Late Summer in Katmai

Sep 1, 2021 | 0 comments

It feels like we’re on the home stretch now. Less than 3 full weeks of work, and then I’m headed back to Oregon. I am all at once relieved and nervous to go back. I can’t wait to return to my life back home, to embark on all the new adventures that we have lined up. But I’m anxious about it as well, wondering what life will look like in the next chapter.

I feel some pressure now with this being my last month out here, to do all the things and make the most of these last few weeks. But I’m also exhausted. Thankfully, we had a big East wind storm blow in last night and today, so it made it a good day to cozy up at home and rest. I listened to a podcast in the morning, and then painted and listened to music, edited photos, hung out with one of the other off-duty coworkers for a little while, and then took a shower. I love days like this.

Bear activity has started to pick up again. I never really noticed when it slowed down, but I’m definitely seeing it pick back up, with bears using the trails again and showing up all around camp. But it’s easier than earlier in the season when I wasn’t as used to it. I don’t get quite as much of an adrenaline rush anymore when I run into a bear on the trail. I’ll be happy if I don’t have any close encounters for the rest of the season at this point, though!

The new challenge these days is the shortening of daylight hours. Yesterday I had an opening shift, and it was still fairly dark out when I walked to work a little early to try to film some of the sunrise. When I was almost to the bridge, a saw the dark silhouette of a bear crossing the path in front of me and disappearing into the woods. I waited for a few seconds, before pressing on, knowing it was somewhere in the trees, but not knowing how far into the woods it had gone. I sang some nonsense and scuffed my feet loudly in the gravel as I walked by, just in case. As I peered into the woods while I walked by, I suddenly saw its dark shape in the forest, head turned, looking right toward me. It was sitting almost like a dog. Aware of me, but minding its own business.

When I got to the bridge, the sky was opening up with pastel pinks and blues. It never got very colorful, but I enjoyed the pale colors and soft sounds of bears fishing in the river and gulls calling noisily into the morning air. A gang of three subadults headed into camp around the same time I started moving toward the visitor center. One scratched its back on the fish freezer building. It was as tall as the eaves when it stood up! I wish I’d gotten a picture, but I had already put my camera away.

Camp was beginning to wake up, and staff were just starting to move around. I could see the chefs and servers working in the kitchen of the lodge, and some of the lodge staff were crouched on the trail outside, watching the subadults strut by on the beach. We said our hellos, and I continued on to the visitor center. By the time I got to there, the bears were approaching and one came all the way up to the building and peeked into some of the windows. The bears are SO big now, even the subadults.

Most days are kind of the same now. We’re back to a schedule of roving trails, staffing the visitor center, and the falls. I find the falls the most challenging, because we’re back to a 20 person capacity on the platform due to an increase of COVID cases in the Bristol Bay borough, and with only one of us out there at a time, it’s difficult to manage. I’m hoping more of the bear activity will move down to the lower river this month so the falls are less interesting for people!

Ukak Falls running the highest I’ve ever seen it!

I continue to lead hikes into the Valley about once a week, and for most of the summer these have occurred on wet, rainy days. I mean, let’s face it, most of the summer has been comprised of wet, rainy days. And while I’ve gotten used to the route and have become more fit this summer, the logistics of these days are still a little stressful. I’m still always afraid I’m going to get back to the top and find someone strayed off! In fact, this actually did happen recently; a visitor dropped their phone somewhere by the Confluence and went back for it without telling me. All ended well, but it was sort of a nightmare-come-true.

Even so, Valley days are still my favorite days. It’s a chance to get out of camp, and to see how Katmai is morphing with the seasons. All through August, the back of Mt. Katolinat was ablaze with fireweed, blushing pink and purple for weeks. I loved the look on visitors’ faces and the gasp whenever I pointed it out and they realized they were looking at a 4,700 ft tall mountain covered in pink flowers.

As the rains increased in August, the Ukak River gushed stronger than ever, murky with glacial silt and ash. By now, the fireweed is starting to wane and the rainy days are somewhat punctuated by a few clearer days here and there. Everywhere I’ve been in Alaska, September has been my favorite month; I suspect it will be the same for Katmai.

And one last note to leave you on: I finally saw my first Katmai lynx! Just the other day, I was walking to work for a late shift, and glanced up to see it trotting along the trail ahead of me just as I neared the Falls trailhead. I think we noticed each other about the same time; it paused and looked back at me for a moment, and then took a left turn and trotted into the woods. I rode that nature high for the rest of the day!


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