NOTE: You might want to read my original post about this trip to better understand what this is all about. Also, the bear in this photo was located in Denali National Park. It’s a standard Alaskan Grizzly. The bears we’re shooting in Geographic harbor are larger.
I’m getting ready for my big trip to Alaska. I leave early next week and will be gone for about 10 days. I’m very excited about this trip. But it’s also bittersweet. It’s probably one of my final grand expeditions. I’m tempted to say it’s my LAST big expedition, but I have a little bit of Brett Favre in me so I can’t say I’m fully retiring just yet.
Age and health considerations have made these big trips harder and harder to take. 10-15 years ago I did one or two of these a month. Sometimes I’d go out three times a month when I was in my prime. But now, a 40 pound pack full of gear feels like 80 pounds. So it won’t go on much longer. I’ll still take some smaller trips every few months. I will be in at least four national parks this coming year with Apple and the Aperture Nature Photography Workshops, but big trips that require two days travel in and two days travel out – those will probably be pretty rare from now on.
It’s a fact; this trip will be hard. My usual idea of roughing it is the Holliday Inn instead of the Hilton. But this trip doesn’t contain nights at either place. I’ll be flying on three planes and then taking a boat. I’ll be carrying lots of gear (although I’ll have an assistant to help with that.) The accomodations will beat sleeping in a tent, but that’s about it. The weather in Alaska this time of year is very unpredictable so that will be a concern. Also of concern is just finding the bears, keeping up with them, finding them in good light, and hoping for no equipment malfunctions hundreds of miles from a road, let alone a camera store 🙂
The real first class portion of the trip will be the photographic opportunities. And those are what have me excited. I’ll be 50 feet away from 1,500-pound creatures who can run 35 miles per hour, climb 100-foot-tall trees and swim better than I can. No fences – no rangers – nothing but air and opportunity between us.
We’re going during a period when the bears will be gorging themselves on salmon. The theory is, they won’t pay attention to the horizontally-challenged photographer in their midst because they’ll have a salmon in each paw and another in their mouth!
The official biological term for this is Hyperfasia – a period where the bears are drunk with lust for Omega fats. They eat primarily the skin of the fish, leaving the rest. They eat nonstop and again, in theory, won’t mind a few photographers hanging out with them. They have plenty to eat and need to get it all down before they hibernate.
My pal Artie Morris set this trip up and he’s got experience leading trips of this size. He’s the world’s foremost avian photographer, and these bears are about the only wildlife he regularly shoots other than birds. He’s a real character and like me, has a strong personality that people either love or hate. I love his personality, and his bird photography is what drew me to the subject. I’ve learned a great deal from him. So while I spend a good amount of my time in the role of teacher, I’m looking forward to not having that pressure this trip. I can just be a photographer again. And that’s also exciting.
We’re going to Geographic Harbor. I’ll keep track of all the exact locations during the trip and post them to this diary as time and Internet access permit. I won’t be TOO exact because I don’t want tons of people going up here next year and stressing the bears.
I don’t expect to have any phone or Internet access during most of the trip, but I am bringing my MacBook Air so I can write down my thoughts. I’ll also shoot some video with my G9 and record some audio interviews on my Sony handheld digital audio field recorder. I’ll make all that available as a part of this diary or a part of the TWIP podcast.
Oh yeah – and I hope (and expect to) make it back alive with some very, very cool pictures.
I’ll post the first video today or tomorrow before I leave. It shows you what bags I am taking and the gear I am bringing on the trip.