Hallo Bay Bear Camp

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We saw lots of bears, beautiful location, excellent guides! We stayed at Hallo Bay 4 nights and 5 days (Mon-Friday). Tried to give an overall review of the experience. Off to Hallo Bay: Got to Smokey Bay Air at 9:00 am and we are told to come back at noon. We then headed to Anchor Point for some fishing and moose site seeing. Just as husband was packing up his fishing, we got a call from Hallo Bay at 11:30 telling us to high tail it back to the airport for our flight. We arrived at the airport and met our pilot, Gary, and saw our little (and I emphasis little) plane that will take us to the bears.

The plane is a 6 seater with two of the seats being stuffed with baggage and the other four seats with people (Me, husband, Eunice and Gary). Because of the cloudy day, Gary took us up the coast from Homer, crossed over at a point where there is a fairly good size island (forget the name) and then took us down to Katmai National Park. This is the long way and adds about 30 minutes to our flight time which would normally be 1 hour. The flight over to Katmai is stunning with the clouds…I keep thinking I am in the movie, Lord of the Rings. As we approach Hallo Bay Camp, Gary takes us over some of the meadows and we see our first bears. Gary also asks Eunice to help him find the runway…she looks, points and he continues to play with her. You see, there is no runway, just a long stretch of sand to land on. We land (softly) and Fanny, the camp manager is there is greet us. At Hallo Bay, you can only bring the luggage you can carry and we are barely able to carry what we have (two duffels and two backpacks) through the sand and up to the point that begins the camp area.

The Camp:
Hallo Bay Camp consists of 6 large weather ports, two smaller ones, a galley and several staff ports which are situated behind the main camp area. There are two showers and two composting toilets located near the galley up on a large platform area. Showers have instant hot water and bathrooms are clean and don’t smell. We are taken to tent # 2. Each tent has cots with sleeping bags, pillows and sleeping bag liners. There is a large wooden table, a Coleman sink set up, a small, yet effective heater (it was 39 degrees one morning), a burner with a teapot (which came in handy for warm water to wash my face with each morning), a few hangers and a very ineffective battery powered Coleman lantern. Sparse, but better then sleeping in a real tent (my opinion, husband may disagree).

The galley has two large eating tables, the kitchen and the small office area. Since we are talking about the galley, let’s talk food. Let’s just say, you won’t starve. Breakfast consisted of eggs, potatoes, sometimes French toast, cereals, toast, bacon or sausage. One morning we even had biscuits and gravy. Breakfast was at 8 am each morning Lunch was very unassuming and was a sandwhich consisting of some kind of meat (ham, meatloaf from a previous nights dinner, etc.) some cheese and mayo. On our last day the new cook (more on that later) made chicken salad sandwiches, which we heard, were good but husband and I didn’t eat. See, I have this new rule after getting food poisoning in Africa last year. Any sandwich with mayo on it that gets stuck in a backpack for more then a few hours, does not get eaten. I could not imagine having to deal with food poisoning and composting toilets…makes me slightly woozy just thinking about it! But we didn’t starve; when you pick up your sandwiches in the morning, they have cookies, crackers, fruit, chips, granola bars, etc. also laid out for you to pick from, so we ate those. Dinner was meat…. usually (Ham, meatloaf, chicken, spaghetti), veggies, bread, and a starch such as mash potatoes and then dessert. There was tons and tons of food. Drinks consisted of tang, lemonade, ice tea, water, coffee and hot chocolate. If you want any alcohol you have to bring it yourselves. Dinners were at 5:00. Half way through our stay they hired a cook (Fanny, the camp manager was doing a fine job in the interim) and we thought his food was really good.

Schedule for the Days:
The typical schedule for the day was a hike out at 9am with a return back to camp at 4pm. Husband and I liked taking our shower when we returned at 4 since we didn’t have to wait on anyone. You have to bring your own towel (which never seemed to dry) and soap. After the shower, we went to the galley, looked at pictures, then had dinner and went back out at around 6:30 or 7. We usually came back to camp around 9:30pm.

Arrival Day:
On our first day, after arriving at bout 1:30, we settled into camp, did dinner and then went on our first hike. Symira, the owner of the camp, took us out for a great evening hike to the “Y”. The “Y” is about 1.5 miles down on the beach where the river dumps into the sea. We had about 5 in our group for this hike and saw many bears that evening including one of my now favorites, Audrey. Audrey is a stud of a bear…she is awesome at catching fish and we saw her catch 4 fish in a 20-minute time span. One day we saw her catch a flounder out of the surf…. she was amazing. We were joking at the end of the trip that Audrey needed to open here own school to teach the other bears to catch fish, because no other bear came even close to her skills. That first evening on our way back, Simyra asked us to sit on some logs as Audrey was approaching. The guides ask you to kneel or sit when bears are around, as standing is dominant and aggressive to the bears. So, we sat on a piece of driftwood and here comes Audrey. Audrey came strolling by about 10 feet from us. I personally stopped breathing as I pondered how fast Audrey could take us out of she wanted to…so much for thinking positive thoughts. Simyra had to stand in front of us, talk to Audrey and get her to move along. Audrey was not threatening us, she was just curious and wanted a closer look.

I have to say, while I was taken aback with how close she came, and my heart was pounding, I felt safe with Simyra. The other guide, Phil, and his group were a few pieces of driftwood over from us and Phil also had to stand up and move Audrey along. Did I mention she looks very big up close? Side note about what the guides carry: They carry no firearms and no bear spray. They carry flares with them as bears are afraid of fire. So if one comes to close and the guide needs to really get a bears attention, the flare will be used. We were told that in all the years that Hallo Bay has been in operation, only 4 times have flares been used. At first I was not sure I would feel safe with flares, but we did. Let’s chat a moment about Phil, our guide, who we spent the majority of our time with at Hallo Bay. As soon as we arrived via the plane on the beach, Phil came over to us and introduced himself. Phil was a great guy and very comfortable with bears. He had worked with Sloth Bears at a zoo in Florida for 5 years and has a great love of all animals. He had a great personality, didn’t mind having a client that didn’t follow directions very well (husband) and we actually left Hallo Bay with a friend for life.

He made sure all his clients were protected at all times and had great stories to tell us during our long hikes. Thanks Phil for an amazing experience! (Phil has lsince eft Hallo Bay) The first full day: The weather was cloudy and there was a light rain on and off. Phil decided we should hike over to the next bay to the mouth of Big River and see if we could see bears clamming. We headed down the beach, through Nancy’s trail which is a forest walk that comes out over a stunning bay. The mountains around the bay were lush green and the clouds hung over them. We could see bears off into the distance so headed for them. We found two smaller bears clamming and watched them for about 45 minutes. We continued to head for the river and could see more bears in the distance on the tidal flats. A note of the tides…….the change of tides was 20 feet each day.

The entire bay would empty out on low tide and then fill back up on high tide. We finally made it to the mouth of the river, looked for bears in the meadow (none) and had lunch. Did I mention how stunning the scenery was? I could have stayed all day in that one spot. After lunch we headed back walking on the beach and through some meadows. Saw Rosie and her cubs hanging out on the tidal flats and watched them for awhile. One of the cubs dug around the sand like he was looking for clams, but with no enthusiasm, while Rosie sprawled out on her back and the other cub slept curled up in a ball. As we were walking back on the beach, suddenly we saw a bear head pop up from behind some drift wood (and there is a ton of drift wood). We stopped and kneeled down and waited to see what he was going to do. You know what he did? He laid right back down and continued on with his nap. We walked around him and he did peer up from his spot and watched us awhile. Farther down the beach we found a large part of a pier that had washed up recently. Later in the evening we went to the “Y” and saw lots of bears. A mom and her young cub showed up along with Ted (the king bear with the dropping lip) and lots of other bears. The bears are very active during the evening hours and the lighting is just gorgeous.

Second Day:
There were only 3 of us with Phil this day, myself, husband and Eunice. We hung out at the “Y” and the tidal flats in front of the camp. Saw Ursula and Orso, Ted, Audrey catching more fish along with other miscellaneous bears. The evening proved to be the most exciting part of our trip. We were heading back to camp around 9:30pm and there were bears everywhere. The other group was ahead of us and we decided to sit on some driftwood as bears were in the path back to camp. As we came up the beach, Phil also decided it was time to sit and let the bears have space. Behind us, Ted was meandering up the beach. Ted came strolling past us within about 10 feet. At this time, I was whispering to Phil, “Phil, he is freaking me out, he is freaking me out.” Phil told me to stay calm and that bears can smell fear…..great….just what I needed to hear being that I was scared out of my mind. At about that time, Ted stopped, looked at us and took a step forward. Phil then stood and walked toward Ted and started talking to him. Ted stopped and then went on his merry way. Whew!

Third Day:
We hung out at the “Y for a while and watched Ursula and Orso for an hour or so. Ursula was fishing unsuccessfully and Orso was just being cute. Orso is about 2.5 years old. There were 7 in our group this day and we had a bit of a tense moment when Ursula walked to the meadow behind us and we all suddenly realized that we were now positioned between a mom and her cub. I was sitting in the back of the group, so I felt fairly safe. Orso, wasn’t sure if he wanted to cross by us, but eventually did and was VERY close. Another great moment in bear country. It was a glorious sunny day and we headed back to the bay via the bootleg. The tide went out at about 1:00 that day allowing us to walk around the large rock formation jutting out into the sea. It was a great walk with lots of tide pools and some fossils. Had a great lunch near the meadow (no bears) and again I could have spent the rest of the day lazing in the sun. We headed back to camp via a “shortcut” which really was through a bunch of bushed/trees, over some logs, but fun nonetheless. Back to camp for dinner and then out to the “Y” for the evening and our final bear viewing.

What to wear at Hallo Bay:
We wore our rain pants everyday since you just never knew where you might sit….tidal flats, wet grass, etc. Also had rain jacket. Brought hiking boats but never wore them. If you are going for a few days, I would invest in some rubber boots. They have them at the camp, but they don’t have a lot of arch support. Buy and bring your own…wish I had. Bring and wear lots of layers so you can peel off cloths should you get a sunny day. The wind can be strong and chilly at times. Also bring water proof gloves. I wore a baseball cap everyday to control my hair in the wind and to prevent rain on my face.

Other Stuff:
While we were there, a BBC crew of two was starting 30 days of filming for the sequel to Planet Earth at this time called “Life”. One had just come from the Congo filming the lowland Gorillas and the other came from Australia, I think. They were very funny guys and had some great stories and told us a little about their involvement in the filming of Planet Earth. I had read that there was some tension at the camp and that the guides were turning over but that did not deter me from going and it shouldn’t you either. The owner, Simyra, did not seem comfortable in her hosting duties as she did not introduce herself to us or our trail mate, Eunice, at any time. She did not greet us upon our arrival or say goodbye to us when we left. That seemed a little odd, especially after being in Africa last year and the entire camp greeted you and saw you off at the end of your stay. They do seem to run through guides and a long term employee, Dennis, had recently left, but I have to be honest, it did not detract from my experience and I have to say it was because we had a great guide, Phil, and all the Hallo Bay bears. Besides, I don’t know what the standard length of time of a guide is anyway…that could be the norm. That being said…just go!