By Mike Mannelin, Explorebigsky.com Columnist

On the first of three trips loaded with food,
lumber and supplies, we landed the bush plane
on the gravel airstrip. The ice on Bear Lake had
disappeared a few days before, allowing my wife
Erin and I to finally be able to get to work in the
river. We spent the next day and a half installing
the weir.
We put 21 large wooden tripods in a line crossing
the river. In front of them, we placed aluminum
panels that allow water to get through, but stop
the salmon. We set up two gates for the fish to go
through, allowing us to monitor the number of
sockeye that make it up to the lake to spawn each
summer. After the crew left the cabin started to
feel like home again.

The mountains surrounding the lake were still
white with snow down to about 500 feet above
the water. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. On
a sunny day after work, I packed up my ski gear,
some bear spray, a 12-gauge shotgun and a twoway
radio. My dog Ivan led the way as we headed
to the closest peak to see if I could make some
turns.

I walked down to the weir to cross the river, and
then hiked across a mile-and-a-half of
flat tundra to reach the first climb. To
let the bears know we were around,
I talked to Ivan the whole way, and
made up songs as I walked. The last
thing I wanted to do was surprise a
sow with cubs.

I was eager to get my skis and boots
off my back and onto my feet, but it
took about two hours to get to the
snowy ridge that would take me
toward the peak. The Bering Sea came
into view behind me as I climbed.

I skinned for a couple more hours
before reaching the nearest summit,
an unnamed 3,220-foot mountain
separating King Salmon River from
Bear River, and halfway between the
Pacific Ocean and the Bering Sea.
I crossed a couple sets of caribou
tracks, and Ivan chased after a martin
scurrying across the snow. I hadn’t
seen a bear the whole way up, and
all the tracks I saw in the snow
had melted a little, indicating they
weren’t fresh.

At the top, I sat down to pull my
skins off of my skis and start my
descent back toward the cabin. It was
perfectly silent. No wind, no birds
chirping—just me, Ivan and the skin
track that looked as if it faded into the
ocean.

On the way down Ivan and I raced
toward the ocean over nice, consolidated
corn snow. He stayed in my
tracks, grinning through each turn,
just like me.

At the edge of the snow, we bushwhacked
through alder brush, which
is bears’ favorite hangout. I started
singing and yelling and talking to
Ivan again as I traded my skis and
boots for the comfort of my neoprene
XtraTuf’s.

Once out of the alders and back to the
tundra, I spent a couple hours following
bear trails back towards the river
where I could cross the weir. By then,
my legs were so tired I just trudged
along, fighting to stay upright
through the lumpy, mossy terrain.

Sometime around 11 p.m. I returned
home and lit a fire in the banya
(Alaskan sauna). After soaking up
the steam, I stepped out to the river
to cool off and watched as the sunset
cast a golden path on the water, disappearing
below the horizon downstream.

Mike Mannelin is a skier with roots in
Minnesota, Montana and Alaska. He
gains his inspiration in life by spending
time in the mountains with friends.