Alaska Wildlife Floatplanes, Boats and Bears!
Alaska – the land of floatplanes
It only takes a few days in Alaska to see that in many ways it is a completely different state and in some ways, different country from the rest of America. It is not just the historical differences based on occupation by Russians and before that the various First Nations people, who were so tuned into this land and lived in harmony with it. It is because Alaska is America’s last frontier and as well as many 2nd and 3rd generation Alaskan’s who are proud to call it home, it attracts people from all the other American states in search of adventure, less governmental interference, hunting and in some cases to live off grid completely.
So few roads; but lots of floatplanes and boats in Alaska
Since Alaska was slowly colonized (or taken over) by the Russians and then the Americans using boats, it stands to reason that many of its towns and cities grew up looking out to the water for trade and commerce, rather than trying to build roads in often harsh conditions and where thick forest or glaciers covered the land. Mighty rivers also allowed passage far north into both Alaska and Yukon; most famously during the Klondike gold rush.
My first floatplane journey in Alaska
One week earlier when we flew from Anchorage to Lake Clark National Park, I had already had my taste of a small bushplane flights; with spectacular views of glaciers, beautiful rivers and a super smooth landing on a sandy beach – pretty cool. However I was desperate to take off on the ‘work horse’ of Alaskan aviation and after travelling the scenic Kenai Peninsula from Anchorage to Homer, I found myself standing next to Beluga Lake, waiting for my ‘ride’ to the world famous Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park.
Taking off on a floatplane is a very gentle experience – well it was for me! You really wonder if you have enough speed to get the lift required for flying, but bit by bit the aircraft becomes airborne and you head out across straits, through mountain passes, looking out for Beluga’s swimming or Caribou crossing the last of the mountain snows. Even with all the modern GPS technology to aid them; a bush pilot relies first on his eyes and the small perceptible changes which could signify a deterioration in the weather.
For my first floatplane in Alaska the journey did not disappoint. We enjoyed stunning views of the snow-capped Volcanoes which surround Cook Strait, as well as close up views of the world famous McNeil river system (lottery to get access here!) as we flew low over the falls. However the absolute highlight was the most delicate of landing and then to see through our slightly steamed up windows, a brown bear walking along the shore where our floatplane was due to dock – Yes, that was the first bear we saw at Brooks Falls