Once I'd seen images of grizzly bears catching salmon I was sold.  I had to go see for myself and try to capture similar images. After a bit of research on the web and through photographic forums my wife and I came up with only a few options where we could view grizzlies in the wild, have guaranteed sightings (well almost!), and be safe all at the same time.  We chose Brooks Falls in Alaska, within the Katmai National Park, for our adventure of a lifetime.  Further research lead us to our tour operator Katmailand at www.katmailand.com.  [As a wee aside - the salmon start their "run" upstream in June/July and that's when you see the grizzlies stand at the top of Brooks Falls and catch the salmon as they leap up the falls.  Traditionally our main holiday is in September and we wanted to stick with this.  The grizzlies hang around Brooks River until late September when the salmon have spawned and "float" downstream again into the bellies of the bears.  We had no fears therefore of going in September and not seeing bears].  We booked 2 nights at Brooks Lodge in Katmai NP in September 2007.  Incedentally, we had to book about 10 months in advance to secure places.  If going in July you need to be off your marks 18 months earlier.  Katmailand's tour starts in Anchorage, Alaska so we chose to combine our visit to the see the bears with a tour of the Seattle/Portland area (the Pacific North West) - more of this in later blogs. Our travel itinerary from Scotland comprised the following.  We flew Zoom Airlines from Glasgow to Vancouver, picked up a car and drove south to Seattle.  After 1 night in Seattle we flew Continental Airlines to Anchorage where we hit the sack for another night.  Next day we flew Pen Air to King Salmon then by float plane into Katmai NP and Brooks Lodge itself.  As soon as you step off the float plane onto the beach you see the bears and all the travel weariness disappears and turns into adrenaline. After a safety induction (on bear sense, etc) we and all the other visitors (around 20 "ish") were shown our room for the next two nights.  It was basic but perfectly comfortable.  After all, we were on an adventure! We were able to move relatively freely around the Lodge area and beach.  The most basic rule is to stay at least 50m from any bear.  We were sheperded past any bottlenecks, where bears were on paths or in the river near paths, by the NP Rangers.  The bears always had "right of way" and the Rangers policed this rigidly.  You feel very safe and provided you have a long lens on the camera you still get great photos.  For the photograph buffs anything shorter than a 300mm lens is pretty useless and a tripod/monopod is more-or-less essential.  Brooks Falls is about a mile upstream from the Lodge along a forest land rover track.  You had to be vigilant when you were on the track and whilst we never saw any bears en route between Lodge and Falls you could never be sure you wouldn't.  The only saving grace is that there are so many salmon in the river that the bears don't need to eat humans!!  Also, in September, the bears have had a summer of plentiful food making them rather plump and lethargic. Food is not included in the package from Katmailand but Brooks Lodge has a cafe/restaurant.  Although the visitors have literally no option other than to eat at the lodge the food there is good, wholesome stuff and reasonably priced.  This was a great place to share the days experiences with other visitors.   My guess is that 80% of the visitors were photographers so there was plenty of good chat around the open fire. It was a huge adventure for us and we were thrilled to be there, feeling priveledged to view these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat.  We will go back - next time in the July, to see the salmon leaping into the waiting  jaws of the grizzlies. Now for the photos: Brooks Lodge from the air   An aeriel shot of Brooks River where it enters Naknek Lake.  In September most of the bears are in this area just plucking salmon our of the water as and when they fancy.         A big grizzly at the Falls   The several visits we made to the Falls revealed only one big fella there.  He seemed to be a bit of a loner, preferring to stay away from the action downstream.  Here he is seen tearing the skin of a salmon he has just "dived" for.  The poor thing was still wriggling!         Lotsa bears     Sometimes they hunted in packs.       A wee one   One of my favourite shots from the trip was this wee one peeking round the corner.  The warm golden light suited his/her fluffy brown coat perfectly.         More images can be seen here:  http://www.pbase.com/davidleask/brookslodge

3 Responses to “Brooks Falls, Alaska”

  1. Ian February 20, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    photography is obviously a part of where you holiday, to get those stunning pics, it would be interesting to all to tell us what gear you use and how you “handle” the results, ie do you snap in RAW format and have a pocket full of memory sticks? 🙂

  2. February 21, 2009 at 10:55 am

    Ian,

    Thanks for your comment and query.

    Yes, for us photography and holidays go hand-in-hand with the former usually dictating the location of the latter!

    Wherever we travel I tend to take most of my photographic equipment – 2nr Digital SLR’s, 3 lenses covering 12mm to 200mm, a 1.4 teleconverter and a sturdy tripod. In addition to this kit and to partly answer your query I also take a laptop. It’s a lot of gear to carry and it forms 99% of our carry on luggage but so far the results have made the effort worthwhile.

    Our pattern on holiday is to take shots during the day (obviously), download to the laptop each night and burn onto CD as well. There are several advantages here. My images are safe in two places, my memory cards are empty for the next days shooting and I can review images on the laptop to make sure I’ve got the shots I want (if I haven’t, I go back the next day). I know memory is cheap and one option is to carry lots of “big” cards but I’d be nervous that I might lose them or they don’t contain the shots I want.

    I always shoot in RAW and the D300 also allows me to take a JPeg at the same time (for reviewing).

    When I get home I transfer all of the images (RAW + JPegs) from the laptop to the PC. I review and select my keepers. For the keepers I process the RAW images to my taste. I dump the unwanted RAW’s but keep all the JPegs. What I end up with is a full set of JPegs, a set of keepers in RAW and a set of processed RAW’s saved as JPegs. I can always go back to my keeper RAW’s and re-process if my skills improve).

    Finally, for security at home, I have two external hard drives in addition to the internal one on the PC so I have my work saved in 3 places. Hey, memory is cheap!!

    Phew, I hope this answers your query 🙂

  3. Ian February 22, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Is NASA aware of your fail safe systems?

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