A Kid to Ride the River With; or Another Brown Bear Story
My son Riley built a neat little mini-boat this past winter and we used it yesterday to investigate a new river that we only knew the bottom end of. One of the strongest memories I have as a kid involved a brown bear boar I stumbled into while fixated on fishing a tiny inlet stream with a large steelhead hanging in a shallow pool tight up under the willows. Suddenly looked over to see a snoring bear sleeping on his back in head-high grass so close I could have tickled his nose with my rod tip... Only problem was the bear's body was between me and his nose.
Anyway, that was in the '60s, this was yesterday...
Riley's little boat is 10' long and 6' wide, powered by a 60hp jet-ski engine and pump/jet. It is designed to run in a tear drop flowing through a boulder field and it is impressive! In one very wide, very shallow spot he stopped just to show me what we running in... There was less than an inch of water anywhere and we had run more than 100 yards across most of it.
With the huge fire burning down on the Kenai we had a lot of smoke to try to see through. It was a gorgeous valley we ran up and as the water got skinny, both up and down as well as sideways we stopped seeing any signs of people. We had a chainsaw and had to cut some trees out that were blocking the river. We finally came to one that would be easy to remove but decided it was a good turn-around point.
Running a jet boat up a river is a much easier proposition than running down. Up, you subtract your speed from the speed of the water and can pause to look where you are going. Down, you have to just firewall it and hope sometimes. At one of those moments there was a small spruce tree down in the river but the trunk was out of the water. Riley hit it fast and it was almost perfect, but one stronger limb tossed us to starboard and up onto alders attached to the bank. There was some tremendous splashing going on and I got a huge face-full of icy glacial water.
We were about half in the water and half sitting on the trees out of water. I was laughing so hard I couldn't stop! We cut the alders on each side of the hull and pushed them away downstream, but Riley still had to power us over them with the engine. It was just a few minutes work to get us sailing downriver again.
There were lots of nesting ducks in a ton of appealing fly-tying varieties! Green-winged teal, mallard, gadwall, a pair of harlequins, widgeon, mergansers, and more...
The trees were all leafed out and seeing anything on the densely wooded slopes was tough.
Suddenly, while on step and running a wide section of the river Riley suddenly cut the engine and grabbed the binoculars. In an avalanche chute in the steep hillside above us a brown bear was grazing on the fresh grass along last winter's snow line.
Riley quickly grabbed his gear and headed up the bottom of the chute while I watched from below in case the bear moved. He got in position and shot prone at 150 yards. I could see the bear was hit as it crossed the snow patch and disappeared into the alders. It seemed he had waited an awful long time between shots. Watching Riley cross the snow patch following the bear's trail was a bit stressful as the bear as running strong at the alder edge. When he reached the edge of the alders I was getting very nervous and thought he should wait quite a while before going in. I was waving my arms in our call-off sign, which he ignored.
He had found the blood trail and knew the bear was not going to last long at all though and quickly found it in the alders.
I climbed up with the pack and skinning tools. After taking some pictures we rolled it down the mountain a bit to a better place to do the skinning. The devil's club was fierce and Riley really reacts to the stuff, with huge welts and lots of long-term allergic-type responses. It was brutal getting through some patches.
After skinning Riley put the pack on with hide, head, and some camera gear. That was when we discovered the waist belt was missing a buckle and he had to carry the pack the rest of the way down through nasty stuff and across a swamp without any real control of where it went. It was not fun...
Back at the boat we tossed the gear in a took off again under a blood red sun just visible through the smoke and haze.
Pictures in the next little bit.