Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Salmon Glacier & Fish Creek Bear Viewing – Hyder Alaska

Salmon Glacier near Hyder Alaska

Salmon Glacier is actually in British Columbia, but to get to the viewing site is in B.C. you have to go through Hyder Alaska to get to it…and you have to drive along an 18 mile gravel road…and we all know how Marcia enjoys those bumpy gravel roads.  But when you say something like, “You know Marcia, Karen and Tony drove it in their motorhome (Rolling in a RV - Wheelchair Traveling), well, Marcia was all in for the drive.  And overall, it was probably a 7 or 8 out of 10 for a gravel road…just a few real bumpy places, and we drove it in our HHR.  (ps-Thanks Karen for reminding me that you had driven up there!)

Salmon River north of Hyder

Running along the road from Hyder to the Fish Creek Bear Viewing area is the Salmon River, a braided stream that flows down to the Portland Canal and into the Pacific Ocean.  Hyder was first called Portland, but the US Postal Service told the community that there were too many towns called Portland and that they needed a unique name because “if” they (US Postal Service) made a “rare” mistake and sent a letter to Portland Alaska instead of Portland Oregon, the person who is expecting the letter “might” get it a few months later than expected.  Hence, they named the town Hyder after Frederick Hyder, a Canadian mining engineer who saw great potential for the small little community.  From Hyder to the Fish Creek Viewing area the road is nicely paved.

Salmon River Valley north of Hyder

Although the road to Salmon Glacier is gravel, it is a pretty drive, with just a few, what Marcia would call, “steep” areas and “sharp” turns.

Salmon River Valley north of Hyder     Salmon River Valley north of Hyder 

Salmon River Valley north of Hyder

Those three pictures above show just how scenic the area is.  That is the Salmon River running down toward Hyder and the sea.  At this point we are about 2 miles from the viewing area, 16 miles from the Fish Creek Viewing area, and 20 miles from Hyder.  And when I turn around and take a picture the other way…

Salmon Glacier near Hyder Alaska

…there is the “toe” of Salmon Glacier.

Salmon Glacier near Hyder Alaska

A little further up the road I get this panoramic of the glacier…about a half mile from the viewing area.

Salmon Glacier near Hyder Alaska

From the view point you get a good look of the glacier to the West. It seems to go on and on for miles.  The brown marks in the glacier are natural markings from when it rains, the water runs down off the slopes of the mountains and out on the glacier.  As you can see, the slopes are dirt, and the dirt mixes with the water and runs out on to the ice of the glacier.  The harder it rains, the further out into the glacier the water goes.  Where the heavy brown lines are, that is the water level for most rains, so it gets dirtier.  Although some of the marks look like they were from vehicles, I was told by the local expert…who was up there selling his eight books and numerous postcards…that there have been no vehicles out on the ice.  He also said that under the ice is a river…the Salmon River, and showed me a postcard of under the ice bed. 

Salmon Glacier near Hyder Alaska

Just to the north on the glacier is this lake.  It freezes each year, and it forms an ice dam, which when melted causes a huge rush of water down the Salmon River to the south.

Helicopters flying over Salmon Glacier viewpointNorth of the lake the road continues…but only if you have special permission.  A copper mine, the Granduc Mine, is a few miles north of here.  They are putting in another mine, which requires more power…and there is heavy activity in putting in new power lines up to this area.  The peaceful view point was constantly interrupted by helicopters flying to and from the area as they work to put in the power poles.  In the picture to the left you can see on just above the rock headed south, and one headed north at the top of the picture.

Salmon Glacier viewpoint

Other than a pair of outhouses, and a few benches, this information board is all that is at the view point…and of course, the local history expert selling his books and postcards.


Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site     Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site

Fish Creek Wildlife Observation SiteWe stopped at the fish viewing area on our way back from Salmon Glacier.  The ranger told us that prime viewing time is 6 -10 pm -- it was now 5.  We decided to go home, eat, and feed the dogs (Skruffy has to eat between 7:30 and 8 to maintain a proper blood sugar level.)   Got back at 8 pm, and missed one bear which came through at 6:15.  At 9:30 we gave up.  They had not had very many bear sightings in the mornings, so we slept in and went back around 10 am.  Two sets of bears had come through in the early morning…just our luck.  We decided to go and come back at 5…but then Marcia decided to send me alone so I got back at 4:30…stayed till just after 7:30, no luck. 

Salmon Spawning at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site

There were LOTS of Salmon, Chum Salmon.  A ranger said that in another week or two the “Reds” would be coming through too…he thought he saw a few earlier in the day.  The Chum Salmon in Fish Creek and other streams near Hyder are 3-5 years old.  In most streams where Chum spawn, they are 3-4 years old…but in Hyder they are 3-5 years old…no one knows why.

Salmon Spawning at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site

When the Chum starts turning white like this one above, they are near death.  On their trek up the river, they have lost some of their protective scales and oils…and they get infected.  The upper fin, which looks like something took a bite out of it, has been bitten by another Chum.  Males fight with males, females fight with females.  This, I think, is a male.  The males are more colorful, their mouth is more deformed now that they are spawning, and the females have a black streak along their sides.

Dead Salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site     Dead Salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site

The birds take care of the dead fish…soon, said the ranger, there will be lots and lots of birds.  We did see a couple of eagles the first night, but none the next day.  There were many more fish the second day, and there were at least 2-3 times more dead fish by 5 pm on the second day too.

Dead Salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site     Dead Salmon at Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site

The bears typically grab a fish, take it to the shore, eat the skin and eggs, and go for the next fish.  If they are “lazy”, they will go after the dead fish…and there are a bunch of dead fish down stream.   That last evening that I was there alone, as I watched, as I smelled the stench of death, I decided to pen the following on my kindle, which I brought to help pass the time.

Eyes searching left, right, center, behind...hundreds of eyes looking for the great beast to appear.  The smell of death abounds as Salmon, which have expended all the energy that they have, float until beached, until the birds take all that they can have, yet they too cannot finish the feast, so the rotting begins. 
Salmon which still cling to life fight for that special place to lay or fertilize future life for future generations.  And to think that like the ever changing climate, like the waves of a sea, like leaves which fall from trees...this aspect of God's creation is just as mighty, just as special, just as imperative as all of his creations.  The spawning brings future life, the death feeds bears, wolves, birds, the rot puts nitrogen into the soil producing stronger trees nearby.
But I have had enough of death…I nearly lost my little Skruffy just weeks ago, I will someday (not too soon I hope) experience the loss of parents, of other loved ones…even little Skruffy.  I have faced death before with the loss of dear friends from work, of many aunts and uncles, and of course, grandparents.  It is never easy...but it too is part of God's great plan.
I am thankful for this place, but I choose to enjoy the memories of seeing bears as we have, romping along rivers, eating flowers and berries, standing up to approaching cars, cubs playing with each other…and not see bears causing more death, no matter how natural it is.

One thing I want to add about Fish Creek.  I had envisioned a creek which had elevation changes to it…that we would see fish swimming and jumping up stream, and bears trying to catch them as they did…I think most of us have seen pictures of this.  I was surprised to see such a shallow, calm creek, one which had so many fish.  I estimate that from what you can see from the boardwalk above, there were 700+ Salmon in the waters below.  The creek runs for 4 miles with many areas like this.  And on the back side of the boardwalk is another stream, with a small lake, and Salmon will also be passing through there in a few weeks.   Female Chum Salmon lay their eggs in the same stream as their mothers, sometimes within a few feet from where their mother laid her eggs.  Both male and female die after they spawn, although males can spawn with more than one female. 


  1. I'm glad that you guys drove up the road and saw Salmon Glacier. It really is amazing! And it looks like you had great weather! It was kind of fogged it when we were there.

    We didn't see any bears either. It's funny that the place that's promoted as a good place to see the bears is so bear free. :-D

    1. We were lucky with the nice day at Salmon Glacier. The "historian" up there (use the term loosely, but he has written something like eight books) said that 50% of the time it is overcast and raining.

      As for the bears...funny we saw Mt. Denali twice, and many people don't see it at all, yet we only saw three bears while in Alaska, and that was a mama and two cubs running across the river in Haines far away from us.


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