The week becomes a Sophie and Junior show. We patiently wait by the river in anticipation of her morning routine of a ramble by, fishing in one or other direction. The weather continues to get colder, now reaching -18C. We have a reasonable amount of fresh snow each day. Both the bears seem to like fishing in the pool just in front of the lodge.
That’s Mr. Butterball as I call him.
This is Sophie. It is not too hard to be sitting by the river, listening to the salmon sporadically leap out and watch the pace of the world go by.
One late morning after a good encounter with Sophie, Ross reads her behaviour as having a good morning feed and now heading off for a snooze to digest that heavy salmon load. We decide to have an early lunch and then head out to the further sites anticipating that see will appear there later. We have a nice hot soup and melted toasted cheese sandwiches and fueled, we head out with all the gear. The most important rule around camp is no food outside or on the trails, nothing smelling fruity in the cabins as the Bears sense of smell is incredible. As we hear years worth of experiences of Phil’s working as a salmon researcher in the remote areas of the Yukon and his many very close observations of bear behaviour, we learn so much about this so misunderstood apex and keystone animal. Bears have an incredibly bad wrap in society and have an aura of fear surrounding them, that distorts our ability to understand them. They are incredibly intelligent and so resourceful. Their survival is dependent on making important choices as such a large part of the year is spent in hibernation with no fuel coming in. For the mothers this is particularly critical as they supplement the young ones through winter. After lunch we head out to the middle site, just as we approach Sophie comes over the edge of the river bank where she had been fishing. The sound of the river would have muffled our approach and the feeding would not have given her any warning that we are coming. She stands on the trail 6m in front of us a bit startled. Ross gives her a soft voice talking to and she ambles away on the trail followed by Butterball.
We wait a little longer to give her time for her travel and then we continue following big Mamma and baby bear footprints in the fresh snow.
We arrive at the far site. It is now time to wait and see who arrives. We see evidence of another bear having been fishing at the narrow point of the river as fresh partly eaten salmon can be seen right there.
While we wait and remain very quiet André gets a chance to do some underwater photography of the salmon. The males have a very large and ferocious looking mouth . One of them swims up to the camera for a closer look at this new shiny , underwater object and we get to capture a full on view of his mouth.
Sophie eventually appears quite a way up the little creek and does all her fishing there but does not come to the mouth of the creek. She eventually heads into the forest, we think she is going for a snooze and after giving her a good 20 min we decide to make our way back slowly to camp. I notice that Ross is moving much slower than usual and really listening to the woods. His experience pays off as we come across their footprints cutting across our trail. We listen for a bit and there is no sound of movement so we proceed. Literally 20m further on we capture slight movement in the corner of our eye and there they are snuggled into each other for a sleep, the cub curiously looking over the top of Mums back. We acknowledge her with some quiet conversation by Ross and we move off the trail to give her space and not disturb her. A very special encounter. We do not get to see anymore bears that day.
Next morning everyone is keen to go to the far viewing site but I feel like staying back to just soak up the beauty of the place. Ross takes the photographers including André and I stay by the river. Phil has a lot of chores to do in the cabin so he leaves me with the radio on the river to let him know if a bear comes by. It is so beautiful, the sound of the river flowing, a splash of the salmon occasionally, the resident squirrel scurrying around stocking up for winter and the beautifully haunting sound of the raven as they fly by. For the First Nation people’s raven have a special spiritual significance. It’s a real revelry.
Just about when I think its time for a warming cup of tea, out of the corner of my eye there is movement and a bear is coming out of the forest. It is about 5m away from me. I gently get the radio and tell Phil “I have a bear behind me, no it’s actually coming out in front of me”. Phil acknowledges my call but as it is very cold his approach on the crunchy snow could startle the bear. It turns out to be Sophie and Butterball. They walk in front of me and then briefly fish together. She starts moving down river but he stays with me eating, so after a while she comes back to join him.
They both have a good feed and then take the path towards camp where there is a favourite rubbing tree. Normally we were told that you can not follow the Bears into camp and it’s just lucky if you happen to be in camp when they arrive, but Phil is with me now and he motions for me to follow him in. We take footsteps in sink to minimize the crunch, when he stops, I stop. Sure enough both the cub and Sophie are having a great rub on the tree.
While Mum enjoys a butt rub as well as the back rub, Butterball goes and investigates the camp.
This encounter lasts for several minutes and the images are taken from my video capture. As they head off into the forest I can’t wait to give Phil a hug. This encounter was possible as I was the only one in camp, there would have been too much commotion if everyone was trying to change position. I feel incredibly privileged.
Next morning Ross bakes some cranberry, banana and chocolate muffins. They are so deliscious and mouth watering. We now have decided that the river edge at camp is the place to be, so after a couple of hours of no action I decide to do a good wifely deed and wrap a muffin to take to André outside. Too late my memory banks kick in that I have a very fruity, fragrant piece of food in my jacket pocket Dohh! André doesn’t want it so I have to surreptitiously gobble it up without making any crumbs. You can imagine, I now have the knick name of Muffin Girl.
We do not get to see any more bears and we leave Bear Cave Mountain enriched by this spectacular wilderness, the amazing knowledge about bears and a very new and deep respect of their strength, wisdom and survival techniques.