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July 16, 2008 Santa Anna Inlet to Berg Bay via Anan Bay

We rode an early tide north to Anan Bay, in the hopes of seeing a bear there.  Anan Bay is a tricky anchorage, just a shallow exposed bight with a river coming out of it.  The trick is to find the place where it goes from 450 feet deep to just 3, and set your anchor on the ledge.  Timing and luck with calm weather allowed for a visit to the bay.  We encountered the “Forest Circus” there who denied our admittance because we didn’t know about the permit, which they have recently enforced.  Fortunately a kindly younger guy rolled his eyes at his uptight colleagues (from southern California, I might add), had us sign a blank piece of paper, wadded it up and waved us by.  The Forest Service maintains an observation platform at the end of a half mile trail up the river, where you can view the bears eating salmon.  We made our way up the trail, wondering if we’d see any bears.  Suddenly Colleen spotted a grizzly thrashing through the stream in pursuit of salmon, just ten feet from us!  We quickly walked up the trail and were blocked by a black bear!  We were in between the black bear and a grizzly…..  One of the old-timers from the Forest Service had his gun trained on the bears as we backed down the trail from the advancing black bear.  We noticed other people on the platform looking toward the river.  “What are they even looking at” I wondered.  As soon as the bears left the trail for the river we made it through the gate to the relative safety of the observation platform.  Suddenly we realized why our situation caused no alarm or interest:  we were literally in a swarm of bears.  They were everywhere!!  One bear was up in a tree right by the platform, comfortable as a monkey.  He moved about with the agility of a squirrel, 50 feet up.  Many others were coming down to the river from the cliffs above to feed on the salmon there.  The salmon.  The whole river was clogged with thousands upon thousands of them!  The water was a single writhing mass of salmon.  The bears just stuck their noses in and hauled them out at their leisure.  We learned that there are about 60 black bears and 40 grizzlies that feed in this particular area.  Apparently we hit it at just the right time, a week ago there were no salmon and no bears.  Colleen and I walked down a set of camouflaged stairs to the lower platform, where we were literally eye to eye with the bears.  It was incredible to watch as the bears picked the salmon out of the river.  I was surprised that the wriggling salmon made the bears’ heads shake.  Then holding the fish down with a paw they’d delicately suck out their brains, which usually calmed the fish right down.  With surgical precision the bear would then tear into the egg sac and eat the roe, and that was it.  There were so many fish that they just went for the prime fish parts and threw the rest away.  If it were a male fish (with no roe) they just left it to wash down the river, dead and uneaten.  Just like us humans sometimes!  A thousand bald eagles and swarms of ravens hopped about the bears and picked at the leftover carcasses.  The ravens always kept one eye on the bear and one eye on the fish.  The grizzlies seemed to eat more of the salmon’s bodies.  Their claws were so long that half the fish was in ribbons before they ate it anyways, but they did a more complete job.  It was something to hear them biting those heads off, fish tails slapping about in spasms.   Sometimes the bears would just sit there and eat fish after fish, and other times they’d haul many fish up into the numerous caves in the riverbank.  One bear put her cubs into a cave and brought the fish up to them.  We watched the bears doing their thing for about 6 hours.  They would gorge themselves, then sit around panting and scratching and chasing each other.   The grizzlies dominated the lower river while the black bears stayed up above, not intermingling much.   We don’t know how many bears we saw at Anan bay because they were constantly coming and going, but we saw a good many of the estimated population!  At 6pm we were escorted back to the anchorage in between the armed guards.  Totally awesome day.  I was relieved to find the boat in the same place.  The water was getting very shallow in the lowering tide, so we hauled up anchor and steamed up the fabled Eastern Passage to a snug anchorage in Berg Bay, in behind Neptune Island.  On the way we passed a bunch of kayak campers.  They had established a smoky fire and were standing in the thick of it.  When we got settled into our anchorage we found out why: swarms of tiny bugs they call “white-socks” up here descended upon us.  I sealed up the hatch and systematically pinched all the ones that had gotten into the cabin.  The kayak campers tonight must deal with the constant threat of bears, swarming bugs, and persistent rain.  At times like this I am grateful to be snug on the boat, and don’t have to worry about any of that!

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