In July 2013, I took an absolutely incredible trip to Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska to photograph the brown bears (the term “grizzly” is apparently reserved for the inland bears and not these coastal ones). I went with an organized photo tour and can’t say enough wonderful things about the tour operator.
Since I knew I would be in Anchorage a couple of days prior to the start of the tour, I looked at this particular website dedicated to the Anchorage area in search of possible day trips. There, I noticed an ad for Regal Air. After reading about the bear-viewing day trips offered and the good reviews from other participants, I decide to send a deposit to Regal Air for a trip to photograph the bears at Silver Salmon Creek in Lake Clark National Park and Preserve.
Yes, I knew I would be devoting several days photographing the bears in Katmai, but since I had lugged a rented 500mm lens with me, I wanted to get as much out of it as possible and figured Lake Clark NP might present a different photographic environment since it’s located northeast of Katmai NP.
Like most other flightseeing operations around the Anchorage area, Regal Air offers a number of options for trips. Their staff is very friendly and helpful, providing tips on other places to see and things to do while staying in Anchorage and Alaska as a whole. And, like other flightseeing operations, Regal Air keeps their plane windows nice and clean for people like me who want to photograph the amazing Alaskan scenery while in the air.
Alaska from above. Anchorage is way off in the background.
Here’s how my day went: I arrived at Regal Air’s small office around 7:45AM for an 8AM departure. Because of the weather (cold, foggy, and rainy), takeoff was delayed for about 45 minutes. You see, these small 5-seater planes do not have auto pilot; everything is by sight. This makes weather situations problematic and pilots keep a “weather eye” (pun intended) out for not only takeoff but also flight path and landing destination conditions.
Once in the air, we donned our padded earphones to keep out the plane drone and communicate clearly with one another without resorting to shouting above the din. During the 1-hour flight, our pilot pointed out various geographic points of interest and spotted things I and the other three passengers would have never noticed (such as the white backs of beluga whales surfacing for air as they swam near the mouth of a large river below us).
Offshore rigs – I counted 15 of them.
We flew in a wheeled plane rather than a floatplane, so we landed on the sandy beach at low tide. Our guide James Isaak, proprieter of Alaska Homestead Lodge, Inc., picked all of us up in a sort of modified ATV “carriage”.
James Isaak’s Alaska Homestead Lodge and the land around it.
First order of business was to take a bathroom break at the lodge, then slip into rubber boots for walking on the wet grass and beach since it was cold, overcast, and raining. James offered bright yellow rain slickers to any of us who had not brought along our own gear. Having checked the weather reports for both Anchorage and Lake Clark NP, I had the foresight to bring along my waterproof field jacket and protective rain coverings for my cameras and lenses.
Then off we went in search of the bears.
Most bear-viewing trips last anywhere from 6 hours to 10 hours. This includes the hour or so to get to the destination, 1.5 – 2 hours for bear viewing, 1.5 hours for lunch or dinner – depending on the tour – and an hour to return to Anchorage. Regal Air now offers a 10-hour photographic workshop which includes an instructor for the day, a box lunch, and the private aircraft for the day. For more information on Regal Air, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit their website www.regal-air.com
Stay tuned for more photos and stories of this particular trip as well as my Katmai and Alaska trip as a whole.