I can’t swim. Growing up in Montana, swimming just wasn’t a priority. The lakes and streams spend half the year frozen solid, and the other half of the year they are icy cold. The summer was mostly spent honing my skills as a naturalist, hiking through the forest, keeping dry. So when faced with the daunting idea of kayaking the great Colorado River, I felt my life long fear of water shiver inside my soul. My responsibility as a presenter is to represent to the world to the best of my ability and to experience the adventure. To represent the Grand Canyon without including floating the Colorado would be impossible so I had to make a decision: why not tackle one of my biggest fears on international television in front of millions of viewers? Well, I can think of about a hundred good reasons not to.
I remember when I first saw it – the Colorado was as beautiful and majestic as advertised. Then, I heard it. A thunderous roar, destroying rock, and owning the earth. What the heck is it going to do to me? Rapids as tall as my house and whirlpools sucking everything into its depths like a black hole. I’m toast. If I wasn’t sweating from the already 90 degree temperatures, I was then.
Thankfully it all comes down to watercraft. National Geographic would certainly put me in a worthy vessel. Heck, I am the host of the show, they can’t afford to lose me! A sturdy iron-sided ship would certainly guide me safely down the river. Then I saw her. Small, Inflatable, and PINK! I’m dead. Yep, this river rookie, no swimming, scaredy-cat, was about to take on one of the most notorious rivers in the world – in a hot pink, blow-up kayak! YIKES!
Trembling enough to register on the Richter scale, I strapped on my helmet, grabbed my paddle, and slipped off the shore into the water. I picked a calm area in the river for building confidence and some instruction from a guide. After a few clumsy hours, I got down the basics, and now it was time to face a little whitewater. Nervous, I edged toward the rapids, my guide rooting me on. The river took control, and I desperately tried to take it back. Clinching the paddle with my life, I frantically tried to maneuver the boat. I awkwardly made it through the rapid, and found myself in total fatigue. Using muscles I have never used before coupled with intense fear and anxiety. I hadn’t paddled a mile and I was already done kayaking on this trip.
For the next couple days we picked our way through the canyon, taking moments to gain some kayaking skill. With a significant amount of time spent, I was feeling only slightly more confident but what I faced next took all that away and then some. It’s called Bridge Canyon Rapid, and our guide Scotty told me it would be the biggest rapid we would encounter on our trip. We pulled out above the rapid to make camp. I walked to the shoreline and stared. It was gnarly and the wave train smashed right into a cliff wall near the bottom. This was all of my nightmares coming true. I needed to back out. This was certainly too much for me. There is a time and a place for bravery but this wasn’t going to be the time or the place.
That night next to the river, I laid awake in the moonlight, listening to the rapid roar. The words of the Hualapai guide native to the area echoed in my head. He said “If you fear the river, it will kill you. You have to dance with the river, and it will embrace you.” I laid awake rehearsing what he said over and over. While the stars moved across the sky, a peace crept over me. I wanted to dance – I wanted to embrace my fear.
The next morning came with newfound confidence. It was time! The crew took its places; Lights, Camera, and now it was time for some action. I jumped into my kayak and turned toward the rapid with purpose. The Hualapai voice grew stronger in my heart and the dance began. Fear was replaced with excitement and awkwardness was substituted with grace. The river embraced my soul and we moved together as one. I got lost in its rhythm, and before I knew it, I was through.
Safely at the end of the rapid, I pulled out in an eddy. The song and dance was over and reality set in. Only at that point did I truly realize what I just did, and fear attempted to creep back in. Shaking with excitement, I took a deep breath, and let the river’s power erode away my fear. When you look at the Grand Canyon, you can see evidence of how powerful the Colorado River is. Deep chiseled walls, a vast gouged expanse. But inside of me, the Colorado River has moved so much. It has carved and shaped me in a way that will change me for the rest of my life.
- Casey Anderson, August 2011
Humans have a fondness for a very particular kind of fantasy about the last Ice Age: there we were, comfily ensconced in thick animal furs, chewing on medium-rare mammoth steak while snacking on a fresh bag of crunchy sloth rinds on the side. Leisure activities included: cave-painting, saber-toothed charades, and of course, Hearts (come on people, we weren’t total savages back then).
In reality, humans didn’t participate in much of the last real Ice Age. We were in Africa – one of the few places not completely glaciated at that time. The amazing thing is that our expansion out of Africa, between ten thousand and twelve thousand years ago, coincides very nearly exactly with the end of the Pleistocene Era which lasted for the previous three million years. Yes, you read that correctly: three million years of repeated glaciations throughout the globe. That’s quite a snowstorm. It’s humbling to recognize that the real reason humans weren’t fit for leaving Africa was because the weather was simply too harsh, too unforgiving for our delicate African sensitivities . . . we simply weren’t tough enough.
Meanwhile, for at least the last seven million years, wolverines and their ancestors, the larger Plesiogulo from the Pliocene Era, have comfortably made their homes in North America despite these same repeated periods of long glaciations. In fact, they’ve outlasted many of their Ice-Age companions, including the mammoths, the megatheriums, and the cave lions – they are one of the few remaining species still alive today from this time on Earth. Frankly, it’s amazing that they continue to hold their own in the last corners of Earth that continue to resemble the conditions of the Ice Age; these are the northern latitudes where glaciers, ice, and snow are still reign supreme.
Filming in these locations is tough. Not only does it require lots of handwarmers . . . it also requires lots of helicopter fuel. As the culmination of our profile of wolverines, we took a helicopter with host Casey Anderson and Jasper the wolverine above treeline and into the high alpine. From there, the world is one white, undulating expanse stretching as far as you can see. In places, the snow and ice literally swallow mountains thousands of feet tall. Not only does it require absolutely perfect weather to film in these conditions, but its not a stretch to see that none of us, even the fittest mountaineer in the world, is suited for living in these conditions for any real length of time. But that’s where the wolverine comes in. It’s a testament to the ultimate resilience of life itself that a creature like the wolverine not only survives but thrives in these conditions year-round. And it’s a borderline religious experience to see all life from that perspective – as a relentless force that will cling to the very minimum, surviving on bones and marrow if necessary, summiting every ounce of stubbornness, courage, and supernatural determination to maintain its existence. That’s what it takes to be a wolverine.
Sorry to burst your bubble humans but the Ice Age was no picnic. And we wouldn’t know – because we never would have survived the first winter. But thankfully, another animal would have . . . as long as, with a little help from homo sapiens sapiens, they continue to roam these icy, snowbound, magical realms of our planet.
- Eric Bendick
Chalk up another stellar summer for the Grizzly Creek Films crew. This was one for the ages. In July, we traveled North from Bozeman to try our hand filming in the rugged wildlands of Alaska for a new National Geographic episode. The subject, of course, was none other than our favorite ursus arctos, in fact, the largest brown bears in the world!
From bush planes to backcountry salmon banquets, we pulled off an incredible three weeks of filming in some of the most picturesque (though often climatically-challenging) places on Earth.
Host Casey Anderson on one of many thrilling bush plane rides.
Filming took place along Alaska’s coastal mainland and on Kodiak Island for what is sure to be a film of epic proportions – these tremendous bears wouldn’t have it any other way!
So Expedition Grizzly fans, we think you are going to like this one. In fact, we think this film is going to knock your bloomin’ socks off. Stay tuned for updates from the ongoing production process as this film moves closer to its airdate in 2010.
One of the hundreds (no exaggeration) of beautiful brown bears we encountered in Alaska.
On our next shoot, Brutus brings his talents to the fore in Montana for a special challenge combining water, coordination, and raw instinct . . . check back often for your regular dose of grizzly creek action.