yelling at it to go away. Once it had gone a few yards I could see the bear want to turn back towards us so I shot the gun into the sand between the tent and the bear. Finally it moved on a little bit but still lingered. I've had a few bear encounters (even in a tent) but never saw a bear linger so long and never so close to a possible mauling. It was one of the most incredibly intense adrenalin pumping situations I've ever been in and probably for Ryan too. At this point I decided we should make a run for the boat. Ryan in his shorts, teeshirt and no socks ran across the snow to the boat and we got in in time to get away from the grizz.

I thought for sure we would witness the tearing up of our camp but the bear circled the tent one more time kind of looked at us and lumbered away. Whew!! What a rush that was. The wind was still blowing 30 and it was actually a struggle to get the boat back to shore. We dragged all our gear to the boats, packed up and kayaked back to the last 3-4 miles to the car. A wild ending to a great madventure!


Jim said…
great story Phil - loved hearing about it at Airport Pizza!
Phil said…
thanks jim, it's one story am glad worked out the way it did.
Ali B. said…
Stumbled onto your blog.. GREAT photos & what a rush the bear story was for my heart!
KC said…
Wow. Bears certainly make Alaska the wild place it is. Great post.
Brian said…
Wow--and I thought having whales swim underneath my kayak was heart raising! What an adventure. Inspires me to get up there sometime soon!