Many folks have been asking what conditions are like on our adventure. Common questions have included “What about bears?”, “What do you do when it rains?”, and “Does the sun ever go down?”. So we’ve added this page to describe what things are like for us.
As the forest ranger on the ferry that brought us up from Canada said, “If you don’t want to be in bear country, too late you’re already there. The second you step off this boat you’re in their territory.” Stories are told of bears wandering into the grocery store in Ketchikan – the automatic doors work for bears too! There are two kinds of bears in the inside passage – black bears and brown (grizzly) bears. Since black bears can be brown and vice-versa, people have lots of helpful hints to help tell the difference. One expert is quoted as saying, “Climb a tree and if the bear climbs up after you it’s a black bear. If it knocks the tree over it’s a brown bear” (moral of the story, don’t climb a tree). Other experts will describe the claws in detail. The easiest way to tell the difference is in the shape of the nose and the back. The brown bear has a curved face/nose area, a hump at the shoulders, long claws and shaggy (or grizzly) fur. The black bear has an abrupt transition from the face to the nose, no hump, short claws and a smooth coat. There are no polar bears down here, they live in the far, far north in the same neighborhood as the Eskimos.
“Statistically” speaking, most bear attack victims are either hunters carrying out deer meat on their backs or photographers who get too close. Even though we’re not planning on doing either of these high risk activities, it’s important to be safe because a startled bear can be a dangerous bear. The first rule when hiking is to make noise. Bears don’t want to see us anymore than we want to see them. If you make noise as you’re hiking the bears should hear you and run away. A lot of people hang “bear bells” on their packs to make noise. Most experts say that the bells aren’t loud enough to be effective and that you should speak loudly and clap your hands or break sticks (Stacie tends to say “Hey bear”, Dave prefers “Hey bearsy, bearsy, bearsy”). In the event you do run into a bear, the best thing to do is speak softly with your hands above your head (to look bigger) and slowly back away. You should never run away because like a dog, a bear will chase something that runs away and the bear is faster. The bear should at that point go away or you will back away far enough to be safe. In the event that the bear charges you it is best to take an aggressive stance and shout firmly (black bears are known to do a false charge, stopping 10 feet from you and then wandering off). If you do get attacked, it’s best to lay on your stomach, feet spread with your hands clasped behind your neck. If the attacker is a black bear you should fight back (they say hitting them in the nose works well), if it’s a brown bear, play dead and it will go away after checking you out.
We are actually at greater risk of having a bear trash our campsite looking for food and hurt us in the process. So we have to maintain a bear safe campsite which means putting anything that is or smells like food (including garbage, the stove and the grill) somewhere that they can’t get it (if everyone does this the bears learn that even though they smell food, they’ll never get it). This is where the cabinets come in – they are bear proof (unless they learn to pick locks). It also means having our cooking area and food storage away from the tent area so that if a bear does come through the campsite it beats up on the cabinets and not us sleeping in the tent. This is why we always set the cabinets up away from the tent and break down the stove and grill after each meal and put them away. We also have to be careful with dirty laundry – if something smells like food a bear will try to find it so all laundry and dish towels are stored in the truck. It’s a pain to do all this, but we’re sure even a scratch from a bear hurts more.
Rain is a regular event here – just about daily. After all we are in a temperate rain forest (tropical rain forests have big trees, colorful birds, cute monkeys and Tarzan – temperate rain forests have big trees, plain birds, scary bears and slugs) The prevailing weather is overcast with either a light mist in the air or the threat of light mist. Heavy rain and thunderstorms like we have on the East Coast are rare -we just get waves of light rain followed by mist. Every few days it will clear and there will one sunny day or afternoon. Like everyone else here we’ve quickly learned to deal with it. Put on your rain suit, hat and boots and you’re ready to go. If we’re kayaking we use our skirts (a water proof kilt that goes around the cockpit of the kayak with a hole in the middle that can be tightened around your waist) to keep water from getting inside the boat and on our legs. The wind proof pullovers we wear while kayaking are also water proof and they keep our arms and bodies dry.
Yes. While we are very far north, we’re not above the artic circle (that dotted line on the globe near the top) so the sun does set here. We are near the eastern edge of the Alaska time zone (4 hours behind the east coast) so the “sunset” happens around 9:30. But, just like at home there is a kind of twilight after sunset. Back home it doesn’t last very long but here it can stay light enough to see until 11:30. If the clouds are thick it gets darker earlier. Actual pitch black you need a flashlight starts around midnight and runs until about 2:00 or 2:30 depending on clouds. The predawn light follows and “sunrise” is at around 4:30. This odd light pattern hasn’t really affected us much – we’re usually pretty tired by bedtime (around 10:00) and fall asleep quickly. The only weird part is when you wake up in the middle of the night because someone else is snoring and it’s daylight out. But you go over and whack the snoring person with a pillow and fall back asleep. The one nice thing is that if you want to squeeze in an outdoor activity because the weather is nice there’s no problem. Where else can you launch kayaks at 5:00 pm and not worry about getting caught in the dark?
Not really. The Inside Passage is on the water which moderates the climate. Even in winter the temperature rarely gets below 20 degrees and most days are above freezing. During the summer the brochures talk about high temps in the mid 70’s but that’s a little optimistic. We’ve been experiencing high temperatures in the low 60’s with nighttime lows around 45 degrees. There have been some warmer days and some cooler nights, but nothing unbearable.