My first trip in Katmai was a day trip to Swikshak Bay to assist with and document a C.O.A.S.S.T. and a Marine Debris Survey. We meet at 8:00 AM for the flight meeting and discussed any safety issues that could arise. Twenty minutes later we drove to the hanger and I saw the itty-bitty machine that would soon be normal transportation for me, I just didn’t know it then. Something else I didn’t know was the good relationships I was going to start with the people on this plane on this very trip. Kelsey, and my supervisor Carissa, were both very excited for this adventure and I easily let them influence me from nervous and a little excited…. to just a little nervous and mostly excited.
After we loaded up and took off, in what I thought was the smoothest take off ever, I was blessed with amazing views. We flew past Brooks Camp; this was still early in the season, so only maintenance was there prepping camp. It amazed me that the main focus for most visitors to Katmai was this little area. A small river with a little waterfall between two lakes, sockeye salmon migration, and brown bears were the reason Brooks Camp was on the map. Yet, Katmai National Park and Preserve is around 4.1 million acres.
I was going to get to see quite a bit of it.
Katmai is located along the Aleutian peninsula and the Aleutian Range goes right through it. This volcanic range separates the interior of the park from the Shelikof Strait and the Pacific Ocean. As it was only the middle of May, there was still a lot of snow on the mountain tops and you could feel the temperature drop in the plane. As we circled before the mountains gaining elevation, the pilot Craig, was giving us some weather lessons. I really appreciated Craig and the way he would explain how things worked. I am not a fan of turbulence, or flying, but its hard to not go on these adventures when you see things like the photos I am sharing with you! We came over the mountains and this Michigan girl saw the Pacific Ocean for the very first time.
Landing on the beach was a strange concept for me, and after the 45 minutes in the little bush plane… I was ready to get out. Two hours before and after high-tide the plane cannot land as there isn’t enough beach to do so. As the pilot circled the section of the beach he wanted to land on I wasn’t in full belief that this was really going to happen. I had all this tension and worry, and it was for no good reason. That landing on the beach was one of the smoothest landings I had every had in my short life.
We began doing our work and were visited by a rather curious friend. A red fox decided that our things needed to be checked out and he sneakily got a good look over of our bags before we saw him. I clapped my hands and yelled and went towards him, but he just looked at me. It wasn’t until I threw rocks in his direction did he decided to leave our bags. We went back to work and I turned around to check on him, and there he was, hanging out by the transect line watching us. I decided to document him and he gave me the wonderful view of leaving scat behind. Shortly after he found us boring and took a nap in the grasses to hide from the wind.
We followed the fox’s idea and decided to take a break ourselves. Kelsey, Craig and I sat on the edge of the rock berm looking out towards the sea. I kept finding cool things and giving them to Craig to look at. He was very kind and at least seemed to think things were as neat as I did. While we were snacking I saw something moving down the beach towards us. Craig would tell you that I nearly jumped out of my skin and was reaching for bear spray that I didn’t have. I will tell you that it did startle the crap out of me to see a wolf coming down the beach, in what looked like, straight our direction.
I wrote a blog post for the Katmai Terrane Blog about this specific moment, A Day Of Firsts. As the wolf continued along its path, we sat still and took pictures of it. I remember getting so uncomfortable with how close it was to us, sitting openly on the beach, that I asked if we should move. Thankfully Craig and Kelsey have two cool heads about them, and I was able to feed off that and remain calm.
What can I say, my “fight or flight” leaves heavily towards flight.