"Kayak-Camping in Alaska Bear Country"

Anina Imhof

I knelt down on a narrow, wooden dock, pressing the last bit of air out of each water tight compression bag and packing them into the hulls of our tandem kayak. Misty rain came down light, as slowly as snowflakes and reflecting morning sunlight. As I went through an automatic mental checklist of all the precious gear weʼd need for two days in the backcountry, I had to pause a moment when I came across one item that we normally donʼt carry. My mind wandered back to the evening before when, nestled in cozy couches with cups of hot tea, Eli, our good friend and gracious host in Haines, Alaska handed us the shotgun and launched into stories of his encounters with bears and handed down his knowledge of proper bear safety etiquette. “Honestly,” he said “they donʼt really want anything to do with us” and we probably wouldnʼt have any reason to use the thing, but just in case...

My partner in life, love, adventure, and business- Jeremy, and I were about to paddle into the remoteness of Southeast Alaskaʼs rainforest wilderness, home to some of the worldʼs healthiest populations of bald eagle, salmon, and grizzly bear. Most people donʼt exactly think ʻrainforestʼ when they think of Alaska, but Southeast Alaska is just that, a (now) rare type of forest called Coastal Temperate Rainforest where an incredible abundance of life thrives in divine balance! Chilkoot Lake, although it is a relatively accessible lake, (if you can find your way to Haines) felt like the epitome of this type of biome. Most of the forest floor is covered in a thick blanket of gorgeous moss, wild blueberry bushes abound, glaciers pour down every valley, grizzly bears clumsily lumbering out of the trees scare away eagles, hawks, or blue herons feeding on fat salmon flipping their way up river inlets... this is what I live for!

That first night, sleeping under the brightest star-filled sky of my life, on a beach covered in huge grizzly bear prints at the far end of the lake, I felt utterly humbled by the total wildness all around us. We were just visitors in this great place, but I somehow felt it was our privilege to responsibly explore it... Maybe it was even our responsibility to share it with others, to inspire appreciation for natural places like these, and to help ensure they can continue to exist! We explored the 2 mile long lake that day and the next, by kayak and by foot- an experience I can never forget. And I promised myself to come back often.