Katchemak Bay and the Grewingk Glacier
After a couple of days exploring Seward and Kenai Fjords, we drove to the west side of the Kenai peninsula for a couple of days around Homer. We rented an, um, shack – literally an apartment above a tackle shop called the Tackle Shack out on the Homer Spit. This was definitely a unique experience, and provided us an awesome view of the Katchemak Bay from our breakfast table.
On Thursday we took a water taxi over to the Katchemak Bay state park for a hike to the Grewingk Glacier. We departed from the Homer harbor, and wound around the many fishing and shrimping boats tied up at the docks before sprinting across the bay to land at a beach on the Glacier Spit. The captain drove the boat up onto the rocks, and put a step ladder over the front of the boat for us to unload.
We took a small detour to check out the Grewingk River tram, a little rope bridge over the river. The boys pulled themselves across, with a little help from mom and dad of course. Then it was on to the main attraction – Grewingk Lake. The lake forms at the base of the glacier, complete with numerous chunks of glacial ice of all shapes and sizes floating in the water. It’s a site that we’d highly recommend if you’re ever in Homer.
Bear Viewing in Katmai National Park
This was the highlight of the trip for me. We chartered a float plane and hired a guide to take us around Katmai National Park looking for the giant coastal brown bears. As we learned, technically these are the same species as the inland brown bears, better known as grizzlies, but the abundance of food near the coasts allows these bears to grow over 1000 pounds.
This wasn’t just any float plane. It was the iconic DeHavilland Beaver. There are roughly a thousand of these planes in service today, nearly all of them serving as bush planes in Alaska. It was perfect for our small group. Shortly after taking off from the seaplane port at Beluga Lake, our pilot spotted a humpback whale creating a “bubble net” (a circle of bubbles herding a bunch of bait into a small area) and feeding. We circled a couple of times for an amazing overhead view. Unfortunately I think we were all too shocked to catch any photo or video evidence.
The trip across the Cook Inlet took just over an hour. The only disappointment on this day was that the wildfires raging in Katmai and Lake Clear National Parks made the skies incredibly hazy. This made the scenery slightly less impressive, but there was much more to see. We landed at Hallo Bay, which is a common place for the brown bears awaking from hibernation to munch on grasses and clams before the salmon run starts in July. Then the magic began.
We immediately spotted 3 bears in different directions along the shoreline. We started walking, and came right upon one that was taking a nap. He literally could not have cared less that we were there.We walked by without him so much as giving us a look.
The next encounter was much more lively. We came across a humongous male grazing on sedge grass. Our guide told us to sit down and watch. Over the next 15 minutes, the bear made it’s way closer and closer to us. All the while showing no interest in us whatever. He eventually made it within about 15 yards of our group. It was exhilarating, but at the same time very peaceful. In the end, I have to say it was awe inspiring.
We continued on for a few hours this way. We’d wander around. See another bear, and check it out for a few minutes. Some were very active, others seemed to be lounging around. We spotted one yearling cub with it’s mother. I was hoping for more, but apparently we’re still a little early in the year for the young cubs to make their way too far from the den.
I can’t convey to you what an awe inspiring experience this was. We learned a ton about bears, and were fortunate enough to interact with several of them in a non-threatening situation. Our guide was quick to point out that these coastal bears are not so interested in humans for a couple of key reasons. For one, there are at least 2-3 groups walking around here every day, so they are accustomed to a human presence. Just as importantly, there is an abundance of food available here. As my general safety plug, do not attempt to approach inland bears like this, or any bear for that matter without an experienced guide.
We loaded up the Beaver and flew back to Homer in near silence as we relived the day. If you are ever in the Homer area and have the opportunity to do something like this, I highly recommend you take the plunge and do it.