September 2014: As part of a larger trip to Alaska that also included seeing polar bears in the wild in the Inupiat village of Kaktovik, my brother Jesse, friend Evan and I visited Kodiak Island for 5 days with the intent of seeing the Kodiak Bear, the largest bear in the world and to be dropped off via a float plane on a remote wilderness lake in Kodiak bear country for 4 days. To make this trip work, I rented a wilderness cabin with the National Forest Dept. Our cabin would be the only one on the lake and we would be at least a week’s walk away through bear country to the nearest town. I booked a one way drop off via a float plane and hired a sat phone for emergencies so we could communicate with the float plane company or the outside world in case of an emergency. Then we purchased most of our supplies and food at the local Walmart, where we spent 1/2 of the day shopping. We purchased some bear spray and a local asked us where we were going to try and insult the bears with the bear spray. When we told him our plans, he responded that we would be crazy going into the bush without a rifle. But the problem with buying a rifle was there was a multiple day mandatory waiting period and we didn’t have the time so we would have to settle for the bear spray.

We were allowed a max weight, so we had to pack wisely. So, we packed a lot of beer and whiskey, some snacks, whale meat we brought from northern Alaska, beef jerky but not a lot of meat since salmon would be abundant for our 4-5 day stay in a cabin with no electricity or plumbing. This was our itinerary for the week:

 

 

 

Map of Kodiak island. Our cabin was located on the wilderness lake circled in red and we flew via a float plane to it from the town of Kodiak. 

This was our planned 5 day stay in Kodiak Island:

Day 1
Alaska Airlines to Kodiak (ADQ) arriving 7:11 am. Meet Jesse and Verify all provisions. Transfer to Kingfisher Aviation, Float plane to Little River Lake Lake wilderness with no roads, no trails, no houses or towns, stay in National Forest public cabin on Little River Lake

Day 2
Hike around Little River Lake, stay in cabin

Day 3
Hike around Little River Lake, stay in cabin

Day 4
Depart to Kodiak by float pane after calling in the plane on satellite phone
Rent a car and explore, Stay in motel in Kodiak

Day 5
Explore island via our rental car, Depart Kodiak in afternoon to Anchorage

 

 

 

 

View from float plane over rugged Kodiak island wikderness

From Kodiak in the float plane, we flew over rugged mountainous terrain for approx one hour before arriving at the lake where we would be staying. Like much of Alaska, there was nothing but wilderness before us, no roads and no signs of civilization. There are approx. 4000 Kodiak bears on the island, and they feed mostly on fish such as salmon that swim upstream during late summer. The Kodiak Bear and Polar bear are equal in size, and it is debatable if the Kodiak Bear is the largest bear in the world. We landed in Little River Lake on the water, which was my first time flying on a float plane. The plane skidded across most of the lake after landing until we reached the shore near the cabin where we disembarked. We quickly unloaded and our pilot waved goodbye and wished us good luck leaving us alone in the middle of the wilds. The lake setting surrounded by autumn colored thicket, and soaring bald eagles was spectacular and we were excited. The only downside was the stench of dead fish. The salmon run was over, and salmon had succeeded in laying their eggs and the salmon that managed to evade bears were now starting to die along the lake’s shores and the smell was rotten.

 

 

 

Our float plane

Pilot departing leaving us alone on the island. The take off into the wind was from the other side of the lake facing us at the cabin. 

Our little cabin was rustic and bare bones. it is rented through the National Forest and approx. 50 USD/night. the cabin was typically used by hikers and hunters. There was a book in the cabin where guests wrote about their stay and almost every passenger had a Kodiak bear encounter near the cabin.  We had to bring all of our own gear, including sleeping bags and food. There was a gas heater, but we couldn’t figure out how to start it. Instead, we made large bonfires from gathered brush outside in front of the cabin. The toilet was in a separate outhouse. We tried our hand in fishing, but it was much easier to just grab fish in the water then to catch them with a fishing pole.

 

 

 

Our cabin

View of the lake from our cabin

My brother enjoying a cold Alaska IPA from our cabin

View of the lake from our cabin

We slept in the same room in bunk beds. it wasn’t luxurious but this type of accommodation is paradise to people like us. We had the wilderness, food, beer, adventure, wildlife and a good group of guys. This was pure happiness.

 

 

 

Our bunkbeds

Evan sitting in the foldout chairs we bought at Walmart and returned after the trip was over

Inside our cabin

Jesse making breakfast

We packed cooking stoves to make food, and boil coffee. We spent our idle time sitting on the porch drinking beer, and whiskey and sharing the block of whale blubber that an Inupiat man gave me in Kaktovik Alaska. The whale blubber was very tasty when eaten with crackers and washed down with vodka.

 

 

 

Jesse eating whale blubber

Our nightly bonfire outside our cabin. 

Nighttime was magical if it wasn’t cloudy or raining. The northern lights would come out and illuminate the sky was a magical array of colors. 

 

 

 

Northern lights

Bald eagles were as common in this part of Alaska as crows are back at home. There were hundreds of them, and we watched them swoop down and snatch salmon from the lake and a little weasel that lived under our porch would come out on a daily basis in search of our food scraps.

 

 

 

Bad eagle

Our cabin mate the weasle

We hoped to catch and eat fish and catching fish was the easy part but the rotten stench of them left us with little appetite for the ones that we could still eat. So even though we had a few fish we didn’t eat them.

 

 

 

Dead fish on the lake front

Rotting fish

Me catching a healthy fish with my bare hands

We purchased backcountry maps and planned all kinds of long ambitious hikes into the mountains but there were no trails, and all hiking was via bushwalking through incredibly stubborn and thick thorn bushes that stood head eye impeding any visibility of bears leaving us vulnerable to stumbling upon an unsuspecting bear. This was dangerous and, in this place, potentially deadly and we constantly tried to talk loudly or blow or whistle and alert any nearby bears to our presence since bears tend to leave the area when humans enter as long as they aren’t surprised. We hiked a few hours each day, but the going was too tough, and the risk outweighed the reward, so we cut our hike short.

 

 

 

Us hiking

Me hiking carrying my camera in a plastic bag for protection

Jesse

We initially planned on flying back to Kodiak on Day 5 but when we called the float plane company on day 4 to check on weather, they informed us a big storm was approaching and they recommend an early departure to avoid the risk of being stuck on the lake for days or longer. We didn’t hesitate and the plane landed in the afternoon of day 4 and icked us up. As we circled the lake skimming the water surface to build speed from the ground effect, we spotted multiple groups of Kodiak bears fishing along the lake shore where we were just hiking early in the day. During that hike we thought we heard grunting, but the tall thicket prevented us from seeing where the noise was coming from, and we returned to our cabin. Now we knew what was causing the noise.

 

 

 

Family of Kodiak Bears on the lake that we spotted as we departed our lake via the float plane back  to Kodiak

We spent the night in Kodiak exploring the beers, eating crab, which it is famous for and visiting a rather gentlemen’s club, which we only decided to visit because of its uniqueness. Supposedly it is the only strip club on a boat located at sea. To get there we had to take a small motorboat. The boat was a large yacht two stories tall, and the strip club/bar was on the 2nd floor. The clientele mainly consisted of local Alaskan men that worked in the fishing and canning industry came to spend their hard-earned money in between long trips out at sea. The girls were mostly Russian and accustomed to receiving large tips from the men who were eager to spend their hard-earned money on a night of fun before returning to the cold, lonely high seas.

The next morning of our last day, we hired a car for the day and drove around the only paved roads outside of Kodiak in pursuit of bears. We saw several on the side of the road and pulled up our car to get some good photos of them fishing.

 

 

 

Lake in Kodiak

Fishing bear on its belly trying to sneak upon fish

Kodiak Bear

Kodiak Bear drying itself off

From Kodiak Evan and I flew back home via the non-revenue flight tickets we had via Delta on First Class. We said goodbye to my brother he stayed back in Alaska.

 

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