Saturday, August 7, 2010

Alaska Tails

Sherry is safely back from her annual back-country paddling trip in Alaska. You may recall that last year, she had a real problem being stalked by grizzlies. Her husband subsequently failed to keep his word by purchasing, and learning to use, the necessary weapon that would ensure their safety.

Fortunately it was a remarkably griz-free adventure this year; except for the last day.

Sherry and her husband are dropped off by a bush plane, paddle to a certain point and then rendezvous with the pilot at a pre-determined time and place. This year, because her husband was doing some type of observation for the Park Service they were given a satellite phone (and a Jr. Ranger badge). This would serve to be a fortunate happenstance.

At the end of their trip, Sherry and her husband Dick were awaiting pickup on the appointed day by a small float plane; a little pond was to be the landing area. Sherry told her story:

"The wind was blowing a gale, and there was quite a bit of chop on this pond; it was relentless. These float planes have to land precisely, otherwise they would tip over and crash. The pilot made three or four passes, and I knew he wasn't going to be able to land. Sure enough, he called us on the sat phone and said there was no way. He has to come from two hours away, so he said he would come back the following day, and for us to call him at 6:30 AM to let him know about the wind conditions".

"I didn't sleep all night. The wind kept howling, and I was concerned that we would be stuck another day. It was so bad we had the tent tied to the gear bags so it wouldn't blow away. Finally, just about 6:00 AM the wind died down. Dick called the pilot who said he would arrive about 9:00. I was relieved and settled back in to get a couple of hours nap at least".

"At about 8:30 I got up, and Dick and I packed up the tent. We were pretty much out of food, but had a couple of granola bars so we pulled them out to eat while we sat on the gear bags and deflated canoe to wait for our ride. That's when we saw it: a giant grizzly. It was down at the end of the pond eating a caribou. Dick and I kept our eyes on the bear, but he seemed pretty engrossed in his breakfast and didn't seem to notice us".

"About this time, the wind picked up again with a vengeance. Now I was nervous, as if I wasn't when I spotted the bear. Maybe 10 minutes later we spotted the plane. I was thinking we were in some pretty serious trouble if he couldn't land, because the wind was gusting."

"The pilot had to come in low, right over the bear in order to land, so I know he realized we had a serious situation. The bear was pretty pissed off about it, too, roaring and waving a paw at the plane. The pilot tried to land, twice, a third time, then a fourth; each time the bear was roaring. I really didn't think we were going to get out of there; I had no idea how much fuel was available to burn on failed landing attempts, so I was feeling pretty desperate by this time. All I could imagine was spending another night with this really angry bear in our back yard".

"Finally, there was a lull in the wind; I had a feeling that this was going to be the last attempt. The plane came in so low I thought it was going to hit the bear, who was definitely not happy. At this point,the bear did something really odd; it THREW the caribou at the plane! I have never seen this before, nor had the pilot.

"The plane landed safely, loaded us in and we were on our way. The bear retrieved the caribou and continued with his meal, paying no attention to us at all. It was a great trip, but boy, was I glad to get out of there".

We are all happy to have Sherry home safely, but the phrase "when caribou fly" has become our new favorite saying.


SimplySweeter said...

Please tell Sherry that I had a similiar experience. The only difference was I was munching on a Dove Bar while watching Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin in "The Edge".

EDNurseasauras said...

Hahaha! So happy you survived! Now, where did I leave that bowl of Ben and Jerry's?