Firstly I would just like to say that after this trip I feel I can now ‘die in peace’ as being this near to wild bears was such an amazing experience and one that I think I will never better, it was an experience of a lifetime as far as I am concerned.

SILVER SALMON CREEK LODGE

Silver Salmon Creek Lodge is within the Lake Clark National Park, Alaska, and provides arguably the best opportunities to photograph wild bears during the salmon run in the world. There are no crowds, no platforms and at times you may be standing only a few feet from the bears. These bears have never been hunted and have seen quite a few humans without conflicts so they do not see humans as food or as rivals for the salmon, I am told it is therefore reasonably safe (what ‘reasonably’ means I do not know ?). When out with the bears you are always accompanied by an experienced guide who can identify a lot of the bears by eye and also knows the signs bears give if they are getting a little stressed so they can take appropriate action (move slowly away) and minimise any problems. If a bear catches a salmon and has been ‘harassed’ in the past by other bears for its catch, do not be surprised if it walks around the back of you to sit down and eat its meal. It does this to put YOU between itself and all other bears in the hope that the other bears will not venture to close to YOU and thereby give it time to enjoy a peaceful meal ๐Ÿ™‚

GETTING THERE

Its a long journey which I took with American Airlines (AA). It started with an early morning flight from Heathrow (UK) to Chicago, a 7 hour wait, then another flight to Anchorage. The first night was spent at the Puffin Inn a short drive from Anchorage airport. Chicago is 6 hours behind UK and Alaska is 9 hours behind and from getting up in a hotel a couple of miles from Heathrow to arrival at the Puffin Inn I had been travelling for over 24 hours. I decided that because of the 7 hour layover at Chicago I would pay for a ‘day pass’ in the American Airlines ‘Admirals Club’ lounge which is so much more comfortable that spending that time in the public area of any airport.

Day 2 started with the journey to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge via a small aircraft from Lake Hood, after landing on the beach an All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) took us to the lodge where we could settle into our rooms. Light aircraft have a limited amount of space and weight that they can carry so we had all been asked to make sure our TOTAL luggage (including all camera equipment) weighed 40kg at most.

Even before something to eat and the safety review I saw my first bears, a mother and 2 cubs, within feet of the main lodge (amazing) and apparently they wander through the lodge area most days and I was also to meet and almost bump into the same bears on my way to breakfast on another morning

PHOTOGRAPHY

When I had my GPS on (which was not all the time ๐Ÿ™ here is some of the routes we took to photograph the bears…

Firstly you need to know that you WILL be out amongst the Bears, not in a hide but out and about with them. The Bears will pass within a few feet of you and your guide is there to keep you safe.

Each day was similar but different ๐Ÿ™‚ because the Bears fish when the water is not too deep and not too shallow, therefore the actual times are dictated by the tides and high/low tide is at different times each day.ย  Also to get out to Cook Inlet from the Lodge means crossing a creek in the All Terrain Vehicle (ATV) that you go out in and the creek has to be only a certain depth or less to cross.ย  So its not only the timing of the tides but also the HEIGHT of the tides determine if/when you can cross.

Dress in layers because it can get quite cold and the chances of rain at sometime during a weeks visit is almost certain and do not forget the insect repellent, although the bugs were not too bad when I went (early September) but I still got bites on my hands the first day until I realised I NEEDED the insect repellent if there wasn’t a small breeze around, a breeze helps to keep the little blighter’s at bay.

In general we went out in the ATV’s and when we found a Bear we would get out to photograph it, the Bear may be sleeping so its a case of waiting until he/she decides to give you a photographic opportunity. ย  Now the ONLY disappointment for me on this trip (which was a trip of a lifetime as far as I am concerned) was the number of different Bears, we only saw 6-7-8 different bears, but we did see a lot of them so times when we didn’t have a Bear in sight we few and far between.ย  The walk from the ATV to where you want to photograph the Bear is usually quite small but be prepared for one or two longer walk with your equipment as the Bears do move around sometimes, you CANNOT leave your gear in the ATV… well you can but it may not be there when you get back – LOL ——-

Bear on ATV

… there were on more than one occasion bear paw prints on the ATV when we got back and once a small ‘lump’ of foam from the seat had been ripped out.

The main lens I used was a 500mm f4 on a tripod, but my 100-400 also came in very handy, my 70-200 f2.8 came in hady for low light (sunrise/set) conditions and I also used a 28-105 for Bears in the environment type shots and a few landscapes.ย  So to get the most out of this trip you do need a large range of lenses.

Is this close enough for you to a wild Bear Cub,ย  Mama Bear may also come this close ๐Ÿ™‚ …..

… in fact the 2 Cubs which were around when I went, on more than one occasion needed to be gently ‘repelled’ by our guide Jenny (on the left above) because they seemed to want to ‘play’ with us ๐Ÿ™‚

Manual metering is best if the light is fairly constant because while panning you will be going from a lot of reflective waterย  to beach backgrounds which would otherwise mean changing exposure compensation ‘on the fly’ an awful lot.

We mainly photographed Bears, Bears with Cubs and American Bald Eagle and a few landscapes as the backdrop of ‘Slope’ mountain etc is quite stunning.ย  When the Bears are catching fish (and most other times also really) bright overcast conditions are ideal as in sunlight ‘blowing the whites’ of any caught fish while keeping detail in the dark Bears body is very difficult.

The time at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge was very special to me and went far too quickly so do as much as you can while there.

RETURN JOURNEY

We went back to Anchorage in the Light Aircraft and the next day we left Anchorage for Heathrow with Alaska Airlines via Chicago, but this time we only had a 3 hour stopover in Chicago before our American Airlines ‘red eye’ back to Heathrow. An ‘insurance’ day in Anchorage is very wise as there are times when light aircraft may not be able to take off or land at Silver salmon Creek beach because of the weather in this part of the world, most people get back on their leaving day as planned but there are times when this may not be possible.