Leaving the gallery for a couple of weeks was scary to think about, but I was looking forward to getting to photograph bears in Lake Clark, and knew I had a good friend I could trust in my gallery. It is a very long drive from Skagway to Anchorage, 15 hours, so I drove 7 hours after work on the 13th and slept in my car in a pull off, and then finished the drive on the 14th. I had to do a few things in the big city before meeting with my clients for dinner that night, since Skagway doesn’t have much. It was exciting meeting them and knowing that tomorrow we would fly out to Lake Clark!
It was a super clear day on the 15th when we left at 8 a.m., and I saw Denali from the air for the first time. Denali is over 150 miles from Anchorage, and it was awesome seeing it from the air and the rest of the mountains as we flew down the coast to Lake Clark. It was by far the clearest sightseeing flight I had ever been on to Lake Clark. We even got to see a mom and cubs as we landed, and that got the group excited! We quickly went to the lodge and got settled before heading out for a quick trip before lunch. It was already starting to get hot, and we did see a river otter, but the bears were already in the woods escaping the heat. It stayed clear and hot the rest of the day, and we didn’t see much, but I knew better times were to come.
The next morning it was still clear, and we left at 5 a.m. by foot to catch the first light of the day. That was a great decision, as the mom and two yearling cubs were out, and as we got to them they crossed a little stream and we had them reflected in the water with the most perfect light on them! Nothing like walking out and immediately getting incredible shots! It was the kind of light you only dream of getting on animals! We stayed with them for a little while and got more shots, but nothing could top the first encounter of the day. We tried off and on throughout the mid-day looking for bears, but it was again too hot for them to be out.
As the day began to cool off we were out near the beach when we spotted a mom with three spring cubs! We all got very excited and went their direction. It was possibly the first time these cubs had seen people, and they were leery of us. We kept out distance and let them move around where they wanted. It was a beautiful evening, though, and the mountains 55 miles across the water were very clear and created a great backdrop. Watching them walk the tidal flats and play was great! What an incredible day we had!
On the morning of the 17th we got up real early again, but nothing was out early. After searching a long time we finally found the mom and three cubs again. They were out clamming, but the tide was starting to come in. Mom waited too long to come in, and got surrounded by water. The cubs were anxious and nervous, and as mom left they all tried to cling to her. She didn’t like that at first, but then relented and let them on. We were a long ways off and the light was bad, but seeing a mother bear with three cubs on her back was a sight to be seen. It was a little scary because the cubs were terrified, but such a neat experience to witness. We had some good encounters throughout the day, but seeing the cubs on the back was something few people ever get to see.
Lake Clark is great because you never know what you will get to see, and the bears are very photogenic there. The 18th was a nasty, wet, dreary day, but my group was willing to wait in it and see what would come out. We were rewarded when the mom and three came out of the trees near us and went out to dig for clams. It was very grey out, and we were all cold, but we followed. The cubs were playful and gave us a lot of different pictures, and didn’t mind we were there. After a while of being out there they wanted milk, and mom laid down close to us and let them feed. The cubs had the memory of yesterday on their mind when they were done feeding and didn’t want to walk back, because the tide was coming in. Two cubs clung to mom as she got up, and she didn’t like that at all. She even stood and shook to get the cubs off, and that was an awesome shot to see the cub hanging on for dear life! This family really has shown us some behavior most people never get to see!
We went in and warmed up and dried off after they left. We were really soaked and cold, but excited with what we had captured! In the late afternoon we were watching from the lodge when we spotted a mom and two spring cubs! Spring cubs always gets people excited, and we sprung up and got all our rain gear on and went to photograph them. These cubs were not as playful, but still spring cubs. We were about to leave after being with them a while, when the mom and two yearling cubs came out of the woods. This made the little spring cubs nervous, and they ran. Mom even stood up beside them to look at the other bears to assess the danger. After waiting so long and getting nothing, we all of a sudden had great images! You just never know what you will get to witness.
Some days are slow, like the 19th, but that is why you spend a number of days in places. For many days it might not be happening, and you have to wait a day or two for the action to pick back up again. We saw some bears, but didn’t get any great action. The weather was nice again on the 20th, and we went out early. The mom and 2 yearling cubs were out, but they were a non-active set of cubs. But then a male was following a female close by and they took off and stood to check the situation out. They continued to run and stand in the great light, and gave us a show! I had more clients coming in later that morning, and I told the group that was already with me to not tell them of all the great viewings we had already had. I really hoped we had more to come, but I didn’t want the new group hearing about what we had gotten already. Every week is different and exciting, and I wanted them to be excited about what we saw for their week.
We got off to a great start with the new group when we found the mom and two spring cubs on a beach further down. A few of the people in the new group were with me last year, and we didn’t get spring cubs, so being able to show them spring cubs on our first trip out was fantastic! They moved around and dug for clams and gave us some nice shots with the close mountains behind them. The rest of the day we had bears, but no special behavior happened.
On the 21st we got up at 5 a.m. and didn’t find anything until we came back to the lodge, and a younger bear was playing with moose antlers. It just goes to show you never know where the bears will be. The day for the most part was a dud because it was so hot and no bears were out. As the day got later, I really hoped we would find a bear in the good light. The mom and two spring cubs were on the other side of the river, and then a male and female came running and scared them. I thought our chance of seeing them again was gone, but they ran to the beach. After we made our way out there and found them, we had an incredible evening. They played on the beach, and then went in the water and played around in the perfect light. We even got them nursing in the perfect light. It’s not often you get the wildlife and the good light both at the same time. We couldn’t have asked for a better evening!
The 22nd was another hot, clear day, and we had the mom and two yearling cubs early, but it was slow after that. The mom and two spring cubs did come out, but only two people went to photograph them as the others stayed in and didn’t care to shoot in the bright light. We found the mom and two spring cubs in the evening, but a male bear scared them and they never came out of the woods.
My group really wanted to photograph the spring cubs in the grass, and I was fearful it might not happen. They would just run to a tree if in the grass near the woods. Our luck changed on the 23rd, as they were further out in the grass and not near the woods. We slowly approached, and they were calm and just continued to eat. I was so glad to finally get my clients pictures of them in the grass. We had a nice long shoot before they left. After lunch we found them again, and they were napping out on the tidal flats. As we approached they didn’t wake, and they were very cute all cuddled up to one another. As they changed positions and moved around we got some great shots of them together! Cubs can be so cute! I was already pleased with the day when we found the mom and two yearling cubs. As we got to them they decided to sleep on a log. The mom put her head over the log, and the cubs laid on it! I couldn’t have set it up any better myself. It was like they were posing for us! We were all clicking away and just enjoying the moment. This was the cherry on top, and we still had one full day left.
The next day, the 24th, we found the mom and two spring cubs in the grass again! It is nice to get them in a more natural setting than on the beach. The cubs have gotten calmer since we’ve been here and don’t mind us being around. They eventually went to the beach, and we left to go find other bears. We found the mom that had three cubs, but now she only had two. Nature is tough on bear cubs, and less than 50% make it sadly. The two cubs were still just as playful as before, and really gave us a good show. That evening the two yearling cubs really gave us a special showing though. They had been very non-active cubs, but that changed tonight. They were running everywhere and standing and play fighting like crazy. It’s like they finally had some sugar and were ready to play. They could really move across the sedge flats and cover some ground in a hurry. It was hard for us to keep up with them because they were moving so much! What an incredible last full day! I didn’t know how I was going to be able to keep finding better photographic opportunities for my group, but they continued to come.
Before we left on the 25th a few of us went out and were able to get the two yearling cubs playing some more. I’m glad those cubs were finally coming to life. After 10 days of going hard, I was exhausted. I got some absolutely incredible photos, and was so glad to be able to put my clients in some great situations! Even though I was exhausted, I didn’t have any time and had to get back to Skagway. I did my best to not think about the gallery while in Skagway, but it still was on my mind. We were off the grid, so I couldn’t check, which was nice in a way. After taking a nap in Anchorage I got on the road and drove half way, slept in my car, and then finished the drive the next day. Summers are busy in Alaska and there is no time to rest. I was happy to hear how the gallery went while I was gone and that my friend had made some sales while I was gone.
I’m so glad Lake Clark was an absolutely fantastic trip, and was looking forward to going through all the great shots I took while there.