Hyder, Alaska – Moaning glaciers and a hunting wobbly bear

Stewart Highway is another dead and and leads to the most southern corner of – one last time – Alsaka. We are passing Bear Glacier that lies photogenically on the opposite riverside. Stewart, British Columbia, has nothing to offer than a visitor centre and two small groceries where we can buy dried toast bread. The American border post in Hyder was given up since there is no connection at all to another Alaska or US territory. The harbour at Portland Canal, one of the world’s longest fjords, was put out of operation years ago. Hyder appears accordingly: abandoned. There is nothing than motels, bed & breakfasts, campgrounds, restaurants, and souvenir shops. Everything is not very inviting. There is just a road full of potholes. The gravel road continues for 50 km to an old copper mine, but there is still silver, titanium, and copper mining going on. Some kilometres behind Hyder the road crosses back to Canadian territory. Again you can spot the aisle that was cut into the forest to mark the border. In the same moment the road improves to a normal and maintained gravel road. The Mining Road wasn’t meant to be a touristic route but was laid out nicely anyway. It was carved into the mountain on one side of the valley, high above Salmon River, and leads to 1200 m elevation. Unfortunately there are regular rockfalls on the mountain side of the road, in-between chunks of several tons, and on the valley side there is no crash barrier. Then Salmon Glacier comes into sight, the world’s largest glacier that’s accessible by road. It is really impressive how Mining Road accompanies the winding “glacier highway” for several kilometres, before the glacier turns off into the mountains and disappears there somewhere. When a glacier flows downhill, horizontal grooves appear, dozens of metres deep crevices that create the impression a blue light glows in the inner glacier. We are completely alone up here, no noise is disturbing us: We want to hear the glacier. And really, when it moves, when it breaks, then it cracks, it creaks, and sometimes it moans as its back is aching.

On our way back we are stopping six kilometres in front of Hyder at the main attraction. Fish Creek is a small brook where grizzlies, black bears, golden and bald eagles untimely exit the migration of many salmon. Because more and more onlookers went to see this place in the past years, a long boardwalk was built, rangers supervise, and collect entrance fee. The early morning or the evening offer the best watching opportunities and we don’t have to wait long. An adult male black bear is stalking a group of fish. If the salmon spot the enemy they are well able to accelerate a couple of metres in the shallow water. They aren’t an easy prey. The bear is starting to move his autumnal cushions of fat and his wobbly tummy and is reaching a considerable final speed. Nevertheless only every second attack succeeds. If the bear snaps one of the gill animals it squirts its eggs in a high arch into the water. Since the brook is only shallow and slow, it only burbles quietly, and the following heart-rending sounds can be heard clearly. When the bear fixed the fish with his claws on land he hits his jaws below the head into the fish. His teeth scratch along the backbone until it breaks. The flesh rips loudly when the predator tugs at the filet. He repeats this with the other side, and head and bones are left. Then the fur animal starts to trot predating the next salmon to secure his own survival during hibernation.

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