If you go down to the woods today.....
It had to happen sooner or later, given that there are approximately 100,000 bears in Alaska and we have been spending most of our time in the wilderness, hiking or paddling.
We were on a 3 day ridge walk called the K'esugi Ridge Traverse in Denali State Park. It starts at Little Coal Creek and finishes 30 miles later at Byers Lake. Running parallel to the West is The Alaskan Range which includes Denali, North America’s highest peak at 20,320ft. Denali is a shy mountain, rarely being visible because of the clouds surrounding it. It did however give us glimpses as we hiked the ridge and as we sat outside our tent on the first evening we saw what a magnificent mountain it is towering over the surrounding snow capped peaks.
On the second day we were descending down through white spruce and paper birch trees to birch and willow thickets and noticed prints and scat of bears, there was a lot, and it was fresh. Checking that my bear spray was easily grabbed from my belt and talking loudly we carried on with Dave rattling his bell before every twist and turn of the trail. An adolescent black bear crossed the trail 10m in front of us and was soon swallowed up by the dense vegetation, we hung around for a few minutes before continuing calmly on our way. A bit further on the path started ascending, as we turned a corner there was another one, a much bigger one feeding on the emerging shoots alongside the trail. This one didn’t appear to want to move, so we started to slowly walk backwards, back down the trail. Fortunately he decided to wander off up the trail, we waited a good 5 minutes, just to make sure he was gone.
These bears weren’t at all threatening, curious or bothered by us - fortunately, so we remained calm and gave them time and space to move on. (Thanks to the park rangers in Cluane for their great ‘Bear Aware’ film we watched). If they had moved towards us, or charged I’m not sure I could have remained so calm, hopefully I’ll never find out.
Needless to say we were both relieved to reach the ridge line again with it’s open views and tundra landscape. Finally we felt it was safe to stop and get out our lunch.