Back to Alaska: Pre-Salmon Spawn Preparation in Katmai

While sitting in my Mountain View office counting down the days/hours, it is difficult to contain the excitement I feel before my return to the Alaska Peninsula and the coastal brown bears that live there. 

July is all about the falls. Brooks Falls.  In the pre-salmon spawn days, this fall line acts like a speed bump, and delays the salmon’s arrival at its spawning ground.  This bottleneck also happens to be the spot where the bears are at their highest concentration. In some years 70 bears have been recorded in the river at one time, jockeying for prime fishing spots. The falls typically feature the largest and most dominant males, but at times there are some bold (or starving) females+cubs. It is at the falls that I will spend the bulk of my time on this trip.

In preparation, I have been viewing the webcam, scouting the behavior trends of the bears. Based on the behavior of the last week, as the salmon run started to ramp up, most of the activity was early to late afternoon, and continued long into the evening and after midnight (sunset is after 23:30).  Another good sign is the salmon have really started jumping today, with much higher frequency than in previous days. This is an important consideration because, like the bears on the falls, we humans may have to share time on the platform. So it will be good to know when the best times to be on the falls platform is. 

As such, the photography may take a slightly different focus than other wildlife trips.  First, the bears are going to be close. So close that my 600mm may not be the most practical focal length.  Of course, I am still planning to bring that behemoth and will use that predominantly with the 1D-X, but lets see what my secondary lens on the 6D will be.  Most likely will keep the 70-200mm at the ready, but am planning to bring my 300mm F/2.8 and give that a bit of a workout. At the moment, my plan is to be a “normal” person and only have two cameras strapped on, but this concept will be cancelled upon arrival and you will be able to see me with three massive body+lens combos (if I decide to re-activate the 1D-IV and use it with the 300.)

Only time will tell….

In the mean time, I finalize my trip preparations and read “The Beast that walks like Man: The Story of the Grizzly Bear” by Harold McCracken (1955)….see you in Alaska..