Close encounter

In 1980 I worked on an Arco Oil and Gas Company funded natural resource resource assessment of the entire state of Alaska. Anaconda Copper Company was owned by Arco, the company that found the gigantic Prudhoe Bay oil field and built the Alaska pipeline. The fact is Arco did not really want to own Anaconda but the US government in its wisdom had been discouraging oil companies from investing in oil and encouraging them to make investments outside of oil and gas. So Arco bought Anaconda.

The minerals assessment was sort of an afterthought. Arco was evaluating the oil potential of Alaskan Indian lands and minerals were thrown in at the last minute as part of the negotiations. Our Uranium division was mobilized in a few months to explore the entire state. Realistically it was highly unlikely that a uranium mine would have been economic in Alaska because of the low uranium price and the remoteness of Alaska.

Uranium only likes certain geologic environments and my objective was to search those areas with the most potential. I chose the granitic terranes because granite-associated uranium deposits are high-grade deposits that at least had some potential of being economic. One of my focus areas was the Zane Hills in the western part of the state.

In this part of Alaska the landscape is pretty barren. On a good day you can see Russia and Sarah Palin’s house. There is nothing to obscure your view. The trees can be a few inches high and look like grass. Dogwoods with their bright white flowers are less than an inch high.

My helicopter pilot dropped me off fifty miles from our camp. I spent the morning looking for things of interest and taking soil samples as I hiked west up a gentle hill and into the wind. When I got to the top I took off my daypack and unpacked my lunch. I sat on the hillside looking west and ate my lunch leaning against my pack with my legs stretched out and crossed in front of me. I was enjoying the last of the autumn warmth on September’s first day. Two boulders were ahead of me. A large one about forty meters away and a smaller one sixty meters down the hill.

After a few minutes I saw the smaller more distant boulder move. I focused on the grizzly that was where I wanted to go. Thinking quickly, I packed my stuff up and decided to try to scare it away. I took my always dependable Smith and Wesson model 29 44 magnum out of my shoulder holster and raised the gun in front of me into the air. An instant after I fired a shot the large boulder that was closer to me jumped up and looked straight at me with its giant paws hanging in front of her.

I was shaking but I still had my wits about me. I put my gun away and grabbed my radio. The bear started running toward me. At that exact second my helicopter pilot appeared from behind me over my right shoulder at ten feet off the ground doing about fifty knots. I couldn’t hear him coming from such a low altitude. The bear came to dead stop as the pilot turned the chopper on its nose between me and the bear.

The pilot didn’t see the bear. He was just trying to sneak up on me for fun. He saved my life. Chalk another one up to luck.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Close encounter

  1. Thomas Hurst

    Wow. Remarkable! Thank you for sharing this important chapter in your life! I’m interested in hearing more.

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