“they only bark when there are bears in camp”
Thats what our guides told us about the dogs during our check in at Alaska Adventures lodge. It was prophetic as the next morning at about the 4:00 am – Winston the labrador sounded the alarm. While I looked out the door to our cabin, I couldn’t see anything (although the dogs were close). When we finally got up, there were large bear tracks around the cabin next to ours and all around camp. That just added to the excitement of going on our first bear viewing boat trip downstream. It was a little muted by our guide Russ telling us that “most” of the bears had for some reason left the river early to go feast on berries in the hills – even though there were still many fish in the river. That being said, we launched and spent the entire morning dilligently searching for the elusive bears – to no avail. Luckily, the day was salvaged after our bag lunch when we spotted a large bear out in the open on a sandbar.
We spent about 20 minutes with this big chocolate bear – Russ always keeping us in good viewing position. To the guides that meant close enough for good photos, safety for the clients, and far enough away to not stress the bear or drive him away. Typically that distance slowly got smaller as the bear decided we weren’t there to bother them or take their food. In this case, we watched the bear walk the banks and try to catch some fish. As you can tell by this next image, he didn’t catch anything – he was really not anywhere near as menacing as this photo indicates – he was just keeping an eye on us.
We stayed with him for a while longer until he finally sat down to relax for awhile and then eventually meandered off into the brush. (note: all these pictures are worth a quick double click – the bear details like the claws are incredible)
It was a great first encounter and it made our whole day. We didn’t realize how lucky we were until we met up with the other bear photographers who went the entire day without getting a single opportunity. This slow (but in our case, very enjoyable) day would drive a conversation with Charlie, the lodge owner, and guides about how to maximize our bear opportunities and would also drive my worst decision of the week – tune in tomorrow for details….and lots more Bears!!