I was pretty excited to find out about the bear observatory at Anan Creek at the back end of Ernest Sound. Anna had researched into it and said we needed permits. I was a bit nervous because they only give out 60 permits per day. To predict what day we would be there would be hard so we went with chance.
Anan Creek Wildlife Viewing site is surrounded by the incredible Tongass National Forest south of Wrangle, AK. It is loaded with mountains and abundant amounts of wildlife, but Anna and I only got to see a small chunk of its great beauty. Every year the salmon swim thousands of miles and somehow find there way to this small river that they were born from. Could you imagine if we were dumped in the middle of the ocean, told we had to find our way home without any road signs or google maps, somehow pass through the maze of fishing nets and past the bears and eagles and sometimes having to jump up to two meters high up rocks and waterfalls, bruising your body along the way just so you can spawn some lovely ladies eggs you just met and oh, then you die. I love you mother nature.
Anna had heard that the Forest Service tries to give people that kayak in a permit but I was not sure if that still applied as our info was dated. As we paddled up the channel we started to hear float planes coming from all directions and could see boats anchored at the mouth of the Anan Lagoon, I start to get nervous. The only way in is by boat or plane and cruise ships can not make it in to Ernest Sound so most of the visitors are flown in or boated in on small crafts. As we paddle in we see a Forest Service float house(where the rangers sleep), a dock with 2 boats and 3 planes tied to it and a really nice Forest Service cabin on the shore that we will stay the night at. Not sure on where to go, I start chatting with the pilots on the floating dock hanging out next to their planes. One of them said he had turned back in one of his permits so that meant at least one of us could go for sure. Anna smiled at me and said it meant she could go for sure, the pilots laughed and agreed. Crossing our fingers we put our boats on shore and hike 1/4 mile down the trail to the rangers kiosk to see if we could find another permit, I figured that we would arm wrestle for the first permit so that means I was in for sure.
Chance was with us that day and an incredibly nice gentleman named Imes from the Forest Service informed us he had two extra permits with our names on them. I was ecstatic, we skipped back to our boats as fast as we could to put our gear in the cabin and grab our cameras. As we were unloading our boats we chatted with a couple from New York that stayed in the cabin before us about our trip and what they were up to. They had boated in and stayed for quite a few days viewing the bears and next are flying to Glacier Bay National Park and will be kayaking on their own around the sound. A lot of people say we are inspiring and you have to do it will you’re young, but it was awesome to hear this older couple (you never want to guess someone’s age) tell us that they had just got into kayaking not to long ago and have been going on quite a few trips on their own. I definitely think it’s never too late to get out and try something new. That is inspiring.
We grab our gear and race back to the kiosk to get our orientation from the ranger and hope to get to see some bears close up. See they need to inform you on the safety rules because this is not a zoo with a nice tall fence and a zoo keeper that is feeding Fluffy his daily meal. This really became apparent when we came upon a group that had just showed up and their guide had a rifle slung around his shoulder in case one of the bears enjoyed snuggling with his tour group. I asked the ranger that was giving us our talk if the rifle was just for show or did they really have problems. He was quick to tell us that they have not had to shoot any bears yet but have had to bear mace quite a few of them. We were told to talk loudly and make sure we didn’t have any food in our bags will we walk to the platform.
As we walked along Anan lagoon I wondered what it would be like. I had not seen pictures of this viewing platform but when I rounded the corner and it came into view I was surprised at how nicely tucked into the rocks and not as abrasive as I was expecting it to be. As you walk up you open a waste high gate and walk into a railed platform that is built on the edge of a large rock overlooking rocks in the river creating cascading waterfalls. It really took me by surprise when I got to the top and looked down to see a black bear sitting no more than 10 feet away looking into the river trying to snag that slippery salmon with his claws. We have seen it in videos, and watched them from close up in the mountains eating grasses and roots but something about watching this large bear fish, made me fall in love with this place.
We slide into a spot on the railing with the other camera clicking geeks with their mammoth lens (I wish I had a camera that amazing) and watch a mom and cub wander through the waters below. Mom trying to fish but also keep an eye on the cub who doesn’t want to get its feet wet. Mom finally grabs a fish and wanders into the woods behind us to feed her little one. Two more black bears appear and you can see who is the top cheese of the two. One fishes in the easy spot as the other one lingers around and tries to get a salmon that won’t stay still as it jumps to the next eddy pool. Eagles all over fighting and soaring back and forth waiting for a half eaten fish to be left behind. It was incredible to see them in their natural habitat and they didn’t even care we were there. Many times the bears would walk right next to the 3 foot railing and we would step back a foot or so until they wandered past and continued fishing (all of the bears could just hop right over the railing if they wanted to. I think the railing was to keep us in). We spent hours watching the bears and eagles, 7 bears emerged over the time we were there. One climbed a tree. One stole a fish from an eagle. The cub slipped and fell into the water. One wandered down the river and into the sun. It was moment after moment of things you’ll never see anywhere but in the wild.
Only black bear were there at this time. The ranger said browns were around but most of the brown bear stayed up river. We must have taken 1000 pictures of the bears but at the end we were content and smiling like we had just won the lotto. 6 o’clock came within no time and we took our last picture and wandered back to the cabin talking about all the fun that had just happened.
We got back to the cabin, settled in and started making dinner. As I start frying up chicken Anna reads all the rules that are pinned to the wall on how to sleep and eat at the cabin without encouraging the bears to come in, because remember we are less than a mile away from all the bears we had just watched. The only thing that really made me nervous about the warnings was they talked about they were having trouble with bears destroying kayaks and kayak gear. Not that both doors were broke in half by bears two weeks earlier and the rangers live on a float house with no access from the land. Huh