Diane Ross
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Alaskan Trip to Photograph Alaskan Brown Bear and Black Bear

This was one of the best trips I have ever taken. While I don’t mention him in the day to day entries, we had a professional photographer, Darrell Gulin, as our trip leader. Darrell was a great trip leader and helped me a lot with my photography. If you are interested in seeing nature and learning more about photography this is a great company to travel with.

I also want to take this opportunity to thank Darrell for all his help.

Day 1:

I started by dropping the dogs off at the kennel. Nugget has never been there before and I wonder how he will take it. I bought him from a pet store 6 months ago and I hope he doesn’t feel abandoned. Brandy and Nikki have been there before, and while I am sure it isn’t their favorite place they don’t mind going in. Nugget follows the other two in willing.

The flight to Seattle is uneventful.

Day 2:

Today we have a 3 hour flight to Wrangell, Alaska. Only one problem.  The weather is bad. First we land in Ketcichan. Landing is an experience. The winds are high. I have been in turbulence before but never this close to the ground. Landings in Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juno are canceled. We can stay over night here or we can go to Anchorage and try to catch the afternoon flight back to Wrangell. So off to Anchorage we go.

After a couple hours in Anchorage we board a plane for Wrangell. After waiting in the plane a while it is announced the the landing in Juno has been canceled again. All passengers bound for Juno are to exit the plane. There are two flights later in the day that may be able to get to Juno on. This is the only flight from Anchorage to Wrangell.

More waiting. The plane takes on more fuel. Finally we take off, but we are told that we have less than a 50-50 chance of landing in Wrangell. We could end up back in Seattle and have to try again in the morning.

When we get to the Wrangell/Petersburg area the visibility is 4 miles in Wrangell and only 2.5 in Petersburg. We need 5 miles visibility to land. We fly in a holding pattern for the next 50 minutes until another weather report comes out. Finally things go our way. We land in Wrangell. Those heading to Petersburg aren’t so lucky.

After 13 hours we have made it. Everyone in the group takes it in stride. This is going to be a good group. Also 6 of the 9 people on the trip are repeat customers. I think this will be a good trip.

Day 3:

al09.JPG (25938 bytes)The weather has greatly improved. I can actually see blue sky in spots. We spend the day on the Stikine river. The day starts out foggy. (Weather can change rapidly in Alaska.) The mountains seen through the layers of fog are beautiful. Fog has always changed the world for me. Softened it, made it more mysterious, eerie. After the fog lifts we see our first bald eagle high in a tree. We will see several during the day. They are the only wildlife we that see today (not counting fish, insects, and various small birds). The rivers are all running high and there really isn’t a bank along side the river. It goes right from brush to water which makes it difficult to see wildlife.

The driver of the boat really knows what he is doing. He drives fast and hard, kind of like a flat roller coaster. It is great fun, but I have always liked an adrenaline rush.

Later in the day we find beautiful blue ice bergs. I wish I knew what makes them so blue (please don’t e-mail the scientific explanation that it reflects that color and therefore looks blue). We also go up to a small glacier. To be perfectly honest I am not that impressed, but I have seen glaciers before. Of course it is clouding over and starting to rain, that could be part of the problem.

It has been a moody day. Foggy, sunny and now raining, but it has been a good day. Tomorrow - bears.

Day 4:

We went to Anan Bear Observatory today. When we arrived there were a black bear and a brown bear near the landing area (on the far side of the lagoon). I was disappointed in the number of bear we saw at the observation platform. I expected it to be like the dump when I was little. Several bear feeding at once. We only saw three bear from the platform in the morning and I was in the bathroom for one of those. I was amazed at how easily they catch fish. It was nothing like what I have seen on TV. They simply stuck their head in the water and came up with a fish. They made it look extremely easy.

When we hike back to the boat for lunch (you are not allowed to take food to the observatory) we come across a mother black bear with twin cubs. They are a ways off the trail and we can’t get a good look at them. We also see a couple brown bear in the lagoon.

bb01a.JPG (27295 bytes)While eating lunch a black bear comes down the trail, checks us out then heads back into the forest. A little later another black bear with twin cubs (maybe the one we saw on the trail) comes along the beach. She is very tolerant of us and lets us photograph her and her cubs while they eat salmon on the beach. The lighting is great, I can’t wait to see the pictures. The mother appears to be startled by something in the woods. She gathers her cubs and leaves.

It is time for a quick hike back up to the platform, but I am not feeling well and decide to stay on the beach. Three others stay with me. I hope the the mother and cubs will return but they don’t. When the others return I learn the the mother and cubs went up to the observation area just ahead of them. At one point a group coming down the trail turned the mother and cubs around. My group rounded a corner and came face to face with the bears. Needless to say they stopped suddenly. The bears decided to continue up the trail and the group above them ended up going all the way back to the platform. I am sorry I missed all the fun.

Even though it wasn’t what I expected I still enjoyed it.

Day 5:

What a day. The best so far. We go out to the LaConte Glacier The sky is over cast and threatening rain but it only sprinkles on and off most of the day. We again find beautiful blue ice bergs on the way up to the glacier and spend lots of time photographing them.

Further up the channel we come across a colony of seals on the ice flows. We drive past them and then float back towards them so that we can get closer without the noise of the engines. We get lots of pictures on the way back. It is fun watching them watch us.

glac01a.JPG (36791 bytes)Finally the glacier. It is bigger than the one on day 3 and part of it is a beautiful blue color. A few minutes later it calves. Of course I miss everything but the splash. That turns out to be okay. It is only beginning. The glacier makes loud cracking sounds. There are at least 3 more major calves that afternoon and several minor ones and I do get some of them on film. On the way out we photograph more incredible ice formations. I doubt the pictures will do them justice. It has been a fabulous day and it is not over yet.

The storm finally breaks. The winds are close to 30 MPH and there is a 2 to 3 foot swell. In addition low tide was about an hour ago and the water in some areas is extremely shallow. This makes for an exhilarating ride back. Todd Harding has been our captain for three days now and I am confident in his ability to handle this wild ride, and it is a wild ride. There is a lot of silt in the water and channels can change with every tide. We do a few 180’s in the shallow areas on our way back because of the changing channels and in deeper water we pound through the waves. I actually thought it was a blast. (Todd runs Stikeen Wilderness Adventures and if you are ever in Wrangell I am sure you would have a great time if you booked a trip with him.)

Day 6:

Our stay in Wrangell is over. I am sorry to be leaving. The trip has gotten off to an unbelievable good start. We have an uneventful flight to Anchorage. Once there we go to the mall and I buy more film. I severely underestimated how many rolls I would shoot.

Day 7:

Today we fly to Katmai National Forest. The weather is a little foggy and we are delayed about an hour. After arriving we must watch a video on bear etiquette. The bottom line is stay 50 yards away from a lone bear and 100 yards away from a bear with cubs. After getting our cabin assignments and eating lunch we head out to the viewing platform.

abb01a.JPG (34875 bytes)Since we have already been to Anan I now know what to expect. Periods of activity and periods were there are no bear in sight. We watch the bear from the lower platform for some time and we all take some bear log and bear dot photo’s. We also get photo’s of bear close enough that other people will know what they are when they see the pictures. We go the upper platform at the falls and photograph the lone bear that is there. It looks a little backwards. The bear is standing at the foot of the falls waiting for dead and dying fish to float down to him. In the spring they stand on top of the falls and catch fish as they jump up the falls. This time of year the lower platform has more action, in the spring the falls are the place to be.

Day 8:

More bear viewing. The bears do what they call snorkeling. It is actually a good description. They stick their nose and eyes underwater and look for fish. It takes most of the day before I realize they aren’t interested in fish that have a lot of life left in them. They are looking for fish that are dead or almost dead. At least one bear comes up with a salmon and eats it within camera range. First they tear the skin off and eat it. Then they eat the rest. The rangers tell us that later in the season they just eat the skin and the head, but right now they are still trying to gain weight and they eat everything.

There is a bear here called Diver. His technique is slightly different and very effective at catching fish. Most of the bears never get their ears wet. Diver however will completely submerge. First he puts his head under then his rump sort of pops up and follows his head down and he completed disappears under the water. It is very interesting to watch.

After diner I come back out on the platform and I see the mother with triplets. Unfortunately they are too far away to photograph. They do get a little closer but now there are in deep grass and I have trouble spotting them let alone photographing them. Then a mother with a yearling cub comes along. She goes in fishing but it appears the cub does not like the water and he refuses to go in. As she fishes he sits on the bank and plays with a log, it is very cute.

Tomorrow I think I will go see the valley of the 10,000 smokes. It got its name after a volcano erupted there early this century.

Day 9:

Change of plans. I did not go on the valley tour. I really want a shot of the mother with the three cubs. I came to photograph bears so that is what I am going to do. Unfortunately it is a rather slow day and I never see the mother with three cubs.

The other with the yearling cubs is back again this morning and the cub is actually swimming in the water. Hopefully he now understands this is were he will be getting a large portion of his food.

Some people come down from the falls and tell me they have seen the mother with the triplets up there. As a matter of fact she even got into a fight with a male bear while she was there. Yesterday I spent 45 minutes at the falls and never saw a bear. So I patiently wait on the lower platform where she has put in an appearance the last two days and never see her. I even waited though a couple rain showers and my rain gear was in my cabin. (In Alaska always take your rain gear with you.) At times this is terribly frustrating. I am so disappointed.

abb027.JPG (38970 bytes)After dinner I come back out to the lower platform in the hopes she will still show up. I don’t really expect her to show. While at diner I hear she got into a fight with Diver a few minutes before. The light is fading and I decide to return to camp. Even if she shows now I am not sure I could get a shot in this light. Back in camp we run into a guy who says he just saw her across the river. I take both my camera equipment and my dad’s video back out to the platform hoping she will go that way. It turns out we were mistaken. It is not the mother with three cubs but there is a mother with one cub. She comes right up to the platform and then across the bridge. At least I get a shot of a spring cub.

Activity has picked up. There are several bear in the area and the mother and cub disappeared into the woods between the bridge and camp. We can’t leave the platform until things have settled down a little. After half an hour or so we here them chasing a bear out of camp (they use different types of noise makers to scare them away). The cub reappears out of the forest with mom close behind and comes back across the bridge towards us and I get it all on video. My trip is complete.

Day 10:

We fly back to Anchorage and have a farewell diner. I was right this was a good group of people. Tomorrow I fly home. I am not ready to leave - but then I never am.
Summary: As I said in the beginning, this was one of the best vacations I have take. What surprises me is that I enjoyed Wrangell more than Katmai. I went to photograph bears but the three days in the jet boat were the highlight of the trip.


P.S. The dogs were happy to get home.

 

Tour Operator: International Wildlife Adventures

Length: 10 Days