By John Scarth
Bears are a familiar sight to most Whistler residents. They probably have made a mess if you left any garbage outdoors, and might even have entered your home. This happened to me once, and knowing I was sleeping behind the next door to be pushed open if the bear was still curious, I was definitely not enjoying being that close!
However, photographing wildlife is something that has always interested me, so when a friend told me about the bears of Hyder, Alaska and that it’s a safe and relatively easy way to view grizzly bears, I was sold.
The trip brought us north from Whistler, over the Duffey Lake Road and up towards Prince George. From there we headed west up through Smithers and to the Junction of Kitwanga. This is where you either head north to Alaska or towards the coast and Prince Rupert. Our destination was north to Stewart, B.C., where a friend owns and operates the Stewart Mountain Lodge. Stewart is a port town, at the head of the Portland Canal, with heavy ties to mining and logging and it has seen its share of ups and downs.
Once settled, we familiarized ourselves with the local watering hole in preparation to go bear viewing the next morning. Hyder is less than five minutes outside of Stewart and welcomes you with a western-style main street, with shops reminiscent of a gold rush era.
The bear viewing area is located three miles north of Hyder on the Salmon River Road, at a creek named very simply, Fish Creek. The creek hosts chum and pink salmon runs from early July through September. The elevated deck of the platform runs over 100 metres down the creek, and is backed on one side by a small lagoon. This is where we were to spend most of the days over the next week. Photographers and wildlife enthusiasts flock to this area every summer, due to the fact it is the only place to view grizzlies without boarding a float plane or boat. For a seven day pass, I paid only $20, which would have worked out to about 25 cents a bear.
Both grizzly and black bears are common in the area, but the grizzlies definitely run the place. The Latin name for a grizzly, Ursus Horribilus, doesn’t do much for the stigma attached to them. It’s easy to understand why they got the name when you see one standing over seven feet tall and weighing 700 pounds.
In the time spent at the platform we were able to see about five or six bears regularly, with some new faces every once in a while.