Posts Tagged ‘bears’

Close encounters of the bruin kind

July 21st, 2011 1 comment

Tyler was working his way along the rock face when he suddenly snapped his head back around the corner. He looked at me, eyes wide and face in a state of shock, and stuttered out a warning.

“B- B- Bears!”

I was a few feet behind on the narrow rock terrace that served as a pass between the sheer face and the raging Toklat River.  We had been backpacking in the Denali National Park backcountry for a few days and were heading down the river towards the park road, still six miles distant.  A strong wind was blowing upriver, making it unlikely that any bears around the bend would be able to smell us in our current positions.

“How close?” I asked as Tyler somehow passed me going the other way.

“Really close.  See that gravel bar in the river?”

I saw a gravel bar, but it was just yards away.  Surely that wasn’t what he meant.

“But that’s only…” was all I could vocalize before I saw an image that will be forever burned into my memory: the head of a golden-brown grizzly bear poking around the corner, a stark contrast to the gray water and the black rock.  It was no more than 20 feet from me.

“Oh crap!” I said, and I quickly followed Tyler away from the bears.

One by one, three grizzlies sauntered around the rock face by wading through the rushing water.  Clearly, they were not concerned about being swept downstream.  It was a mother and two cubs.

Tyler and I continued our retreat while waving our hands above our heads and yelling, “Hey bear!”  The knowledge that most of Denali National Park’s grizzly bears were vegetarian provided little reassurance, as a physical encounter in our situation would have been about a mother protecting her offspring rather than predation.

Since the bears seemed to be set on going up the bank of the river, and we couldn’t cross the river’s narrow, fast channel, our only option was to scramble up a steep talus slope.  We managed to put about 50 feet between us and the river — and thus, between us and the bears.

Grizzlies! Much closer than the ones at Banff.

Fortunately, the bears appeared to be as uninterested in us as they were in moving quickly.  They took their time wallowing up the bank, pausing for long intervals to sniff various interesting rocks and shrubs.  We continued to wave our hands and yell.

Me taking a photo of the bears. See how I'm not using a big telephoto lens? (Credit: Tyler)

Ten minutes after it started, our close encounter with one of North America’s most powerful animals came to an end.  The bears moved out of sight upriver.  Tyler and I breathed sighs of relief and continued our downriver trek.


June 29th, 2011 4 comments

The grizzly was chewing on what appeared to be grass as she looked me in the eye.  To her left and right, her cubs alternated between feeding on the vegetation (maybe berries?) and rolling around.  I stood my ground, awestruck at the scene before me.

Hi there Mrs. Bear

It was my first time seeing a grizzly bear in the wild, let alone a mother with her cubs.

Don't get between mama grizzly and the cubs

Then again, I’m leaving out a couple important details, the two most pertinent being that I was 80 meters away from the bears and that an electric fence separated us.  It was hardly a wilderness encounter.  Instead, I was on the perimeter road of the tent camping area at Lake Louise Campground in Banff NP, Alberta, Canada.  The crowd that had gathered on the road was the thing that had tipped me off to grab my cameras.

Not quite wilderness

I felt sorry for the people trying to snap photos with cell phones

Even though the setting was a bit artificial, it was a great sight.  The bears were truly wild.  The fence was not bear-proof – it’s a deterrent more than a barrier – so there was still an element of danger.  And anyway, I’d rather see the grizzlies in a setting like that than in my backcountry campsite.

Mama bear again

The only disappointments about the experience had to do with the photography.  First, the light wasn’t very good.  Second, it seems that my AF often decided to lock on to the grass in front of the bears rather than the bears themselves, so a number of frames turned out unusable.  Third, and most significant, was I decided to run my 1.4x TC on my 70-200/2.8, which significantly impaired that otherwise tack-sharp lens. (In case you’re thinking “Wait… don’t you have a program that’s supposed to fix blurriness?” well… yes, but the blurs here were focus blurs, not motion blurs.)

Bear cub stands on its hind legs

So, yeah.  The photos were a bit underwhelming, but my first big-mammal experience of the trip  was a reasonable success.