Today is the start of our Ice Bear adventure but it will only appear on the blog after we are back as we are in the deep, deep Yukon wilderness for a week.
After a breakfast with a French twist from the French Canadian lady in town who has started the Red Mammoth cafe we finalize our packing , André gets a little thrill walking by “Diamond Tooth Gertie” gambling saloon, now closed for the season. We had gone to a dancing girl show there last time we were here.
We are waiting to hear from the helicopter pilot when is it a go for our fight north. Since it has been snowing, the cloud cover is heavy and low. We wait for weather conditions also over the Tombstone mountains on route to Bear Cave Mountain as these are notorious for their own weather pattern. Finally after a 3 hour delay we get the go ahead. The pilot is taken aback by the amount of gear 4 photographers can generate and we have to attach a basket to the side of the helicopter to fit everything in.
These pilots are super versatile and they get to fly with all kinds of loads, often for mining, some fire fighting, drilling oil wells and construction. Although our flight is long , over two hours it is pretty straightforward. We just need to decide what can stay outside in the basket. André wins the draw to sit next to the pilot and the rest of us, all three pile into the back.
Despite the weather the scenery is breathtaking, with the new snow the landscape looks pristine. We need to fly over the Tombstone mountain range but when we get to it , the pilot does not have enough visibility to clear the range . We detour off to the side. The added flight time and the extra weight of the basket means we do not have enough fuel to reach our destination. We make an additional landing and refuel for the last leg.
André not only has the front and side view, sitting next to the pilot but an additional floor view next to the stick. He is first to see a herd of Carribou and the big Moose just before we land. After a quick change over the helicopter leaves and we start listening to the sounds of nature that surrounds us in this vast wilderness. There are no roads here, hence the helicopter flight to get us there. Immediately we feel a great connection of kindred spirits with Phil and his son Ross who are running this camp.
The weather has been very mild here for this time of the year and temperatures have not yet dipped below freezing. The chum salmon are spawning, they look different to the sockeye a bit more pink and stripy. We hear the same story again , bears have not shown up in the usual numbers. Things do seem promising though as on our first evening we see two Moose a Mum and her young one come onto the rivers edge shortly after followed by two grizzly males, Moose promptly departing not wanting to risk an altercation .
Camp is very simple , the largest hut has the kitchen and dining in it, three small cabins with two people each , one of which is for Phil and Ross, they are big enough for two single beds, an outhouse and a cache for food built 3m off the ground with ladders so the Bears can’t get intinced into the food. We get a briefing on safety and movement around the camp. Arturo one of the other guests is a bit concerned about the night time outhouse visits, but Phil assures him they have not lost a client yet to a sleeping bear.
The next morning dawns with brilliant colours, temperature has dropped to -4C and we have new snow.Right on the edge of the river a short walk from the cabins we have a large pool of spawning salmon, so this should be a good spot to wait for bears. There are two other sites for viewing the Bears which will require a walk through the woods. We spend the morning at the camp and get rewarded with Sophie the 12 year old first time Mum bringing her one year old cub for a bit of a fish.
We watch as she runs through the water catching a salmon , while Junior despite his young age chooses to do his own fishing rather than relying on Mum. She even comes over a couple of times to have a nibble of his fish. We are told she had two cubs last year and she has lost the female cub over winter and only has this one left. It means she has to take on the role of teaching him bear to bear behaviour and how to spar with other Bears as he gets older.
In the afternoon we go to the other sites and see lots of salmon making its way to their spawning spot. The male apparently attaches to one female and tells her when she is in the spot to lay the eggs, he gives her a little shimmer on the body. When she feels it’s right she deposits the eggs in the river gravel and they both die shortly after. We enjoy the beauty and peace of the place and Sophie pops out walking on a log promptly followed by junior. The light is perfect.
Next day is pretty quiet, temperatures have dropped to -8C and we are wearing all the layers. Phil has fitted us out with super toasty boots ( should not have worried about my Sorel disaster) and padded, warm pants. By the time I have all the layers on it is quite epic to go for a pee.
We are being spoilt by Ross and Phil and their cooking, lots of amazing stories being shared in the evenings, but we all fade by 9pm and are off to bed, after squeezing the last outhouse visit before bed. We do get some Northern lights, but mainly with the evening snow it is overcast.