Bear Safety: What You Should Know

IMG_1391_edited-1

Before visiting Bear Country, it is important to educate yourself on how to handle any encounter you may have with bears. Often, guests will ask us about whether or not it is safe for them to go for a walk. Though it is safe, knowing exactly what to do during a bear encounter is the best way to eliminate any concerns or fears you may have.

The two types of bears we have here at the Bear Track Inn are black bears and brown bears. Black bears are the most common encounter we have at the lodge. Black bears grow up to 5 feet in length, weighing 150-400lbs for males and 125-250lbs for females. Brown bears grow up to 7-9 feet, and males weigh in at 400-1500lbs while females are 200-850lbs. Learn more about them here. 15825742_1230372330382819_8260175740543315571_n

Black bears are usually timid, especially juveniles. The encounter to be most concerned about here is crossing paths with a mother and cubs. But don’t worry- these tips, along with common sense, will help you to stay safe.

Before the Encounter:

  • Bears don’t like surprises. Make your presence known by making noise, singing, talking loudly, etc. Avoid walking through thick brush that could hide their view of you.
  • Though their hearing and eyesight is as good as humans, bears use their noses more than either. If possibly, walk with the wind at your back. Make sure your food is stored properly if you are backpacking with a picnic lunch.
  • Use your nose, too. Bears have an almost foul, “wet dog” smell. If you notice this smell on your hike, be alert.
  • Remember that bears use trails and roads, too.
  • Avoid areas with carcass or fish. During the summer, bears eat spawning salmon along the river and creeks, so look for signs of their presence: if there is a noticeable path to the bank or there are fish carcasses around, bears were (or are) definitely near!

IMG_1167_edited-1

During the Encounter:

Remain calm if you do see a bear. Most are only interested in protection of food, cubs, or “personal space”.

  • Identify yourself. If you’re noticed, talk in a normal voice. Wave your arms. Try to back away slowly. If followed, stand your ground.
  • A bear may stand on his hind legs for a better look- this is out of curiosity, and is not threatening.
  • NEVER RUN FROM A BEAR. You cannot outrun a bear, and besides, they like to chase fleeing animals. A charging bear may stop short a few feet away from you. If this happens, become more defensive as he nears you: raise your voice, beat on something loudly, or throw rocks or sticks. If you’re with a group, stand together.
  • If you are fishing and a bear approaches, stop fishing. If there is a fish on your line, give it slack so it does not splash or get the bear’s attention. Cut the line if needed. We don’t want the bears to associate humans and food!

IF the encounter escalates and you are attacked, you have two choices: Play dead or fight back. Make your decisions based off of your surroundings and whether you think the bear is threatened and defensive, or seeking food.

  • If it is a brown bear that you have surprised, and it is eating a carcass or is a mother protecting her cubs, play dead. Lie flat on your stomach with your legs spread apart, or, curl into a ball with your hands behind your neck.
  • A bear will break it’s attack once it feels the threat has been eliminated. If you move, it may return, so remain motionless as long afterwards as possible.
  • Fight any bear that follows you, or that breaks into a campsite or tent.
  • For black bears, your best defense is always to fight back.

Is bear spray effective? Should I be traveling with it? 

Bear spray, for those unfamiliar, is a medium sized can that contains red pepper extract. They are designed to propel a mist at about 15-30 feet, meaning the effectiveness is only at a close range to the bear. We do have bear spray for those who feel more comfortable with it, however, you should know how to use it before you carry it, and it should never be an alternative to common sense when it comes to bear encounters.

We also encourage our guests to bring Bandit with them on walks to the waterfall. Bandit is an excellent hiking companion and has been known to tree black bears.

Fun little note: While writing this, a mother brown bear and two cubs walked through the open meadow outside our lobby! The cubs put on quite a show for our guests. 

 

Gustavus Plane Crash Site

In 1957, Gustavus was a small community, consisting of only fifty or so people. The airfield was built during WWII as a refueling stop for planes traveling the almost 1,500 mile trip from Seattle to Anchorage. The only accounts from the frightful night of November 23, 1957, are from a few homesteaders and the survivors of the crash.

Anxious to get home to their families for the holidays, eleven men of the U.S. National Guard boarded a twin engine Douglas C-47 and headed for Anchorage, AK. Of these men were four crewman, six civilian employees, and one army “hitchhiker”.

The crew was unable to make their scheduled refueling stop in Annette Island due to heavy winds and severe turbulence. At this point, they had two options: Turn around, causing unwanted delay and excessive fuel usage, or, refuel in Gustavus. The choice was seemingly obvious, and they headed for Gustavus. Unfortunately, the pilot was new to Alaskan weather conditions. For those unfamiliar, Alaska’s weather is unpredictable and challenging. Fog can swoop in without notice, and can be followed by with powerful winds and consistent rain.

In the snow and dark, the pilot decided to make a “short” visual approach to the runway in Gustavus. After one approach, the passengers could see the lights, but not the runway. Again, the pilot attempted to survey the runway. Survivor Harry Aase recalls,  “We made one approach and we could see the lights as we went over, but we did not land. Then the pilot went back and tried again. This is twice now we had seen the lights of the airport. We were beginning to worry a bit in the passenger apartment.”

The third attempt to land became fatal. The plane was too low, and the right wing clipped a tall tree. The aircraft spun and landed into the ground, nose first. Mr. Aase states: “We were all knocked unconscious, except for our hitchhiker.. he apparently just rode the plane down (from the rear). He just kept hollering for the plane to land, land, land!”

Fire began spitting from where the exhaust had pulled loose. It was pitch black otherwise. The survivors, dazed and rattled, decided to exit the aircraft and inspect one another with small flashlights they were able to recover. Knocked out teeth, a broken arm and jaw, and a few scratches. Only some had survived.

Homesteader Anne Chase remembers the event well. “After supper.. it was snowing so hard, so we decided to stay home. Suddenly, we heard this airplane circling. It was a large plane with a heavy motor going around and around… We heard a thump, but did not think much of it (we thought it was the dogs). A few minute later, Les Parker called and said, ‘Did you hear the plane? Did you hear where it crashed?’.

The snow was nearly two feet deep that night. A local homesteader, Gene, had decided to take a flashlight and his dog out to look for the plane. Unfortunately, Gene’s flashlight was too dim to recognize his surroundings. He later found out that he had come within 75 yards of the plane. The passengers later recalled seeing Gene’s dog- but thought it was a wolf. They decided to stay by the plane.

The survivors decided to try and make camp. An emergency crank-radio was discovered, but they agreed to wait until morning to use it, as it was too dark and they couldn’t be seen.

Almost every homesteader in Gustavus helped in the search and rescue. The brave locals were fanned out along what is now Mountain View Road, making their way into the darkness. Once they reached the crash site, seven survivors were found. Ken Youman, a local, carried one survivor out on his back. Others were carried out on makeshift gurneys composed of branches. Once out of the woods, the survivors were transported to the only local lodge at the time.

  • Survivors:
    • Lloyd Timmons; army security station in Kenai Peninsula
    • 2nd Harry S. Aase, 28, chief of personnel for territorial military department in Juneau
    • Robert D. Ellis, 22, staff assistant for the 208th infantry battalion of the AK National Guard, Juneau
    • Warrant Officer (J.G.) Richard J. Mueller, 38, administrative specialist for the National Guard, Juneau
    • M-Sgt James E. O’Rourke, 39, unit caretaker headquarters 207th infantry battalion, Anchorage
    • 1st Wallace J. Harrison, 29, staff assistant, headquarters 1st scout battalion, Bethel
    • 2nd William W. Caldwell, 27, staff assistant, headquarters 1st scout battalion, Nome
  • Deceased 
    • Captain Robert E. Kafader, 37, a Californian recently transferred to Anchorage National Guard, due to his mutli-engine qualifications
    • 1st Dennis V. Stamey, 29, Anchorage; was in training and in transition for a transfer to the Florida National Guard, where he planned to fly jets
    • Staff Sgt. Floyd S. Porter, 29, Anchorage; nicknamed “Red” and the only single man aboard
    • Staff Sgt. David A. Dial, 34, Anchorage, Radio Man

Take a moment to remember. In the quietness of your surroundings, as you take in this incomprehendable yet unsightly scene. Honor these survivors and brave residents who stepped into action.” -Rita Wilson

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Credit: “The Complete 1957 Gustavus Plane Crash” by Rita Wilson and the Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiques (gustavushistory.org)

Top Photography Spots in Gustavus

Ideas and tips for the most photographic spots in Gustavus

Gustavus is a fascinating playground for both outdoors-men and photographers alike. Whether you’re a well-known photographer, or just starting out, these top picks are perfect for wowing friends and family with the beauty of Glacier Bay.

Bear Track Inn

The Bear Track Inn is a wonder in itself. With handcrafted logs and beautiful surroundings, you’re bound to get a few great shots. Fireweed  and Cotton Grass bloom all around the lodge, while Barn Swallows build nests nearby. Take a walk down to the beaches of the Icy Strait where you will find wildflowers, various species of Alaskan birds, and possibly spot a moose or bear!

Tip: June is great for Cotton Grass and Dandelions, while July brings Fireweed. August and September are the best months to view the Northern Lights. 

Falls Creek

Rebecca's Waterfall PhotoThe hike to Falls Creek is 3-5 miles round trip and offers many opportunities to spot wildlife. The growing berries invite Black Bear to graze, while moose travel through the brush with their calves. The waterfall itself is a marvel, and is a must-visit bucket list shot for both beginner and advanced photographers.

Tip: Visit the waterfall after a few days of heavy rain for a fuller effect. 

“Downtown”

Or 4-Corners, as the locals call it. This tiny city was established less than a hundred years ago. Sites to photograph include the Dray, which features old-fashioned pumping stations, a few staple restaurants, and the Gustavus Inn. On Saturday mornings, visit the Farmer’s Market and view local artwork. In addition to the city, there is a boat harbor, old golf course, and of course, the charming little airport (which was built during WWII).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Tip: There are a few, off-the-beaten-path trails to explore, so be sure to ask around about what trails you should be seeing.

Gustavus Dock

The Gustavus Dock is great for spotting Eagles, Sea Lions, and other marine life. Fishermen bustle in and out of the dock with their catch of Halibut, Salmon, and other tasty fresh Alaskan fish. Sometimes, humpback or Minke whales can be spotted near Pleasant Island, which is viewable from across the dock. To the West, the Fairweather mountains boarder Gustavus with peaks rising 15,000 feet from the sea. Look for Strawberries sprouting on the beach in July. Spending some time around the dock or on the beach will surely bring you some great photo opportunities!

Tip: Check the tides to better plan your photo session. Low tide brings feeding eagles and other birds, while high tide is great for Sea Lions and other feeding wildlife. 

Nagoonberry Trail

Not far from the Gustavus dock is the Nagoonberry Trail. Here you will find natural communities of wildflowers, fruits, Alaskan seabirds, and other various wildlife. The trail is a 2.2 mile loop through forest and meadow, with two scenic outlooks.

Tip: The best months for blooming flowers are June and July. 

Plane Crash Site

IMG_0335_edited-1Off Mountain View Road  is a short, secluded, historically significant trail to the plane crash site of 1957. As you approach the wreckage, scattered pieces of metal are on all sides of the trail. Take a moment to learn about what occurred that frightful night, and take a moment to honor the survivors and brave residents who assisted with the search and rescue.

Tip: Look for various species of mushrooms along the trail. 

Glacier Bay National Park

Glacier Bay offers numerous opportunities for amazing shots. Along the Forrest Loop Trail you will find various wildflowers and wildlife, as well as a reconstructed whale skeleton, Snow, a handmade Tlingit canoe, and the beautiful Tlingit Tribal House. Bartlett Cove offers breathtaking scenery and is busy with passing fishermen, small cruise ships, seaplanes, and various wildlife. Look across the cove for signs of black bear, or walk the tide pools and explore the cove’s sea life.

In addition to the cove, Glacier Bay has two rugged trails that are a must to visit. The Bartlett River Trail curves along with the river where you will find various species of mushroom, red squirrels, seals, salmon, or black bear. The Bartlett Lake Trail, which branches off of the River trail, is just as breathtaking, and takes you through temperate rainforest.

We hope you enjoyed our list of incredible photography sites around Gustavus. As always, feel free to contact us for more information. We would love to help you prepare for your visit!

Top Hiking Trails in Gustavus

A compiled list of the most scenic trail ways

Waking up in Gustavus is exciting when you know there are numerous trails around to explore. Whether you have a free day or a free afternoon, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the trails you don’t want to miss:

Nagoonberry Trail (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy (45 minutes – 2 hours)

IMG_0370_edited-2

Head on down to the Nagoonberry Trail for a leisurely 2 mile loop stroll through forest and meadows. This walk features flat topography and benches located at two scenic outlooks.

Did you know that Gustavus’s landscape is rebounding an average of 1.5 inches per year from the glacial retreat? With this rebound comes a new and inspiring type of ecosystem. The trail was created by the Nature Conservancy as an effort to preserve 4.5 miles of coastal wetlands along with essential plants, animals, and natural communities. Terrain includes mixed woodland, mature meadow, browsed willow, spruce forest, and drift logs that float ashore from the tides. The flowers and grasses in the meadow keep the spruce and other trees from establishing, while the high water table in the mixed woodlands keep spruce and cottonwood trees from thriving.

Flowers to admire include shooting stars, chocolate lilies, strawberries, cow parsnip, beach pea, angelica, and of course, the state flower, Forget-me-not. Various wildlife can also be spotted, such as moose, black bear, coyote, and porcupine. Young willows are a nice treat for moose! The mudflats often attract a diversity of birds, from sandpipers to dunlin, songbirds, sanderling, geese, and ducks.

Falls Creek (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Moderate (1.5 – 2.5 hours)

18671681_10154660323221527_3549052014488536707_o
Bandit at the Upper Falls

Just outside of the Bear Track Inn lies a hidden, magnificent waterfall. Falls Creek is part of a hydroelectric project created for the city of Gustavus. It uses a portion of the flow to generate electricity, directing a portion of the water through a 9,700 feet pipeline to a powerhouse generator. This project displays approximate 300,000 gallons of diesel fuel annually! (Source)

From our doorstep to the upper falls, it is around 1.5 miles one way. The trail is clearly marked and all gravel, however, there are one or two steep hills. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, head down to the lower falls and soak up an even grander view of Falls Creek. We suggest you bring water, and Bandit, of course. Bringing a lunch to eat at the picnic table overlook is optional.

Icy Strait Beach (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy (20 – 45 minutes)

The Bear Track Inn features a breathtaking view of the Icy Strait- and its only a short walk to the beach from out doorstep! Part road and part grassland, this hike is suitable for all. Enjoy looking for signs of wildlife in the mudflats, bird watching, or simply sit and take in the view.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Forest Loop Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Easy (30 minutes – 1 hour)

IMG_0920_edited-2We recommend this trail to stretch your legs after a long day on the Glacier Bay Day Boat Tour. At only 1 mile long, the trail begins and ends at the Bartlett Cove dock. Pass through hemlock-spruce forest while listening to the sounds of Alaska’s wildlife. Peak bird migrations are in May and June, while June and July is great for wildflowers. Guided walks are also available at certain times, and are lead by Glacier Bay Park Rangers.

 

Bartlett River Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Moderate (4 – 5 hours) 

The Bartlett River Trail is 5 miles round trip full of muddy terrain, numerous stumps, and small inclines. The trail is not maintained and is as wild as it comes! Meander along inter-tidal lagoons and through the forest until you reach the Bartlett River. Here, you can spot duck, geese, and sometimes seal. Salmon run up the river in the later part of summer. This spot is also great for stream fishing during peak seasons. We suggest you wear rubber boots and rain gear, and bring water.. Taking a picnic lunch is optional.

Bartlett Lake Trail (Glacier Bay NP)

Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult  (7 – 8 hours)

BLTBranched off the Bartlett River Trail is the Bartlett Lake Trail. This magnificent trail is 6 miles round trip and is even more wild than the River Trail. With non-maintained trails, it is vital to stay on the visible pathway. Travel through the temperate rain forest and hike through moss-covered boulders or lichen-covered trees. We suggest you wear rubber boots and rain gear, and bring water as well as a lunch.

 

Back Country or Off-Trail Hiking (Glacier bay NP)
Difficulty Level: Moderate to Difficult 

Back-country hiking is also an option, however, most guests only pursue this if they are camping in the park. As always in the forest, there are steep slopes, massive threes, impenetrable alder, and a chance of running into Alaskan wildlife. Do at your own risk! (Source)

Gustavus Plane Crash (Gustavus, AK)

Difficulty Level: Easy

Gustavus has a few hidden spots, and the plane crash site is no exception. This easy, 1/4 mile hike is located on Mountain View Road near Glacier Bay National Park. In November of 1957, a military, twin-engine Douglas C-47 crashed during an attempt to land for refueling during a home bound flight to Anchorage. There were four men killed, and seven survived. Take in the history and give a few moments of silence as you view this incomprehensible scene. Be sure to ask for our pamphlet,  The Complete 1957 Gustavus Plane Crash Story written by Rita Wilson, explaining the historical significance of this site, or read about it here.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.