This weekend, a group of us went on a hike up Turnagain Arm Trail. The trail starts just after Potter's Marsh at mile 115 on the Seward Highway. Along the trail, we saw moose and bear scat (Yes, Virginia... bear doo poop in the woods), and moose and bear prints. We were being cautious, alert of our surroundings, but what happened at the end of our hike made us wonder just how much we are truly aware of, when it comes to wild animals who are the masters of camouflage and hiding.
We were enjoying the hike. The trail is truly beautiful. There are views of the inlet, small springs flowing downward from the higher mountain elevations that flow over the path or under wood plank "bridges," and a waterfall just above McHugh parking area. We took a detour to McHugh parking area to use the restrooms, and on our way back to the trail we saw a makeshift sign warning us of a bear sighting 3 hours previous to our arrival at the lot. A bear had been seen stalking a moose cow with a calf. We hadn't seen any moose, or any bear, since we started the hike. We figured, if we took it cautiously, we'd be ok to take the path back to the lot where we'd left our vehicles. The bear had other plans.
Our group got separated. Two faster hikers went on ahead, and three lagged behind. When two of us in the lagging group found a geocache box, the group was split even more, with one of the three going on ahead, and the geocrazy two staying behind. We knew we'd catch up to the lone hiker on the trail. We certainly did. We found her, coming our direction down the trail, towards the McHugh lot from where we'd just come. She'd gotten a call on her cell from the two faster hikers in our group. They had heard the bear killing the moose calf in the bushes approximately 50-100 feet off of the trail. They told her we should probably consider turning around and returning to the McHugh lot where they would pick us up. We didn't turn around but continued on, thinking if we were loud enough we'd scare the bear. DUMB move in bear country! We came upon the bear further down the trail, now in the middle of the hiking trail with its fresh kill (it had drug the calf down to the trail from where it had killed it). The bear saw us before we saw it. As soon as we saw it though, all of our courage left and we immediately began backing away (with the bear watching us the entire time from over the moose calf).
We came upon a group of tourists from Memphis near the trail end near McHugh. They asked us why we were returning. We told them that we'd come upon a bear eating a fresh kill on the trail. They had the audacity to ask WHY we turned around, if we took PICTURES, and if there was a location where they could OBSERVE SAFELY????? We told them that we turned around because we weren't about to wait around to see what the bear had planned for dessert, that NO we didn't take pictures because we weren't about to ask the bear to pose, and NO there was no "safe place to observe." We told them that this is Alaska, and wild animals are not like the bears you see at the zoo, or the animal reserve. True to form (not to insult tourists, but insulting stupid folk in general), they insisted on going up the trail to see if they could see the bear. We could only shake our heads in amazement, and talk about their stupidity, as they walked away. We learned our lesson though, unlike the tourists from Memphis. Bears don't scare easily, and when they are eating a fresh kill they don't scare at all.
No, Alaska is not a giant petting zoo.