The Time I Almost Got Eaten By a Bear in Katmai National Park, Alaska

I promised my grandmother before I went to Alaska’s Kodiak Island that I wouldn’t go near the bears.  Unlike most tourists to the area, the bears weren’t really my thing.  There were so many other reasons I wanted to head to Kodiak, the impressive Kodiak bears just weren’t part of the equation I assured her.  She popped a Reader’s Digest into my lap with a heart-wrenching story about these kids getting mauled in Alaska by a bear and she was just sure it would happen to me.  I promised I would be downright unadventurous, and there’d be no reason to worry.

Beautiful harbor on Kodiak Island. Seriously, who needs bears?

Then, an unexpected opportunity presented itself and I found myself actually seeking the elusive bears.  Oops!

Here’s where it gets a little complicated though.  I was in Kodiak in late June, which is pre-salmon spawning season.  The Kodiak bears are still hanging out in the mountains having just emerged from their winter slumber.  I was a few weeks early for the really great bear viewing.  So a tour with Andrews Airways would fly me over to the mainland to see their cousins, the Alaskan Brown Bears.  We were off to go bear viewing in Katmai National Park!

It was a spur of the moment travel decision, which I rarely make.  But I was having a “girls vacation” of sorts with my friend Alisha and feeling adventurous.   I can’t help thinking “I am so going to get in trouble from Grandma if I get myself eaten!” as we take off in the float plane.

The flight was beautiful.  Mountains, glaciers, fjords… it was all there.

Aerial view of Katmai National Park
Aerial view of Katmai National Park

Then we landed in the ocean off a muddy beach.  Let’s put a lot of emphasis on “muddy”.  It was really muddy.  I was wearing super high wading boots, and I would step in the mud and be unable to move.  I had to basically hang on to our pilot as he helped us one after another from the plane to the beach.  He kept telling me to “ski” which was beyond unhelpful for this Texan girl.  One lady never got off the plane, and one guy fell in the cold, cold water.  So I felt accomplished to make it to the beach, no matter how awkward the whole experience getting there had become.

Float Plane in Katmai National Park
See the muddy footprints leading from the float plane to the beach?

Then I realized, we’re really @#&$*&ing close to those bears.

The pilot/guide/ski instructor said it was a male and a female, and they were pretty interested in each other. I was aware that we were without any sort of bear deterrent.  He felt confident we were relatively safe because they were well fed, and not showing aggression.  I was pretty concerned.  He told me we were golden unless a third bear showed up, which could cause some action.  So we scooted a little closer, and a little closer until we were getting a pretty good look.

Bear in Katmai National Park
Third bear, oh no!
Then a third bear started moving into the picture.

And I realized I was very, very stuck in the mud.

I started to panic inwardly.  I could not move my feet.  Standing there watching the bears, I had sunk without realizing it.  The pilot helped give me leverage.  I had to basically pull my foot out of the boot part of the waders, then pull the boot out, and then do the other side.  All while watching these bears thinking I’m going to get eaten.  Scary stuff.  But I eventually got free, and we made it clear it was time to move back down the beach and away from the clear and present danger.

Bears on beach in Katmai National Park, Alaska
Luckily, all three of them just laid down and looked at each other.

It was a great time, and I highly suggest flying in a floatplane in Alaska and bear watching in Katmai National Park.  I also suggest making sure you aren’t stuck in the mud BEFORE the third bear arrives.

One last look at the muddy beach