“Sorry, were you in the middle of something?”

The plan was to grab a campsite at Chilkat State Park. We scoped out the sites, and discovered they were all full. As we pondered our next move, a German couple invited us to join them at their site. They were traveling around the US and Canada, and had grabbed the last open site…there was plenty of room for everyone. We made quick introductions – Joana is an opera singer, Stefan is a mechanic, we were on German motorbikes, lived in Seattle – and we settled in for the night. It would only be the third night I was able to use hammock on the trip, which received a great deal interest from our hosts.

Hammock camping in Haines Alaska
Hammock in Haines: WarBonnet Blackbird, Big Mama tarp, Yeti underquilt

Upon waking up and doing the morning routine, I return to my hammock see one…two…three shapes move through the trees about 30 yards away. Um, is that, um, yes, bears. Grizzly. Mama and two cubs. I stand on the picnic table for a better look. She looks at me. Um, I’m now thinking I better do something more than gawk. Everyone else is still asleep. I check to see if the rental car is unlocked, in case I have to get inside. Locked. She looks at me again, rambles to the side, and flops herself down in a small opening. I grab my camera from the bike.

Haines campsite
Here's the campsite, get a fix on the left tree supporting the hammock...
Mama grizzly next to campsite
...Mama bear is the light brown shape in the middle of the picture, just left of the tree with the supporting straps.

A couple of other campers appeared at the driveway entrance with telephoto lenses, looking for photo ops. Apparently she and the cubs rambled across the entire park, and had attracted attention. I turn to look for her again, and she’s gone. Alas, I only had the 17-40 zoom on the camera, which explains the wide perspective, I wasn’t able to get to the 70-200 in time. After all, how often do you expect a grizzly bear and cubs to gallop past your campsite…?

Also for you photographers out there, Joana also shoots Canon, and let me borrow her newly acquired fisheye lens, which was a lot of fun to play with. It was my first time with fisheye, and quickly learned that you could easily capture your feet in an feet if you shoot below a horizontal angle. The hammock pic above was taken with the fisheye, and so are these next few.

Brady offers his morning look
Brady's tent
Brady's tent
My submission photo to GQ. Hm, I haven't heard back yet.
More fun with a fisheye lens
More fisheye fun

We broke up camp and headed into town to purchase supplies for the ferry ride. Haines sits right on the water, overseen by snow capped mountains.

Welcome to Haines
Welcome to Haines
Haines, AK
Mountains over Haines, AK

After fueling up with excellent burritos at Bear-Rittos Eatery, we had time to kill before the 5pm boarding, we head back to Chilkat to see if we can get another view of bears. And right away we find Mama Bear. Turns out she is a well known local, about 7-8 years old, now on the second year of her second set of cubs. The second year means it’s the last year under Mama’s care, and she kicks them out of the house at the end of the summer, so she is teaching them how to fish.

Mama grizzly and a cub
The cub had just swiped a fish from Mama on the right
Snapping photos of Mama bear
I asked this gentleman where his car was, because I was going in it if Mama came out of the water.

Up until this time, although we were well aware of a grizzly’s power and speed, we hadn’t really seen it in action. We had seen her do a short gallop and flop around, and her fishing skills appeared effortless (look around the water, stick her head in, come out with a big salmon, elapsed time 30-45 seconds). The cubs would mew and whine for some food while she munched on a salmon. One of them slid in cautiously, whining, get in close, then in a flash Mama would deliver a tremendous swipe at the cub’s head, she was incredibly fast, then roar to the sky. The cub quickly recovered from the blow and swiped the fish while Mom was lecturing. Then the other cub did the same routine – slide in, whine, get clobbered, grab the fish, get a lecture. The entire crowd of people watching, perhaps 30 total at the peak, were impressed. I think we even all stepped back a foot or two when we saw that first swipe. Brady never took his helmet off, just in case they came quickly out of the water. We did see a cub grab its own fish later, and it pranced around the rocks to celebrate.

Then it was time to get in line for the ferry.

Bike line for the ferry
Bikes line up for the ferry ride to Bellingham

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