July is out of control, man. I’m exhausted. Over the last two weeks, we’ve gone from giving just a handful of bear orientations each day, to around 30 per day to 250-300 people daily. This is really hard to do with just two rangers on staff at the visitor center, and occasionally one extra helping hand at peak times. To make things more challenging, we’ve had a lot of bears coming through camp, often right when boats and planes are unloading crowds of visitors. Below is a phone video I captured of one such event–not many visitors around this time, but you can see a few in the picnic area and I had a couple gathered up on the porch with me as the bears walked by. At the end of the video, you can hear on my radio more bears being reported at the leach field, and the bear technician reporting this family group moved out to the beach:
Across the river at the falls, we have two more rangers maintaining a waitlist for the falls platform during the day. We can have up to 40 people at the falls, so when it reaches capacity, we limit viewing times to 30 minutes and rotate people through. By mid-day, people wait up to 3 hours to get out on the platform. These shifts are just as challenging as the visitor center shifts, because you spend your whole day running back and forth between the treehouse, falls, and riffles platforms, calling parties up, and asking people to rotate out.
Some people are very kind and understanding of this system, and others make it miserable. I think we’ve gotten better at it and more efficient in the last 2 weeks, but I still feel totally wiped out after a day at the falls. It feels like you’re disappointing people all day—first you tell them it’s going to be a long wait, and then once they finally get on the platform, thirty minutes later you’re telling them it’s time to leave.
I’m not sure which is better: disappointing people all day at the falls, or repeating yourself all day giving bear orientations at the visitor center! All I know is that it’s only mid-month and I’m ready for July to be over.
Last week, I also had my first Valley Tour. Going to the Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes is a welcome relief from the chaos of camp side, but since this was my first one, it felt like a mess (fortunately, my group didn’t seem to notice). The first stop went well, but we lost a lot of time on the road after getting stuck behind a bear for about a half hour (#katmaiproblems, amirite?). I made the next stop into a photo opp since I didn’t have time to give a talk, and was feeling scattered by the time we got to the Griggs Visitor Center in the Valley. I pieced together the rest of my program as best I could, but it felt like it was all over the place and I was stressed about managing the timing of everything since, I had never done it before.
On the hike, I found it difficult to keep my group together. Some went on ahead, afraid they wouldn’t have time to see everything if they stayed with the group. It turned out we had plenty of time though. The only other fumble came when we got to the river washout and I couldn’t remember which way to go to the trail connection–the brush has grown in significantly from the last time I was there over a month ago and it looks totally different. Eventually I found the trail though, without revealing how lost and mortified I felt for a moment. Fortunately, my group just seemed happy to be out on an adventure.
Remarkably, I made it back to the bus on time with my full group of very happy hikers. One visitor later emailed me some photos from the hike (including this one), saying, “As time has gone by the hike has become the most remembered activity my wife and I did at Katmai.”
These are the moments that remind me why I love what I do. That even in the most challenging and trying times, I still have an opportunity to make someone’s day, to inspire them, to guide them on part of their journeys.