Brown Bears of Silver Salmon Creek 2014 Trip Report

By Perry Conway on Nov 25, 2014

Having guided bear photo safaris for over 25 years, I have often wondered why people will come from all over the world to see grizzly bears—and why I personally have been fascinated by these amazing creatures since childhood. After doing some research and talking with scientists and experts on human behavior, I think I know at least part of the answer: Know Your Enemy.

In other words, in many of us there is an innate passion, dating back to the time our survival as a species depended on it, that we know as much as possible about the animals that have the potential to kill us. And grizzlies, or brown bears as they call them along the coast of Alaska, certainly do! Looking at a predatory species from ground level just a few yards away—and not from a vehicle or confined to a viewing platform—produces a kind of adrenalin rush not too many photo opportunities can provide. Our photo safari to Silver Salmon Creek does exactly that.

The adrenalin starts in Anchorage when we board our chartered bush plane (each seat has both a window and an aisle) and fly west for just over an hour. Our destination is Lake Clark National Park. As we fly along the coastline past active volcanoes, wonderful photo opportunities have already started. We land on the beach where we are met by ATVs pulling trailers which will take us and all our gear to Homestead Lodge located about a mile away. The trip’s slide show will show an example of what the carts look like and, perhaps more importantly, the kind of bear images you can expect to capture.

For the remainder of that first day at Silver Salmon Creek and for the next four days, our number one objective is to view and photograph as many different kinds of bear behaviors as possible. We look for bears grazing, clamming, nursing, being defensive or aggressive toward other bears, and chasing salmon through the shallow water.

On the trip this past August, my most memorable shoot was our last one. A very large sow—I would guess her weight to be around 500–600 pounds—with her two spring cubs provided many wonderful photographic opportunities. Right in front of us, she did exactly what we all wanted. She caught a large silver salmon. She nursed her two cubs. The bears provided many different portrait opportunities, with different backgrounds, until she and her cubs finally lay down right at the edge of the gravel river bank and looked directly at us. Her eyes seemed to say, “I’m OK with you there, but don’t come any closer!” Of course we did not, but our cameras allowed us to nearly fill the frame with the essence of what a female brown bear family is all about.

Hope to see you at Lake Clark next summer.