Katmai Scratch Fever

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I’m not a big sightseeing guy. Take me to one of the many wonders of the world, and I’ll give it the Full Griswold, taking it in briefly, nodding my head and moving on. It’s not that I don’t appreciate them – indeed, I do – but I’m an impatient tourist.

Sometimes, though, even if you don’t linger you can still be amazed at how impressive a manmade or natural sight can be. I’m sure in the former category the Great Wall of China, the pyramids and the Taj Mahal would fit the bill. In the latter group, the Great Barrier Reef, the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest would probably knock my socks off.

If any or all of those are too far for you, or don’t get your adrenaline flowing, you really need to get on the next plane to Alaska – especially if you fish. If you don’t fly for some reason, you can even drive there, although it’ll take the better part of a few days from even the closest spots in the U.S. Take my advice, Sally: pop a Xanax and get on the big bird.

Even the short two-hour drive from Anchorage to Seward was remarkable, with wildlife and tide pools and snow-covered mountains all around us. Once out of Resurrection Bay and into the North Pacific, where we saw more orcas than boats, it got even more surreal and more amazing. Nevertheless, from a purely “did you see that?!?” perspective, nothing beat Katmai National Park. Our two days there were remarkable, but if we’d had to choose just one part, it would be the Brooks Falls section. You may not have been there, but you’ve likely seen it – if you’ve ever viewed footage of bears on a waterfall swatting at salmon, there’s about a 99.9% chance it was filmed there. As impressive as it might be on TV, it’s a hundred times better in person.

Of course, we were fishing a quarter mile downstream, and we could watch all the action. Meanwhile, plenty of bears going to or coming from the falls passed right by. After a half hour, it just became the new normal. Once in a while we had to move out of the way, or even break off a fish, but most of the time we all just chilled and did our own thing. If I hadn’t been there myself, I wouldn’t have believed that we could coexist so harmoniously — a real-life “cats and dogs living together” scenario.

Even the bearlike Keith Combs, who prior to arriving at Katmai expressed a decided disinterest in being anywhere near ursus arctos, and considered a wealth of bear spray options and running shoes, declared it his favorite part of the trip and expressed an overwhelming desire to come back with his wife. It’s the type of thing that even an ADHD non-sightseer like me could watch for hours, and if you’re not going more than a few casts without a bite from a voracious salmon or trout, that makes it all that much more compelling.

Seriously, find a way to get there, but if for some reason you can’t then the livecam is the next best thing.