Katmai National Park
Five years after first talking about visiting Katmai National Park and two years after booking the trip, I finally got to stand in Hallo Bay, Katmai surrounded by grizzly bears. No fences, no guns and no concerns It was amazing... The bears recently emerged from hibernation and are eating the sage grass that grows in the tidal salt flats. As the bears roam around, several groups of photographers can be seen squatting down watching the bears. Every so often a bear will wander past a group of photographer, so close that wide angle lens are needed.
I made it...!
The start of the trip was challenging. As with all travel to remote areas, weather can be a huge factor. The final leg, of the 4 flight journey, was by float plane. Float planes cannot fly in poor visibility and that was the conditions in Kodiak at 11 am on June 12th 2019. The flight was delayed for 1 hour, then again for an unspecified duration. The weather kept getting getting worse... After several hours of waiting, we were told the pilot was getting ready to leave. The visibility was still poor, to say the least, but we were off. Due to the low clouds, we flew at about 1000 ft, for most of the flight. This provided some great views, including a mother and calf humpback whale, and a huge raft of sea otters.
When we arrived at Katmai, we rendezvoused with the boat Ocean Explorer in Kukak Bay, just south of Hallo Bay. Once we were aboard, we found out that due to the easterly winds, it was not possible to land in Hallo Bay and the weather forecast was for the winds to get worse.
We spent the first day around Kukak Bay before making a run south to an area called Geographic Harbor. This is where we stayed, tucked in behind the headlands and islands to escape the wind. This did not stop the boat from being blown off the anchor, so we moved to a more sheltered spot. Along with the wind came a constant series of rain showers. If the weather looked like it was brightening up, by the time we were on the skiff, cameras in hand, it would be raining again. We learned that what ever the weather, we need to just go, the bears didn't care if it was raining and in five minutes it might stop raining and be 'almost' sunny. And anyway, with my chest waders and Stormtech jacket, I was impervious to the rain and my Canon camera gear is built to stand up to the rain, and if it got really bad, it could be safely stored in a waterproof bag.
While at Geographic Harbor, we got to see a number of bears. Males, Females, Females being hotly perused, at a leisurely pace, by males (aka OJ Simpson chases). We also got to see mothers interacting with cubs. The photos from Geographic Harbor are not the usual Katmai pictures, there is a lot more variety in the landscape.
The weather broke on our last full day, so at lunch time, the anchor was raised and we were off to Hallo Bay. We went for the last two excursions in Hallo Bat and they were great...
Here is a collection of pictures from the trip... I hope you enjoy them, I certainly enjoyed taking them.
I have spent some time with all the different species of bears in North America. People often ask how close did you get to the bears. My answer usually surprises them, as we get very close. The big difference, is that the bear populations that I visit, have only had limited and controlled interactions with humans. They have not been shot at, fed or harassed by people. As a result,we are just a curiosity. They may check you out as they walk by, or stand up on their hind legs to get a better view. As long as they do not feel threatened by your activity, they will just walk by. I would never intentionally put my self in a position where I was as close to a bear that could have had a bad interaction with people. I am not a bear expert, but If I was placed in that situation, I would remain calm and let the bear walk away. If the bear started to slapping it's lips, I would backup slowly towards a place of safety. Never run, bears are naturally programmed to chase, as demonstrated by the bears in Hallo Bay.