1st – 7th August – Still in Canada’s beautiful British Columbia, we leave behind the Cariboo Wagon Road on the Gold Rush Trail and head west from Prince George to Meziadin. We are keeping our fingers crossed that the salmon will be spawning in Fish Creek in Hyder, Alaska and the bears will be there waiting for them.
It’s 67km from Meziadin Junction to the small border town of Stewart (Canada) where we will cross into Alaska (USA). From this stretch of road, we have a good view of Bear Glacier’s massive toe of blue and white ice, as it flows down a valley between two mountains.
Stewart sits at the head of the Portland Canal……a 90 mile long ocean fiord that forms a natural boundary between Canada and Alaska. It has a relaxed feel with an excellent grocery store and attached coffee area that serves some very tasty variations of nanaimo bars, of which I am a great fan! Stewart also has a number of interesting buildings and a boardwalk that crosses through a wetland area.
There are no USA border checks to go into Hyder from Canada. At first glance, this town appears very much a ghost town with a number of derelict buildings, however it does have a small number of resident people who survive the very harsh winters that can produce up to 30 feet of snow! Hyder also has a grocery store, Post Office, a gift shop that also sells delicious home-made fudge, a few Inns and a bar where (if you wish), you can become ‘Hyderised’ with a local, strong brew, plus a stamp in your passport!
And when it’s open, we can also recommend the Seafood Express for great fish meals.
Camp Run-a-Muck located between the Salmon River and the road, provides us with an excellent camping place, hot showers and very helpful camp hosts. Although it’s only 5 minutes from Fish Creek where bears can be observed from an elevated wooden walkway without disturbing them, it’s still necessary to drive there because of bear activity along the road.
Fish Creek is located in the far southeastern reaches of America’s Tongass National Forest. Spanning 500 miles and covering nearly 17 million acres of land plus 11,000 miles of shoreline, the Tongass is said to be the largest, protected, temperate rain forest in the world. The mild temperatures and abundance of rain, nourish the deep, dark forests, home to a large number of North America’s black bears and grizzlies. Summer however, is the season for bears to put on the pounds and they will travel many miles from the surrounding forests to fatten up on the protein and fat-rich salmon at Fish Creek. These salmon have an amazing life-cycle! After spending some time in the ocean reaching adulthood, the Chum, Coho and Pink salmon then make their incredible journey to the clear,spring-fed waters and clean gravel of this creek to spawn, a mission they have to complete before they then die. We are amazed at their size and energy as they constantly clear gravel and stones to lay their eggs, escaping the clutches of the bears and seeing off the trout who hover close by, trying to steal the eggs before the males are able to fertilise them.
Fish Creek in the Salmon River Valley.
Our first day watching bears. Mother and cub are the first to arrive. She encourages it to disappear amongst the bushes and trees that line the Creek, it even climbs a small tree at one point, whilst mum takes any fish she catches back into its hiding place.
A young male black bear tries his luck at fishing. Surprisingly it wasn’t that easy for him, the salmon were very quick!
Having a rest from bears for a day or so, we head out on a gravel road to visit the Salmon Glacier, approx. 17 miles north of Fish Creek. There are spectacular views of this glacier along the way, but the Summit Point View provides the best place to see the glacier curving down the ice field between snow covered mountains. The Salmon Glacier region lies in the lower section of the Coast Mountains along the Alaska – Canada boundary. In a beautiful alpine valley at 4,300 feet, Salmon Glacier is the 5th largest glacier in North America. It is however, only a remnant of the massive glacier that once filled this valley, thousands of years ago!
We are not the only people enjoying the views. We meet up with bikers Steve and Janette from England. Great to meet up with some more Brits exploring this spectacular part of the world and what a great journey they have in front of them as they head south…..safe travelling!
Our camp hosts at Run-a-Muck have told us that we may well meet up with Keith Scott at the summit and he is here in his car which is full of big mosquitoes. They are also plaguing us, hanging from the peaks of our caps and covering our backs! Keith has spent his life studying and photographing bears in the USA and Canada and thinks nothing of hiking a number of miles daily over hostile terrain, in search of them. He makes his living by visiting schools, giving lectures and slide shows and endeavouring to educate people of all ages about bears and bear safety. One of his very good friends commented in his book on how he really trusted Keith’s knowledge of wildlife and his deep sense of commitment towards protecting it, taking action whilst others are only content to talk. He is here today, hoping to sell his DVDs and his signed book on bears and wildlife. He must have so many interesting stories to share…..like camping in his little red tent under the glacier, which he said ‘was like camping inside a jewel.’ We enjoy having a chat with him and buy his book called ‘Coastal Bears’.
His book includes many photographs with amusing captions and one I will quote as I totally agree with it. These words go with a photo of two bears peeking out from some bushes and who could be looking at hunters …. ” Those animals on their hind legs are humans. They are the most dangerous animals in the world. Some of them kill bears for the fun or sport of it. They go around mounting our heads on their walls, yet they act like we are the bad ones! ” Occasionally, grizzlies will kill black bears and feed on their carcasses, but bear’s primary enemies are hunters.
Since we have been at Hyder, a black bear cub has sadly been run over and killed on the road due to a thoughtless and speeding driver, leaving the mother quite distraught and Canadians have shot three wolves in case they were a danger to tourists. Do we really have the right to invade their habitats and territories, most of which are becoming smaller.
We continue driving further along this gravel road, passing disused mines and more impressive glaciers, the road finally ending at Happy Valley.
On our last day here, everyone on the viewing platform at Fish Creek is hushed as we hopefully wait for a sighting of some grizzlies that have been arriving recently around 8 a.m. We wait patiently for about 20 minutes and then it seems as if from nowhere, a brown grizzly suddenly appears. He looks a little thin and has a flap of skin hanging from around his mouth, hence the ranger has named him Jaws. Having apparently had an encounter here with another grizzly yesterday, he appears very cautious as he makes his way upstream. He tries his luck at catching fish, but finds an easier meal from some dead fish laying on the banks of the creek.
Just as he decides to leave, another grizzly has been spotted, making its way up through the creek, also looking very cautious. Both ears are tagged and the ranger tells us it is a female, looking much healthier now than a couple of weeks ago, when she was looking very thin. She is successful in catching a huge salmon and drags it under the boardwalk and up on to the bank on the other side, where she remains partly hidden to enjoy her fish meal! She is so close we can hear her crunching the bones!
We have really enjoyed this small corner of Alaska, its remote alpine scenery and glaciers and especially being able to watch the bears from such close quarters but without disrupting their daily life. And so it’s back into Canada through the small border post, no stamps needed in our passports. We return to Meziadin Junction where we turn north on Highway 37 towards Watson Lake, also known as the Cassiar Highway, it stretches 720 km to Southern Yukon Territory. It will be a few days before we reach here with a lot to see still in between!