I spent five days at McNeil River Bear Sanctuary, Alaska two weeks ago. It was an incredible experience. Full report will follow as soon as I get time to edit the images. The most unforgettable experience for me was to see an interaction between a fox family and a rarely seen Wolverine.
There is a fox den at the campground. Mom with two cubs were seen on the beach most of the evenings.
One evening we found the mom making a sound similar to a dog’s repeated bark . The rangers knew something was wrong and the fox was in distress.
We got our cameras out and went to the beach. The scene that unfolded in front of us was something that even the rangers had not seen at McNeil.
The fox mom was chasing a wolverine. Wolverine was chubby , slow-moving but relentless. He was looking for the fox cubs, sniffing the ground to catch the scent. It made its way to the den following the scent. The den was underground and covered with tall fireweed. We could hear the scrubs shaking
and the fox sending the distress signal amidst lots of commotion. This went on for several hours. We were hoping for the best but fearing the worst. Next morning only one cub was found alive and the remains of the other cub were spotted by the rangers.
Katmai NP, Alaska. September 2010
I just got a letter from the Alaska Dept of Fish and Game stating that I won the lottery to photograph bears at McNeil River in August 2011. Needless to say, I am thrilled. I have heard that the wait for some people has been over ten years. The only way to go to McNeil is to win the lottery.
There is a $25 non refundable application fee. If your name gets drawn, the permit costs $350 for non residents and $150 for residents.
The facilities at McNeil are minimal. No electricity, telephone, food or drinking water. They do suply a stove and propane for the campers. Over next couple of months I will be thinking about the logistics of carrying all the provisions and gear to McNeil.
The only way to the camp is by air taxi. McNeil is 100 miles west of Homer, the closest air taxi service. The round trip to the camp from Homer is going to cost me $700. Ouch!
The North Wind Air allows total of 250Lbs including my body weight, so I have about 90lbs to play with.
Things I am going to take on this trip.
1. A tent. The weather at McNeil can be brutal. Winds gust up to 70mph and non stop rain is the norm. A tent is the only thing that is going to protect my gear and me from the elements. I need a strong but light weight tent. After lots of research, I decided on Mountain Hard wear SKYLEDGE2 1.
2. Rain Gear. The rangers at McNeil wear rubber rain jackets. They work great but they’re heavy. Given the weight limit, this is going to be out of the question. My choice here is CABELA’S GORE-TEX PAC-LITE RAINY RIVER PARKA.
The chest waders I got from Cabalas (Premium Dry-Plus™ Breathable Stockingfoot Waders) worked great when I was photographing bears at Katmai National Park, Sept 2010. I was crossing Brooks River several times a day wearing this. They kept me dry and comfortable.
3. Layers of clothing
4. Meals. Freeze dried meal packs from Mountain House , Various bars and few apples.
5. SteriPen Classic Handheld UV Water purifier
1. I am debating what long lens to take. My 600mm going to be great, but heavy to lug around. I am leaning towards leaving the 600 behind and taking the 200-400VR with me. 70-200VR will be my mid range zoom. The main camera is my trusty D3 and the back up camera is D200.
I have at least 4 batteris for my D3 that will provide plenty of juice for four days of shooting. My d200 battery pack takes AA batteries. I will be taking lots of lithium AAs for the battery pack. They last forever.
2. Kibiko back pack by Gura Gear. I pick this one over Kinesis long lens bag due to former having a rain cover. My camera and lenses will be placed in light weight sea to summit waterproof drysacks in case I fall into the river during river crossings
3. Gitzo 5541L heavy duty carbon fibre tripod.
4.. 80GBs of CF cards and two 160GB hyperdrives