Valdez, Alaska – A fishing bear

Approaching Worthington Glacier, clouds are crawling downhill. We can only see the terminal moraine and a piece of the glacier toe. You can reach this glacier that’s close to the road over a short trail, but the visibility is so bad, we skip this hike. From 816 m high Thompson Pass right after the glacier there shall be a magnificent view over mountains and woods – theoretically. The area is famous for bad weather with fog and rain and it preserves its honour. An even steep slope down to sea level brings us to Valdez. The 1287 km long oil pipeline, foundation-stone for Alaska’s prosperity, ends here. The pipe is owned by five oil companies and is said to be rotten and leaking. The parts presented to the visitor seem clean, nearly sterile. Also oil spill has disappeared completely. Major cleaning efforts and nature’s self-healing power did one last thing to wipe out the traces of the catastrophe.

In March 1989 supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef due to a navigational error. Nearly 41 million tons crude oil escaped from the leak, more than 200 km coastline were contaminated, and uncounted animals perished. Valdez gained a profit from the disaster: Thousands of helpers had to be accommodated and fed partially for years, fishermen were generously compensated, and eventually lucrative disaster tourism established. Oil spill might be gone, tourism stayed. Fishing is the big topic in Prince William Sound and the rivers. Even amateur anglers fish huge halibuts from the sea, and from rivers others pick out Coho salmons by the kilo. Such a salmon migration is nothing for sensitive natures. At low tide fishes crowd body to body in the remaining rivulets, during the already dead ones decay. The usually pugnacious seagulls stroll around the stinky fish cemetery with filled stomachs. They first peck the eyes of the still fluttering specimen. Then they try to open the belly to get to possibly remaining eggs.

In a brook where silver scaly anteaters crowd densely a huge black bear fishes. The big specimen amble along the water, just picks up a salmon, goes ashore, lies down, takes some delicious bites, and fetches the next fish again just to nibble it. What apparent nature’s waste. But the decomposing corpses will fertilize Valdez’s cold rainforest and help to new ample growth.

On the way back all clouds of the area gather together at Thompson Pass and visibility drops to below 50 m. Glacier and Wrangell – St. Elias Mountains can only be sensed. After Glenallen we take the Tok-Cut-Off named highway back to Alaska Highway.

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