The Elusive Spirit Bear
Late at night I was awakened by the sound of rain. It was pounding down on the deck of the sailboat, which was about six inches above my nose as I lay in my bunk. Then I heard the wind and felt the boat swing into the gale as the anchor chain snapped taut, and I thought Uh-oh.
The boat was in a secure anchorage and was in no danger. But the reason Apex Expeditions had chartered the vessel and the reason the 13 of us were aboard was to try to see the elusive spirit bear, a legendary, half-mythical white bear that inhabits, in very small numbers, certain remote pockets of the coastal rainforests of British Columbia. We were to make our first attempt the following morning.
This storm was not good news. The salmon run, which was the reason the bears might be on the creek we would be searching, was very poor this year. The area had been in a state of drought …until now. This heavy rain would cause the creek to rise, perhaps to flood, almost instantly, and would flush out the few salmon that were still trying to reach their spawning grounds.
As we slogged up the trail along the swollen creek in ankle-deep water, rain drumming on our hoods, I doubted we would see a bear of any color that day. We took our places in the viewing stand and I set up my Swarovski Optik scope. We waited, watching the creek rise.
After an hour, most of the group had sunk into a kind of glum reverie. I scanned with my binoculars for the hundredth time—and then, as I lowered them, I caught something out of the corner of my eye, something…white.
Well upstream from our position, a massive cedar log had fallen across the creek, forming a natural bridge. And on it stood a spirit bear, pale and ethereal in the rain, looking our way.
Suddenly everyone was in motion. Camera lenses swung up, cold hands fumbled for binoculars, and I sprang for the scope. I knew some of the group didn’t have adequate binoculars, and would need the help of some good optics to see the animal well. One of the strangest creatures I had ever seen filled my view. I started to usher those who were having a hard time getting a satisfying look over to the eyepiece. We had done it.
Sometime in the night the rain let up, and I slept much better.
About the Author:
Kevin Clement is a founder of Apex Expeditions and works full-time guiding ecotourism and adventure travel trips on all seven continents. Kevin has served as the Denali Foundation instructor for natural history and as a trainer for the Park’s staff of naturalists. For several years he worked with the sled dogs of Denali National Park, rebuilding sleds in the summer and patrolling in the winter. As a Certification Instructor for the Wilderness Education Association he led month-long outdoor leadership courses under the auspices of the University of Alaska. He has lived in several other national parks and has guided groups in whitewater rafts, on cross-country skis, by sled dog, and on foot, earning certifications in scuba diving, swiftwater rescue, and wilderness medicine, as well as a Coast Guard Master’s license. Most recently he’s been coordinating and leading sea kayaking excursions in South Georgia, Antarctica and the Arctic. And as he always has, he still draws and paints. His first career was as an illustrator, and his work has appeared in various juried art shows, several times winning juror’s or people’s choice awards. He never travels without his sketchbook. Or his sense of humor.
More about Apex Expeditions: www.apex-expeditions.com
Text and photos © Kevin Clement