Bears in Alaska
By: Christopher Nour
I was 22 the first time I experienced ‘fear’.
We can all say we’ve experienced fear at various stages in our lives. Whether it be the fear of failing an exam or subject, a fear of failure, a fear of breaking the law or general phobias such as a fear of heights. In my 22 years on this Earth I have experienced all of these. From failing an exam, to having a police car pull me over for mobile phone use or speeding. I believed that I had experienced the full spectrum of human emotions by the time I had reached the age of 22! How very wrong I was. This is how it started:
There is always a sense of adventure within me, fuelled by my willingness to explore the unknown and my ‘risk taking nature’, as I’m told by my family and friends. This brings us to a 24 kilometre hike to two of the most gorgeous lakes in all of Alaska – Eagle Lake and Symphony Lake. I began my hike just after midday leaving my car in the parking lot. I brought my tent, sleeping bag and pad, a stove, cookware, food, water, camera and drone. All packed! And so my hike began. Along the way I passed numerous people, around twenty to thirty, all heading back to the car park. No one seemed to be going in my direction, which lead me to believe that I would have the lakes to myself. That’s good I guess, right? What could be better than spending a night in this serene wild? After crossing 3 bridges, walking through mud, resting on several rocks, snacking on lots of beef jerky and crossing a painful, …….NO!,…. horrendous granite boulder field capable of breaking your knees and ankles like twigs of wood; I made it to the most perfect little island that would be my home for the next 12 hours.
I arrived steaming hot having lugged two backpacks, and the mental battle I was going through to make it there and not just quit was exhausting! I decided for the quick setup option which consisted of my tent being put up as bare as possible (to allow a nice breeze to enter). I quickly filled up the pot with water and brought it to a quick boil to cook my all time, nutritious and extremely healthy “Mac n Cheese”. I ate, had some more beef jerky, some PowerAde and packed my food away in my dry bag. Now ‘101’ to camping in Alaska is to NEVER, EVER, EVER, EVER!!! Sleep with ANY food, or scented items (including sunscreen, lotions etc). This is to prevent bears coming into your tent looking for food. I continued to carry my dry bag containing my food and scented items some 200 meters away from my camp site. DONE! Time for bed!
I quickly ripped off my hiking boots and sweat dripping socks and went in for bed at 9pm. I brought my Bluetooth speakers, Satellite phone and Bear spray with me into the night. Oh what a peaceful sleep it was. 10pm, 11pm, 12pm, 1am, 2am…
At 2am in the dead of the night, I awoke to the sound of beautiful crashing waves on the lake that I’m literally inches away from (remember it’s an island that my tent is set up on). As I lay on my sleeping mat contemplating what a serene experience it is to be camping alone, with no one for at least 12km’s and the sounds of these crashing waves, I start to consider how these waves are occurring. I begin to register what is happening…
I am sleeping on a lake! There is a little wind but not enough for the waves to be splashing this much… I prop myself up onto one elbow and listen harder. I hear something running… Something big is running through the water, causing these waves… I can feel its weight through the blown up air that I’m lying on… I hear the sounds Tsh Tsh Tsh Tsh, as the running object comes to a stop, and then the undoubted sound of a fish splashing on the surface of the water. As I lay there wondering, No!, not wondering, but furiously thinking about what on earth is outside, I confirm the worst thought that can enter any campers mind.
There is a bear. Probably a Grizzly bear (due to the size), 10 feet from my tent – fishing!
All of a sudden there is an enormous grunting and snorting sound that fills the mountains surrounding me.
And then the sound of a beast filling its lungs with litres of air fills me with fear.
What do I do?!?
My heart is pounding against my chest, through my fingers and my ear drums. For a few moments I mistake my beating heart for the bears coming towards me!
“Fight or Flight” instincts take control of me and I choose flight instantly. But where would I run to? I am 12 km’s away from my car, and that’s not a direct path, I must go across rivers, boulders the size of small cars, through mud and past more bears, deers, wolves and all other creatures that walk this earth. There was nowhere to seek protection. If I jump into the lake and swim into the middle I will either die from severe hypothermia (a glacial lake is between 1 to 5 degrees Celsius) or from the bear swimming after me (bears are tremendous swimmers). I remember the satellite phone I have and whip it out putting it into the SOS mode. If I press ONE button the US Coast Guard, Police or Ranger will be here by helicopter. But I haven’t been attacked! And this will surely take time and communication must occur before they decide to come. I decide to ditch the SOS button in fear of being a laughing stock in Alaska and in Australia for the news headline “Australian hiker rescued by helicopter due to bears in camp”.
I stay frozen in the position listening to the bear continuing to fish inches away now from my tent. I’m stopped mid-thought by the sounds that I’ve been hearing for the past 15 minutes on my left, suddenly occurring on my right.
There were two Bears on either side of my tent now! The sounds had doubled! More splashing, more running, and heavier breathing and snorting.
FOR THE FIRST TIME in 22 years I felt a new emotion. Something I have never experienced before. I’m frozen in my tent, trembling, my head about to explode with ideas of how I was going to die. Trying to cry but unable to bring tears out, I prepare myself for my death. I quickly beg the Lord to forgive me and my never ending sins, the big and the small, afraid to be refused heaven for forgetting the smallest details! I bargain with the Lord telling him if he were to keep me alive I would fix the wrongs and do good! I apologise to my parents and brother for what I will put them through and for being in this situation. After having taken care of the important stuff, I think of how the martyrs are sent off when death is imminent – anything to bring peace to me. I try and remember any hymns from church to sing to myself. However none come to mind… except for “My Coptic Church”.
As I ever so slowly put my head back to the floor in fear of making too much noise that the bears come, I start to sing “My Coptic church” silently. I can only remember the first 2 verses and the harmoniously simple tune. So I start to improvise and make up my own verses praising the Lord and his Church. I don’t know how but 1 hour later I fall asleep; too tired from the hike and the mental battle I had just competed in.
I open my eyes! Its daylight! I get out of the tent and walk to where hours before two adult Grizzly bears were standing, each weighing between 250 to 400kg and capable of tearing me limb to limb. I thanked the Lord ever so much for granting me to survive and to live. I walk back some 3 kilometres and find two campers who were camping out with their dogs. As I see humans I feel like embracing them with a hug!
I had been given another chance. I had to fulfil my promises!
The Lord watched over me!