The brown bears of Katmai National Park like their fish fresh, juicy, and in large volumes. The biggest males eat between 80-90 pounds of food every day, and much of it is in the form of salmon.
So obviously these bears are experts at what they do—catching fish. They start young, learning fishing techniques from mom, and then branch out from there. Some bears have successfully learned a variety of methods, while others employ one or two that work for them. Here’s a look the fishing styles that we observed at Brooks Camp.
Alaska’s Katmai National Park is an immense, wild place, and there is much to see here, but most of it is undeveloped and challenging to get to. That’s why the destination for most people is Brooks Camp, a little bit of infrastructure and comfort in all that wilderness. The camp, which consists of a lodge, campground, and other facilities, is the most accessible part of Katmai, but “accessible” is a relative term. Even a place as established as Brooks Camp takes effort to reach, and here’s some of what we learned as we planned our trip.
While staying at Brooks Camp in Katmai National Park, Alaska, we ate breakfast every morning in the lodge, and it was here, just outside of the dining room, that we had one of our more memorable bear encounters. Perhaps my favorite story from our trip, it precisely captures the wonderful chaos that is a visit to Brooks Camp.
The first leg of our trip to Utqiaġvik was a 100-minute flight to the oil town of Deadhorse. Barely a dot on the map, Deadhorse is one of three cities above the Arctic Circle to which Alaska Airlines flies, the other two being Kotzebue and Utqiaġvik (formerly known as Barrow).
We celebrated when we landed; we’d left Anchorage at 7:39 that Saturday morning, and now, not even 2 hours later, we were above the Arctic Circle! The plane sat on the runway for a few minutes, allowing us time to revel in this knowledge. A few people disembarked the plane and others got on; then the pilot made his usual pre-flight announcements, saying that we were “number one for take off.” This made us laugh—we were the only commercial plane in the airport. It wasn’t long before we were back in the air, and Utqiaġvik was just a short flight northwest along the coastline.
Utqiaġvik felt unembellished, bordered as it was by the Arctic Ocean on one side and the treeless tundra on the other, and even in the height of summer the temperature was cold and the skies gray. There was one impressive, if haunting, ornamentation, however, that added contrast to the landscape—bowhead whale bones, bleached and enormous. Skeletons were displayed in front of public buildings, and their tusk-like jaw bones, some over 20 feet long, stood erect outside of homes.
Most breathtaking were the massive skulls lying on the beach, seemingly abandoned; in reality, they were left there to dry, the oils gradually evaporating over months and years. Eventually they will be moved to a final resting place, which might be anywhere around town, from a front yard to an office building.
Recently, we went to Katmai National Park. Katmai is best known for its bears—brown bears, some of the biggest in the world, made gloriously fat by the endless supply of spawning salmon that enter the Brooks River every year.
In August, Dale and I and our friend Jingyi took a day trip to Barrow, or Utqiaġvik, as it is now known.¹
The town of Utqiaġvik (an Iñupiat word that’s pronounced oot- kay-ahg-vik) is the northernmost point in the United States, and this was our reason for going. We wanted to dip our fingers in the Arctic Ocean, maybe see polar bears or whales, and visit the northern-most point of America before catching the 7:00 PM flight back to Anchorage.
Utqiaġvik sits at 71°18′N 156°44′W and is 320 miles north of the Arctic Circle, so you might think its slogan, “top of the world,” is accurate. In reality, there are towns in Norway, Denmark, Canada, and Russia that are further north,² but Utqiaġvik is at the top of Alaska (and therefore the U.S.), and it made for a great trip.