Alaska - Week 7 & 8
August 14, 2022
Our journey peaked and then valleyed in our last two weeks in Alaska. The high was seeing huge brown bears fishing for salmon in Katmai National Park, where we also caught COVID (from the bears, obviously) that brought our trip to a halt. We’re feeling better, and looking back, those were some thick, beary memorable weeks.
Monday to Wednesday: Relaxing in Homer
We made it to Homer, a touristic town at the edge of Kachemak Bay on the Kenai Peninsular, early in the morning. While we were waiting for Renda and David to arrive, we dropped off Margo at Homer Dog Boarding for the week. As easygoing of a travel companion as Margo is, it’s always nice to give her and ourselves a break.
The agenda for our stay in Homer was simple: getting ready for our 5-day camping trip in Katmai National Park. So we planned few activities and mostly enjoyed our time with friends.
Thursday to Monday: Bearassic Park Aka Katmai National Park and Preserve
Katmai National Park and Preserve is a fairly remote park in southwest Alaska, notable for the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes but also for its very high concentration of brown bears (grizzlies). It’s fair to say that Katmai and its bears brought us to Alaska!
But traveling to Katmai is not easy and requires some extra planning as the park is only accessible by float planes and boats. And while it’s possible to visit for one day, we thought it would be cool to bring our tent and camp for a few nights surrounded by bears! Camping in Katmai requires even more planning as reservations sell out in seconds when the National Park Services opens them each year…
In January, we stayed up way past our bedtime and anxiously refreshed the webpage on recreation.gov to ensure that we could book one of the most sought-after campsites. We booked 4 nights at Brooks Camp, which gave us 4 full days to see the bears, try sport fishing next to the bears, and visit the Valley of 10,000 Smokes at the other end of the park, where the largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century took place in 1912.
Fast forward to last week, it was finally time to meet our pilot Stephanie at Beryl Air with whom we made arrangements to fly to Katmai from Homer.
Rangers at the park are extremely careful not to allow bears to obtain human food or get into confrontations with humans. As a result, bears in Katmai National Park are unafraid and mostly uninterested in us. This might be the only place in the world where it is possible to see grizzly bears without too much fear of being attacked.
We assembled a couple of videos together to give you a taste of what it is like to look at the bears at Katmai. Watch with volume on:
Camping and navigating within Katmai was an interesting experience. As we were not at the top of the food chain anymore, we were constantly on the lookout for bears to avoid them as much as possible which was actually very tiring. This was probably what our ancestors used to feel when they lived among predators.
On our third day, we arranged a tour with a park ranger to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes. The valley is accessible via a 23-mile road that departs from the visitor center (the one and only road in the park). The valley is filled with the ash from the 1912 eruption and most vegetation still does not grow in it. An impressive sight that reminded us a bit of our beloved Utah desert!
The next day, after some mandatory bear viewing at the platform, we met with our fishing guide Evan for an afternoon in the river. Little did we know we were about to go fishing right by where the bears were also fishing!
We were supposed to leave Katmai on Monday, so we decided to wake up early and head to the viewing platform for one last look before our flight. But two unexpected things happened. First, we woke up with fatigue and headache, and ended up sleeping through our viewing opportunity. Second, the weather condition that morning wasn’t great for flights, so our pilot texted David’s satellite phone that our pickup would be postponed to the afternoon, if not tomorrow. With the extra hours in our hands, Kuan decided to take a COVID test before moving on with the day.
That explained the headache and the fatigue! We might have caught the virus in the lodge when we were ordering cocktails, or on the tour bus to the Valley of 10,000 Smokes, but we would never know. Rest assured, from this moment onward, masks were on and self-isolation was happening until our symptoms subside.
Later that day, we heard from the pilot that she would have to postpone our return flight to the following day since the conditions were too dangerous for her to fly.
Tuesday to Sunday: Kenai Airport Hotel 😷 (1h/64 Miles)
After an extra (and free!) night at Brooks Camp, the weather improved and our pilot was able to come pick us up. We were reunited with our truck in Homer by lunchtime, and bid farewell to Renda and David. We were so sad that we couldn’t caravan a bit longer to go back to Seward with them. Then, we checked into a small airport hotel in Kenai, a much quiet town with good access to grocery stores and pharmacy.
The rest of the week was extremely uneventful (sleep, eat, repeat), but the good news is that we are feeling almost back to normal. The plan is to start our journey back to the lower 48 on Sunday. Fingers crossed for a negative COVID test!
Stay safe and healthy!