Finally on the Adlatok, we portaged around a 100-foot falls and then calmly cruised through a tight canyon with steep walls, two of the coolest parts of the river. But things were quickly about to amp up.
Soon we were assessing a long class 1 rapid that pushes into the porthole of the Adlatok’s massive canyon. The scary part is that, if you get forced into the canyon, you die. In the canyon the river drops over numerous raging rapids and chutes at the base of 300-foot walls. Marty was pretty nervous but it turns out the eddy is easy to catch. It’s a good thing Marty saw the sow bear and two cubs as we ran the class 1. The bears were right on our planned portage route. Safely in the eddy, we grabbed our rifle and walked up a gravel bar to where we could see the bears. The sow smelled us, put her cubs up a tree, and started coming right down towards us. Of coerce we did a few things in an effort to deter it. Here’s what worked and what didn’t.
• Firing a warning shot – In the video, you can see how nonchalantly the bear began ambling away after we fired a warning shot from a large caliber rifle. She didn’t seem too worried.
• Yelling and making noise – We were trying to scare her away, but yelling had the opposite effect. She turned around and started running at us with her back hairs on end. Luckily there was a large patch of alder bushes the bear had to pass through–not an easy task for such a large creature. To our relief, she wasn’t running any more once she got through.
• Standing Close Together and Making Ourselves Look Big – I was standing on top of a rock with the rifle when the bear started running towards us. I looked back to see the rest of the crew speed walking away. When we regrouped, we stood close together to look big, and the bear seemed less interested in advancing.
• Firing a Bear Banger – In the end, it was the bear banger that scared the sow away. This worked better than the rifle because the explosion happened right above the bear’s head.
To avoid the bears, we changed our portage plans and decided to follow a chain of small lakes that lie to the north of the canyon. With some assessment, we calculated that it was a further total distance, but less carrying. This made the option easy to agree on. While portaging on compass bearings the weather got nice and the bugs came out big time. Marty was so badly bitten that he was nauseous and looked like he’d taken a few good punches to the face.
Bugs: Here are a couple ways you can prevent this from happening to you.
Don’t Cheap Out – Get a bug jacket with a brim that holds the net away from your face or they bite through it. When bushwhacking, mesh tears more easily than fabric. If you’re going to be tough on your bug jacket, get one that has a combination of fabric and mesh.
Repairs – Pack a sewing kit. It’s an important thing to cary for multiple reasons, not the least of which is being able to sew up your bug jacket. Use duct tape for patches on either slide of a hole as a temporary repair.
Ironically, it was the bears that helped us out in the end. We followed their steep trail back down to the river at the base of the canyon to complete the two and a half day portage.