About 50 miles from the city of Campbell River, British Columbia is Bute Inlet, one of the deepest fjords in the province, accessed via the Inside Passage Seaway enriched with glacial waters running from the distant Homathko Ice Fields.
Rich in nutrients, this flow infuses the Orford River system with cold waters favored by chum and coho salmon. Narrow creeks and rocky shoals define the birthplaces to which they return for spawning each fall, attracting attention from both sightseers and predators – particularly grizzly bears.
Hurricane Jack Adventures
There’s no better way to view giant grizzlies bulking up for the winter than with a guided tour led by locals who know the area and know the animals. Hurricane Jack Adventures in Campbell River was our stop, with seven- to eight-hour Grizzly Bear tours, among other wildlife adventures.
Captain “Hurricane” Jack Springer presided over the sealed-hull aluminum boat voyage up into Bute Inlet and the system of fjords and inlets leading to our destination, the traditional territory of the Homalco Nation. While he possessed notable experience, each maneuver made in the water was guided by fresh, moment-by-moment observations and a steady hand.
Homalco First Nations Guides
After reaching the area dense with this year’s spawning salmon, our hosts by land were the Homalco First Nations people. Their ancestry has taught them to interact with the bears in a respectful, calm manner.
Quietly and persistently, we ventured inland. Once outside our vehicles, elevated observation towers and riverbank trails provided visual access to lone bears and family groups.
The Grizzly Bears
With intelligence behind their laser-focused eyes, the bears moved with a sense of resolve and discernment. These grizzlies displayed only the sense of a long winter quickly approaching, with no trepidation about human observance.
We methodically traversed an area of about 10 square miles to follow the bears’ movements as they stalked salmon shimmering in the pristine water, meals preferred for their protein and rich fat. Maximum calories ingested for minimal effort was the bears’ goal.
What is it like to stand less than 30 yards from such a creature? The sensation had little to do with fear. A sense of awe was present, but also a greater sense of understanding, a glimpse of the order and purpose in all things, the rightness of this place and time.
The Return Voyage
While plying through converging ocean tides, vast vortexes opened, spinning like tornadoes in the water. To our pleasure, some sea lions were playfully spinning with the powerful current while their fellow colony members lolled about on huge boulders.
Eagles appeared on tall, dead trees on both banks. Seals threaded narrow passages as they followed our boat back toward Campbell River, the tide’s push and pull held in abeyance by the throaty engines and sure rudders of the sturdy craft.
With every turn of the propeller, it became apparent to those on the boat that forces were at work that defied man’s ability to contain them. And for that reason, among many, the Bears of Bute Inlet must keep catching fish.