The very early float plane flight was beautiful through light cloud cover, I could see occasional patches of ocean and sky. Would I be lucky and see grizzlies? We flew to Katmai National Park, Hallo Bay at the base of Hallo Glacier in the shadow of Kukak Volcano. The pilot pointed to an area on the beach where he would pick me up at 5:00 o'clock that afternoon. He warned me that the tide would be high and that the landscape might look different. After we landed the pilot stood knee deep in the icy water and pulled the plane sideways towards the beach. With my boots over my shoulder I waded in the ocean onto the beach. Walking away, I stopped and got my first photo of my footsteps leading away from the float plane just before it took off.
Hallo Bay float plane
I needed to cross a small river mouth to get onto the mainland. I carried my boots slung across my camera gear backpack, my large tripod over my shoulder, I rolled my pants up as far as they could go. The water was an amazing color and moving very fast, it's fed by Hallo Glacier it's very cold. I stepped carefully into the flow planting my foot very firmly before taking another step. I can swim but my Fuji S3 Pro digital camera and lenses wouldn't be much good filled with brackish water.
The crossing was about fifty feet, ten feet in I was already nervous, cold and worried about getting washed away. I was also surprised by how deep the water was, my pants where already wet. Once across I set up my tripod, hung my gear on it and removed my wet trousers. I unrolled them and started wringing them out. With the ocean at my back, I was mesmerized by the glacier and snow peaked mountains. Eagles soared overhead. On the beach fifty feet away was the objective of my expedition, a grizzly. It lay there in the sand with front legs crossed and head resting on paws, watching me in my underwear! Oh my goodness! I thought, “WOW, he really looks funny.” I guess I did as well.
Grizzly on the beach
I had a strange feeling that something else was going on. I turned and looked around behind me. Just two feet away was a red fox. It was so close it could have licked me. I jumped back, facing it with my pants in my hand. I thought, "I really shouldn't turn my back to a grizzly". Perhaps I should put my pants on. As I hopped on one leg to get dressed, the fox went on its way. The bear just lay there watching.
Red fox Eating a razor clam
I’ve only been on the beach for moments, and I’m already in sensory overload. I got my gear together and started shooting pictures of the grizzly. An eagle landed on a pile of driftwood on the beach behind the bear. This was photographer heaven! I smiled.
I tried not to scare the eagle away at the same time worried the bear may eat me. From what I could see, though, it was happy resting quietly in the cool sand, and I wasn’t on the menu.
For an hour I stood in mostly one spot shooting one thing. The whole world was in front of me and I hadn't seen anything other than the fox, one bear and an eagle surrounded by a glacier and snow peaked mountains. It was time to expand my horizons. I looked around, I could see small creeks and rivers snaking their way across the mud flats and grasslands. In the distance I could see more bears, I chose where to go next and how to get there.
I walked across the mud flats dotted with foot prints the size of my head. Staying out of water was nearly impossible, but to get the good shots wet feet was a small price to pay.
The next couple of hours went by quickly. There were bears everywhere, with eagles and foxes in between. At one point, I saw something in the sky. Two eagles had flown towards each their massive wings fully outstretched. They grabbed each other with their talons and plummeted towards the earth, rolling end over end. In an instant within feet of the ground they separated, flying off in opposite directions.
It happened so fast, I had no time to capture it. At the grassy edge of the beach amongst the driftwood, I saw red foxes trotting around the beach, sniffing the ground as they went. They would stop for a second and then wander on, stop again, always with nose to the ground. Suddenly they’d dig, and score, they’d found a clam.
Red fox digging clams
CONTINUED ON GRIZZLY #2