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Admiralty Island In 1993, I was a second-year wilderness guide leading day trips on Admiralty Island for brown bear watching. Brown bears are the same bear as grizzlies. Many decades ago, a hunting club decided any grizzly living within approximately 100 miles of saltwater would be called a coastal brown bear, while the interior bears kept the name grizzly. For those not familiar, Admiralty Island holds claim to having the world’s highest concentration of brown bears, with a little more than one bear per square mile. This population of bears is higher than the total grizzly population of the lower 48 combined. Native Tlingit call the island “Kootsnoowoo”, which translates roughly to “fortress of the bear”. On a typical day we would fly in via floatplane from Juneau, pick up canoes at a cache, and paddle over to prime bear-watching areas. We would then spend the day taking advantage of prime sightings, photographing the bears up close and personal – often within 10-20 feet of multiple bears, sometimes dozens at a time. On this particular day I was to take two clients to an area known as Windfall Harbor. I obtained permits for this area as the rules of Admiralty Island, a National Monument, and UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, are tightly regulated. An area known as Pack Creek was the normal part of the island for our entry point, but today was different. Pack Creek was full, with another guided group and several independent observers already drawing the spaces for viewing the bears. While Pack Creek is frequented by sows – female bears – and cubs that are habituated to human presence, Windfall Harbor is known to have larger, non-human habituated boars. This presented a new facet of guiding and directing my clients for safe bear viewing. I was going to have to bring out the skills learned from years in the field, and a training class known as “bear school” I had to undertake for my guiding privileges.

Brown BearWe loaded our gear into the De Havilland Otter in Juneau and flew to the canoe cache. After unloading and saying goodbye to our pilot and airplane, we watched the airborne “security-blanket” break the water’s surface and head east toward Juneau. We loaded out gear into the canoes and enjoyed a wonderful paddle over to Windfall Harbor, seeing harbor porpoise and dozens of eagles as we made our way through the calm, briny water. The weather was unseasonably hot, with temperatures approaching 85F degrees and blue skies; not exactly prime bear watching weather. Think of it this way, if you had a fur coat on, would you go out in 85F weather? Knowing that I had my work cut out for me, we began our search for the bruins. We found plenty of fresh tracks on some tidal flats, but no bears. Around lunchtime we decided to head over to the designated lunch area, set up by the rangers, where we had tied off our bear boxes containing our picnic lunch. After a jovial lunch filled with jokes, tall tales and flat out lies we decided to head back out to the tidal flats in hopes of sighting bears. My concern was mounting, however, as I know that these clients pay considerable amounts of money for the opportunity of a bear sighting and I feel obligated to do everything in my power to get make that happen. Shortly after lunch and back on the flats, one of the clients spotted what he thought were two bears in the distance, coming over a small knoll on the exposed tidal ground. Immediately my clients began assembling their gear and cameras. I focused my attention on the bears as they began coming toward us. Knowing that a bear’s eye-sight is very poor and thinking there was no chance they knew we were here, I told the clients to enjoy and get ready for the bears to get very close. As I continued to watch, the bears began to run towards us. As a guide, I had witnessed bear charges before, and knew that most of the charges are ‘false’ charges, where the bears charge to within ten or so feet of you and then stop, look at you and continue about their business. So I was alert and on guard, but not necessarily concerned as the bears started toward us. That all changed, however when the bears started bearing down at us at full tilt. Now, they were about 1000 feet away running full speed in our direction. At this point I told the clients to get to the treeline, and if possible, get up a tree. I also told them not to run. So, naturally, the clients ran. I turned towards the bears, and for the first and only time in a career that has now spanned almost 20 years, brought my shotgun into the ready position and advanced a round into the chamber. The bears were coming, I had five rounds in a shotgun and I knew I had little chance of stopping one bear with the weapon, let alone two. I remember distinctly thinking at this point, “I quit. I don’t want guide anymore.” I remember thinking about writing a letter of resignation. Still, here were the bears and I had no choice but to deal with this situation.

 

 

What We Came to See -- Brown BearsThe bears stopped about 300 feet away. They stood there for several long, drawn out minutes and I was shaking but trying to hold my ground. As time passed I remember thinking that perhaps this was bluff charging after all, and that we would be fine. Then all hell broke loose. The bears started coming at me full tilt again. My internal voice told me this was different, this was not a bluff. Against all training and better judgment, I too turned and ran. I was about 60 feet from the treeline and I went for it. I could swear I covered the distance in three steps. I made it to the trees, and was about eight feet past the tree line where I found a small dogwood tree and tried feebly to hide behind it. It provided a psychological respite even though it would do no good against the bruins. The bears were now at the tree line but for some unknown reason they would not come into the trees. They did, however, show all the classic signs of aggression - popping jaws, flipping the hump, and pounding the ground. I was horrified. I also had to find my clients. I turned and looked into the trees, and there they were, each up their own small hardwood tree, rarities for the region. What snapped me out of my fear and into anger was seeing one of the clients taking pictures of the whole affair. I was incensed by the thought of them profiting from photos of my impending, gruesome death by bruin. I barked at them to listen to me and proceeded to give instructions of what we would do when, or if, the bears left the area. We waited five or so minutes, an eternity in a situation like this, and I then had to go out onto the tidal flats to see if they were still there. I summoned all my courage and went. The bears were gone, I instructed the clients to come down. We made it to the canoes, paddled over to the rendezvous spot, and waited for the floatplane to take us back to the urban safety of Juneau. Back in Juneau we parted ways. I had paperwork to fill out and an extensive debriefing to go through, but we arranged to meet at the Red Dog Saloon that evening. When I met them later they already developed the film, this being pre-digital days. They gave me a set of the prints, which to this day are some of the most cherished pictures and possessions I own. Having a visual record of this bear charge is a gift. One of the clients then gave me three crisp, fresh, hundred-dollar bills and a business card. It turned out he was the manager of a very upscale hotel in New York City I was told to give him a call if I was ever in New York. A year later I was flying back from Turkey through New York City and called him. I ended up being put up in the hotel and had a grand time. When I was brought into his office, he proudly displayed the picture of the two of us, after the encounter. Not a bad finish truly remarkable adventure. Eric Cedric is a former mountain guide and expedition leader with 20 years of professional experience. Cedric has worked on Denali, Elbrus and a handful of Himalayan peaks. In addition, Cedric is a private pilot and professional environmental and conservation writer. Cedric splits his time each year between the Adirondack Mountains, Southern California and Costa Rica.

It’s that time of year again. If you’re not quite sure what to get for the outdoor loving person in your life we can help. Below are eight gift ideas that will help you get started, or finished, with you shopping this year. Nikon Coolpix AW100

Nikon AW100

Nikon certainly wasn’t first to market with a ruggedized camera, in fact they were pretty close to last. That said, the wait was worth it. With built-in GPS (a glaring oversight on many cameras in this class) you can go back and find exactly where a photo was taken. No more guessing. Using software that will map photos such as Apple’s iPhoto, Google Earth, or the built in maps at the bar can be a fun way to share memories of your trip. The AW100 features full 1080p video, 16MP photos and one handed operation. The AW100 is designed to take a decent amount of abuse too. Waterproof up to 33ft. shockproof up to 5ft. and freezeproof make the Nikon AW100 one star performer in the outdoor camera arena. Probably not quite worth upgrading if you already have a camera in this class, but if not, this is the one. $379.95 http://www.nikonusa.com Hydro Flask Growler

Hydro Flask Growler

Earlier this year Hydro Flask released their growler and frankly, it’s glorious. The double wall insulation keeps beer fresh and cold until you’re ready to drink it, up to 24 hours. Because it’s made of 18/8 stainless steel it will stand up the abuse that riding in your pack all day will dish out. It also won’t break when if falls on the rock or gets banged around in the back of your car on the way home. You can also store anything you would like to keep warm in the growler (soup, chili, tea) but we prefer to the use it for it’s intended purpose. Hydro Flask makes double-wall insulated flasks in sizes ranging from 12oz. all the way up to the 64oz. growler including a food flask of which we are big fans of the entire line. $49.99 www.hydroflask.com Mountain Hardwear Medusa

Mountain Hardwear Medusa Gloves

Cold hands? No problem. Even while ice climbing all day in some of the most demanding conditions. Mountain Hardwear bonded their propriety OutDry waterproof membrane directly to the Medusa’s outer shell making the gloves some of the most waterproof gloves we have ever tried. The Medusa’s also include a removable windproof softshell liner not only makes the glove nice and warm but protect your hands when you need the added dexterity of not wearing the shells. The nose wipe on the thumb is another great feature. While the wipe isn’t the softest material on earth it does stay free of snow and ice. If you are looking for a pair of gloves that spends a decent amount of time outside during the winter you could do much, much worse than the Mountain Hardwear Medusa. $150 http://www.mountainhardwear.com Adventure Medical Kits

Travel Medical Kits by Adventure Medical Kits

Adventure Medical Kits makes first aid kits for a range of outdoor and travel medical kits wherever your choice of activity of destination. Adventure Medical Kits packs all of their kits in very organized kits that are very convenient to use and carry. Kits designed for use on the water include watertight cases, travel kits are in portfolio type cases that make for easy packing, and an women’s specific travel kit is available. If you have a loved one that spends much time outdoors or on the road get them piece of mind that comes with knowing they have medical supplies should they need them. $10-70 (travel series) http://www.adventuremedicalkits.com Apple iPad

iPad 2

The last thing you need is someone else telling you how great the iPad is. Sorry, but it’s true. For those that travel on a regular basis lugging a laptop around can be a real pain. With countless travel apps for checking into flights, reserving hotels, finding things to do in a new city, and countless other tasks once you get hooked on your iPad for travel it’s tough to do without it. But it’s the fact that it can all but replace lugging around your laptop where the iPad shines. E-mail, web browsing, apps for blogging, text processing, presentations, and almost any other items you need to get done on the road. Presentations can even be given with available adapters. While doing a lot of content creation on the go can be a little awkward on the touchscreen a bluetooth keyboard is available that will ease that pain. Many people are big fans of the other e-readers on the market such as the Kindle and Nook as well. And while we can certainly get behind that we love the versatility the iPad offers. And while there are other tablets on the market that promise similar functionality none have caught on to this point. So this year it’s the iPad 2 that gets the nod and even with the 3G making travel more convenient the wi-fi version should be sufficient for most people. $499-$829 www.apple.com

Donations to Charity

Charities in this country provide many services that are near and dear to many of our hearts. If you have someone in your life who travels or loves the outdoors there charities no doubt protect some of the land they use. With the prolonged economic problems currently facing us many charities have seen a large drop in donations and this can be your chance to help them. If you really don’t know what to get that special person maybe a donation in their name could be the best gift. Some examples for donations include the Access Fund, Doctors Without Borders, or even the Red Cross. Many local charities are great candidates for your gifts as well. In addition you get a tax deduction for this gift, it is the end of the year after all and it’s kind of like giving and getting at the same time.

On Consuming

With the holidays upon us it is almost too easy to get caught up in the giving spirit. While it is nice to receive things and certainly a joy to give please consider the impact before you buy something you don’t need. Monday, Nov 28 also known as Cyber Monday turned out to be a record in sales...ever. Patagonia on the other hand ran a full-page ad in the New York Times with the title ‘Don’t Buy This Jacket’ (ad below) reminding us that everything we buy damages the earth. No preaching, just thought the ad was worth sharing. Enjoy. Patagonia 'Don't Buy This Jacket' Ad

Adventure Insider Magazine - Winter 2011 We are pleased to announce the release of the winter issue of Adventure Insider Magazine. You have two options to get a copy. 1) Download a copy 2) Buy a print copy from MagCloud In this issue you'll find our (admittedly last minute) holiday gift guide, a story of a wilderness guide who had a brush with a large bear, our mountaineering boot and crampon buyer's guide, and a photo essay of the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. In addition you'll find out standard sections: canine corner and exposed. Check it out and let us know what you think.

The following images appeared on the covers, table of contents, and 'Exposed' section of Adventure Insider Magazine in June 2011
  Trekking Great Sand Dunes National Monument, ColoradoTable of Contents: A photographer works to get the last light in Sand Dunes National Monument, Colorado. Photo: Nate Burgess  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

     

 

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