Journal entry and photographs courtesy of Will Bracken
Hallo Bay Wilderness Camp, Katmai National Park, Alaska
Four of us boarded a four seat Cessna at the Homer, Alaska airport with a young lady pilot after loading our camera gear and one duffle bag each for the one hour flight to the Hallo Bay Wilderness Camp in Katmai National Park. Our enthusiasm and excitement was focused on finding and photographing brown bear as they fished for salmon in one of the many rivers that empty into the Shelikof Strait between Hallo Bay camp and Kodiak Island. Our pilot made a smooth landing on the hard sand beach in front of the camp. We carried our gear to our assigned tents, and listened to an orientation about camp routine and bear behavior. We were fitted with hip boots, gathered our camera gear and set off with our guides, Simyra and John. We walked about a mile along the beach, keeping an eye out for any bear who might be fishing at the mouth of the river or digging for clams in the tidal area.
We trekked another couple of mile or so up a river whose name I don’t know and found a spot on a rocky islet where we set up our camera gear, tried to find a comfortable sitting position, and waited. The temperature was about 65 degrees and John said to a bear this was pretty warm, and so they might not be very active until later in the day. My enthusiasm began to wane a bit until John quietly said “bear at 11 o’clock.” I watched a large female brown bear make her way out of the wooded river bank into the water. She splashed around a bit, as if she was playing with some unseen water toy, making what seemed to me a rather feeble attempt to catch a fish. Her thick amber-colored winter coat sparkled in the sun. The salmon were so plentiful she didn’t have to work very hard and she seemed to be very picky. She rejected several fish before finding a keeper. I was so excited to be so close to this beautiful animal (maybe 20 ft) I forgot for a moment that I had a camera and I just enjoyed the experience. Being with this bear in her environment was both awe inspiring and humbling – two emotional experiences that are too often absent from my daily life. Over the next couple days I would see and photograph more bear, but this first one is the one I remember the best.