Re-Entry to Civilization From the Wilderness…

After a month of being out in the wilderness of Alaska the re-entry to civilization phase is onerous and can be a sensory overload.  Last night was my first time sleeping in a bed, instead of on the ground in a sleeping bag, since I left for my trip on June 22nd.

My senses are pegged after coming back.  A multitude of sounds now surround me as compared to a simpler chorus of waves on a lake beach, water running in rivers, rain on the tent fly, wind in the trees, or a buzzing mosquito by my face.  Food is now easily accessible and I am overwhelmed at the options available. Their smells tempt me to just eat everything in sight.

A ghostly encounter with a Canadian Lynx on the bank of the river.

My trip was great.  Intentionally, I set out without a firm agenda, other than to concentrate on landscape photography in the backcountry of Katmai National Park.  Trips with loose agendas and no schedules seem to work best for me.

This was true this time as grey skies and wet weather forced me to adapt and play things by ear.  I rarely could see the mountains I was hoping to photograph.  Soon into my trip I just went with the flow and what seemed to be the best options available at the time.  Too windy to take long solo kayak journeys on the big lakes, led me to instead explore some backcountry areas with a backpack.

By just letting go and exploring what seemed best at the time worked well.  Many great wildlife encounters and experiences were had (more on those in future blog posts).

Basing my trip out of Brooks Camp allowed me to resupply in between wilderness excursions.  Brooks Camp, inside of Katmai National Park, is a popular float plane destination for fly-fishing and bear viewing.  This year the water was very low in the Brooks River.

Sockeye salmon started to arrive to these spawning grounds when I arrived in June.  In just a couple of days the river was transformed into the densest salmon run I have seen.  Low water and an over-abundance of salmon changed the behavior of the bears dramatically.  Bears congregated in the shallow lower river and feasted on easy to catch salmon  — much earlier in the year than usual.  Bear cubs, including “spring cubs” (cubs born this year) were able to catch (dying) salmon this year!  The bears were content in all the salmon this early in the season.


Rest time on the beach after a big feast, mother with two yearling cubs.

Brooks Camp was so full of bears this year that it seemed like a rock concert with crowds of bears all celebrating.  I liked seeing the bears of all ages stuffing themselves with salmon.

Bears come first in Katmai National Park.  Park visitors hoping to hike to the iconic Brooks Falls to see bears catching fish jumping over the waterfall had to wait until there were no more “bear jams” — when the floating bridge over the river is closed due to bears within 50 yards of the bridge.  One night I had to laugh out loud when I watched a mother with three yearlings stack up a pile of salmon on the ramp of the bridge.  I think the bears know exactly what they are doing in terms of influencing human behavior!

Mother and yearlings keeping their safe distance from a male bear in the lush Katmai forest.

When my re-entry phase is over and all the wet gear unpacked and dried out I look forward to sharing my encounters with wildlife and powerful experiences of being alone in the Alaskan wilderness with you.

It is good to be home safe and sound, albeit exhausted.  I am grateful for the beauty that nature displayed, all the lessons I learned on this journey, and the new friendships established.  By letting go and just letting things unfold was the key.  Everything happens for a reason.  Whether it was stormy weather or unexpected delays, releasing expectations quashed any anxiety and allowed me to experience, absorb, and learn.

Yearling brown bear cub absorbing life as it unfolds in Katmai.

We don’t meet people by accident. They are meant to cross our path for a reason.”  — Unknown

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3 replies
    • Ed MacKerrow
      Ed MacKerrow says:

      It was a great trip Tammy. The best part was just “letting go” and letting each day unfold, …, that always seems to work, even though I frequently have to relearn that. I hope you summer is going well and I hope our paths cross again out in nature.


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