Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 6

The Tre Cime de Lavaredo are the three mountain peaks that are the highlight of the Tre Cime Natural Park.  (In German, they are called Drei Zinnen.)  From the end of the road at Rifugio Auronzo, we began our three mile hike around Tre Cime to Rifugio Locatelli.  The hike took us up to 8000 feet, to a saddle between Tre Cime and the nearby Monte Paterno (Paternkofel), where we had lunch.  The trail descended from the pass back down a few hundred feet, before ascending again to Locatelli, back at 8000 feet elevation.  Temperatures were in the 50’s, and it was somewhat windy.

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Shown below, the Locatelli hut, with the Torre di Toblin behind it.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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On the side of the Monte Paterno, we saw some climbers on a Via Ferrata (Italian for “Iron Road”).  These are hiking and climbing routes that have a cable, fixed to the rock every few meters.  You wear a harness with two carabiners.  As you reach one of the iron stays in the rock, you unclip one carabiner and reattach it to the cable on the other side of the stay, then follow with the other carabiner.  Thus, you are always attached to the cable.

Many of the Via Ferrata in the Dolomites are left from World War I.  The Dolomites were a major battleground in the war between Austria-Hungary and Italy.

In the photo below, you see a couple of people on a fairly flat, easy section of Via Ferrata on Monte Paterno.

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We continued on to the Locatelli hut.  This is a much larger hut than the Resciesa hut we stayed in earlier—I’d guess they have room for over 100 people.  But note that they only have one shower, and it costs €5 to use it for six minutes.  (None of our group bothered with a shower that night.)

Many dayhikers come for lunch or dinner in the cafe.  Along with a lot of people, we saw a few dogs of all sizes on the trail.  Here’s a photo of a beautiful Bernese Mountain Dog.

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That night, the barometric pressure began to rise, and we set our alarms in hopes of clear skies for night photography.  We got started a little bit late, so this turned into a bit of night photography combined with pre-dawn photography.  Here’s a time-lapse sequence showing the transition from night to twilight.

We returned to bed for an hour of sleep before heading out for sunrise.  Here’s one of my favorite infrared images of the dawn light hitting Monte Paterno and the Tre Cime.

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We returned again to bed for another hour of sleep before breakfast, and then began our hike back to Rifugio Auronzo, where we waited for our taxi that would take us to Cortina.

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Up next, Cortina and Venice.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 5

(This is my 100th post on this blog.  Thank you all for reading.)

The morning of July 1, we left Selva/Wolkenstein for Lago di Dobbiaco.  I kind of think of this as a rest day between our weather-challenged hike from yesterday, and the 8000-foot-elevation hiking of tomorrow.  We also swapped out our guides–trading Hayden for Jake, who would be with us until the official end of the trip.  Both guides provided by AlpineHikers were excellent.

As we drove over to Dobbiaco, we saw many bicyclists preparing for the following day’s Maratona dles Dolomites, an 85-mile bike race with nearly 14,000 feet of elevation gain.  (The winner averaged 18.6 mph.)  Nearly 30,000 cyclists apply each year for one of the 9,000 starting positions.

ToDobbiaco

We checked into the116-year-old Hotel Baur, which sits right on the lake.

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(Click on any image to enlarge.)

We walked around the lake, then I settled on a view facing south for most of my images.  We played around with reflections, and slow shutter speeds as the water flowed over a dam at the north end of the lake.  Here’s an infrared photo from late in the day.

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Here’s a group shot of all of us on a bridge near the hotel.

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The next morning, we drove into the Tre Cime Natural Park and began our hike to Rifugio Locatelli.  Stay tuned for more.

ToTresCime

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 4

The next day—June 29 if you’re keeping score—we took a taxi down to the ski village of Ortisei.  We spent a little time walking around the town and enjoying time at a cafe near the Hotel Adler before taking a funicular up into the mountains.

ToOrtisei

From the top of the funicular, it’s about a mile traverse (light blue route below) over to Rifugio Resciesa, where we’d stay for the evening.  Unfortunately, I fell ill with intestinal pain that afternoon, so once I got to the hut, I just rested.  As I look for a silver lining to being sick, the afternoon views were hampered by a whole lot of clouds.  My body chose a good time to demand rest.

The Resciesa hut is one of many different mountain huts scattered all over the Alps.  It’s a combination bar/restaurant and guest house.  The Resciesa hut is one of the smaller huts, with room for about 40 people.  We had a room of bunk beds for all eight of us.  Some rooms are larger; some smaller.  There were two showers and two bathrooms shared for everyone at the hut.  I was pretty pleased with the experience, and people who had been at other Alpine huts agreed that this was among the nicer ones.

Resciesa

The next morning, the weather and my health had both improved.  I decided to hike the approximately one-mile loop from the hut, to the peak, and then over to a small chapel.  (This is the darker blue route on the map above.)  The temperatures were in the 50’s and windy.  I’d typically wear three to five layers of clothes to maintain comfort.

On my way up, I took this infrared photo of the Resciesa hut in the lower left, with the Langkofel Group of mountains in the distance.  There are still plenty of clouds around, but at least we could see for miles around.

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Click any image to enlarge.

It’s pretty common for hikable mountains in this area to have wooden crosses at their summits.  Here’s an infrared view of the cross above the Resciesa hut.

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And a closer look from my regular camera:

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I turned around the other way, and took this panorama.  The Resciesa hut is on the far left of the photo, and the chapel is to the right of the sign near the middle.

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In the late morning, we left the hut and started a traverse eastward.  The plan was to get a better perspective on the Geislergruppe, also to our east.  We would then take a trail down to the middle station of aerial gondolas ascending up to the Seceda ski area.  We could then take the gondola down to Ortisei, where we left the day before.

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A typical lunch for us was a lunch sack prepared by our guide containing snacks and an always-excellent sandwich prepared that morning from local cheeses, meats, and vegetables.  On this day, it was more of a “build-your-own” affair.  Here’s a photo of our guide, Hayden, with the lunch preparations spread out under his tarp.

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We had lunch near one of the peaks above the funicular station.  We spent quite a bit of time there making time lapse videos.  Here’s an infrared time lapse of the Geislergruppe, to our east.

I would love to tell you that the rest of our day was uneventful.  But it was not to be.

The weather turned again.  Soon after we left our lunch spot, it looked like we might have a brief shower.  We put our rain covers over our packs, and donned our rain jackets.  Most of us had rain pants with us, but none of us felt like it was going to be necessary to put them on.  We were wrong.

The sleet started first.  Some called it hail.  The temperatures dropped to around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Then rain mixed in.  And then thunder.  If it weren’t for the thunder, we might have stopped to put on our rain pants.  On the map below, our travel route enters from the upper left, and we headed due east.  We were originally aiming for the intersection of trails just right of center.  With the rain, we debated going on to the Rifugio Malga Brogles a bit further on the trail to wait out the rain and sleet.  But it was the thunder that convinced us that it was time to exit the mountain as quickly as possible.

We went off trail, heading down an embankment to take us down below tree line to pick up the return trail.  It was steep and slippery, but it was the fastest way out of danger from possible lightning.  Once we got to the return trail, the hike finally met its promise of being uneventful, except for the part about being soaked.  The thunder stopped; the rain abated.  The temperatures rose as we descended.

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We made it to the cable car and descended to Ortisei to catch the bus to continue our journey.  We stayed overnight that night in Selva (known in German as Wolkenstein).

ToSelva

Coming up, a visit to Lago di Dobbiaco, and on to the highlight of the trip, Tres Cime.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 3

The next day, we took the bus to the end of the road, and went for an approximately 7-mile hike near Santa Magdalena at around 2000 meters elevation.  Here’s the trail we took, hiking from east to west:

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As I mentioned in my last post, the weather turned overcast with a low ceiling, and a nearly constant threat of rain.  The good news is that it didn’t actually rain much—a couple of passing showers that lasted only minutes.  The bad news is that we had to imagine what the scenery looked like:

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(Click on any image to enlarge.)

Once again, I turned to my infrared Nikon D300 to find elements of drama in the larger scene.  On this trip, I used the versatile Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 lens for all of my infrared photos.  This shot is using a focal length of 65mm (35mm equivalent of 100mm) at f/5.

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Another approach to photographing with uncooperative weather is to focus on details, such as this flower.

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I believe this is a Phyteuma orbiculare.
Common name: Round-headed Rampion

The weather improved marginally as we neared the end of our hike, descending to Santa Magdalena to catch the bus back to the hotel.  The mountains were still in the clouds, but we could at least appreciate more of the scenery.

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The next day, we hiked again for about five miles in the same area, heading more east:

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The weather was slightly improved from the day before—the ceiling had lifted ever so slightly, and we saw some blue sky as the day progressed.

Here’s my favorite infrared photo from the day, with the brooding clouds hanging just at the top of the peaks.

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As long as the sky was cloudy, we could switch our focus to scenes that don’t include it.  I photographed these waterfalls with a 1/3 second exposure at f/22.

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The photo below is a 1/10 second exposure, also at f/22.

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If you haven’t figured it out by now, one of the themes of this week was to find different ways to photograph something interesting while having challenging weather conditions.  This led us to time-lapse photography.

Here’s a very short video of sixty time-lapse frames.  Each frame was taken 3 seconds apart, and the video below speeds it up by 36x.  I’ll have a few more examples like this in later blog posts.

Next up, an afternoon in Ortisei, on our way up to our first mountain hut, the Rifugio Resciesa.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 2

The next morning, Jennifer and I took the train from Innsbruck down to Bolzano, Italy.

This part of Italy is called the Südtirol in German and Trentino/Alto Adige in Italian.  For a thousand or so years before the end of World War I, this area was part of Austria-Hungary and its predecessor states.  The primary languages in this area are German, Italian, and Ladin.

ToBozen

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View from the train to Balzano

Once in Bolzano, we met the rest of our party.  The trip was organized by our friend Kerrick James, a professional photographer and Ricoh Imaging Ambassador (Ricoh owns the well-respected camera brand Pentax).  See more about Kerrick at Ricoh Imaging Ambassadors, KerrickJames.com, and KJ Photo Safaris.  Kerrick’s fiancée, Julie, joined us, along with three other photographers who had traveled with Kerrick in the past.  Also joining us was our guide, Hayden, from our outfitter, AlpineHikers.

_DSF0113Statue of the poet Walther von der Vogelweide in Bolzano

For the next three nights, we stayed at the Hotel Kabis, in Val di Funes.  Before we piled into a waiting taxi van, I ran to the grocery  store and picked up an excellent €8 bottle of wine to take with us, a Lagrein from Kellerei Bozen.

ToKabis

That evening, the weather started to turn.  The partly cloudy and warm days were giving way to overcast skies and threats of rain.

When that happens, I turn to my infrared camera.  I have a Nikon D300 that I’ve had converted to infrared by LifePixel.com.  (I encourage you to use that affiliate link if you’re interested in converting or buying an infrared camera.  I get a small credit towards a future conversion.)  The conversion process removes a filter in front of the camera sensor, and replaces it with one that only passes infrared light.  The resulting images can bring out dramatic skies and landscapes.  The image below, from the cemetery at Pfarrkirche St. Peter, is an example.

_DSC6176 v2The cemetery at Pfarrkirche St. Peter in Villnöß

Next up, hiking around Santa Magdalena.

Hiking in the Dolomites, Part 1

From June 23 to July 5, I was in Europe, mostly hiking and photographing around the Dolomites, in the Alps of Northern Italy.

I met my friend and travel partner, Jennifer, in Munich.  She and I have been on several photography trips together—Utah, Alaska, Vermont, New Mexico, Hawaii.  Once we got to Italy, we would meet our friend and pro photographer, Kerrick James (http://kerrickjames.com/ and http://kjphotosafaris.com/) and a few others for the remainder of the trip.

But first, we spent the day in Munich.  We stayed at the Hotel Torbraü, near Isartor, and not far from the Marienplatz.  Despite advertising itself as the oldest hotel in the heart of Munich (since the year 1490), it was quite nice and convenient.

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After lunch, we met my friend, Rahman, and toured parts of the city that I’d never been to before.  We finished with a walk around part of the Englischer Garten, before returning to the hotel to get an early dinner and some much needed sleep.

The next morning, we departed by train for Innsbruck.  I’d been to Vienna, Graz, and Salzburg before, but never Innsbruck, and this was a convenient halfway point between Munich and our starting point in Italy.

_DSF0078Central Innsbruck

_DSF0070Griffon at Rudolfsbrunnen.  The statue behind, from 1863, commemorates the 500th anniversary of Tyrol joining Austria.

We had a difficult night’s sleep at the hotel, the Gasthof Weisses Rössl.  It was a warm day in Innsbruck, and the hotel was not air-conditioned.  Further, the windows did a better job of keeping the warm air in, and the cooler air outside out.

_DSF0081Hotel of the White Horse.

Still, the rooms were nicely and interestingly done on the inside.  Here’s a photo of one of the walls.  To the left of the television is a wall with a plexiglas front, with the gap filled with salt.  To the right, a similar panel, with the gap filled with peppercorns.

_DSF0096The Salt and Pepper Walls

Next stop, Italy.  Stay tuned.

Northern Lights

There exist websites that forecast the likelihood of seeing the northern lights.  Despite being in Alaska for a week last year where the prediction was occasionally high, I’ve never seen them.  On our second night at the lodge, the prediction was once again fairly good, so most of us set our alarms to wake up in the middle of the night and look for them.  And once again, my hopes were dashed.  My camera was all set up, so I decided to take some photos for star trails in the dark, clear night sky…

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The next night’s forecast was not as good, so we didn’t set any alarms.  However, I woke up and went to the bathroom about 1:30 AM, and decided to peek outside.  And there they were.  I took a couple of 20-second (ISO 800, f/5.6) exposures, then woke my friends before returning to my camera to take a handful more exposures.  A friend of mine staying in Denali (several hundred miles north) that week said they were wonderful up there.

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Puffins of Tuxedni National Wildlife Refuge

About 12 miles north of Silver Salmon Creek are a pair of islands that are part of the Tuxedni National Wildlife Refuge.  In this photo, the larger island is Chisik Island, with the Aleutian Range and the Chigmit Mountains behind it in the distance.  The small island in the right foreground is Duck Island, where hundreds of Horned and Tufted Puffins nest.

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Thanks to our neighbors at Silver Salmon Creek Lodge, we were able to take the lodge’s boat to see the puffins.  As you can see, this was one of our calm, clear weather days, and the puffins were very active.  They were only a few days away from leaving the island—they winter at sea in the Gulf of Alaska.

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Here’s a photo of Duck Island as we departed, with Redoubt Volcano in the distance.  Redoubt last erupted in 2009.  (Another active volcano, Iliamna, is about 15 miles west of the lodge.)

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Photo Gear for Alaska

For one important reason, I put a lot of thought into what to take on this trip:  weight.  The charter aircraft from Anchorage had a weight limit, and we were bringing a lot of heavy camera gear with us.  So, I got out the kitchen scale and started weighing lenses, camera bodies, tripods and heads, and even my photo backpack.  The weight limit required a lot of compromises.  In the end, I chose about 30 lbs. of photo gear to bring with me…

Weight (lbs.)
7.5 Nikon body and lenses
6 Fuji body and lenses
6 Tripod & head
6 Backpack
4.5 Computer, memory cards, chargers, tools, etc.
30 Total

I put all the gear into my Lowepro Nature Trekker AW backpack (a model which is now discontinued).  “AW” means all-weather; it has a built-in rain cover I could use when needed.  With the unpredictability of Alaskan weather, this seemed like a good idea.  Here’s how I packed everything in.  (I ended up replacing the 80-200 with an 80-400.)

Backpack

As you can see, I took two camera systems:  Nikon DSLR and Fujifilm X-series mirrorless.  I considered going all Nikon or all Fuji—even waffling back and forth a week before the trip.  By taking both, I got to test both camera systems in nearly identical circumstances, and compare how they performed.

 

For the Nikon system, I brought…

  • D810 full-frame body
  • 24-120 f/4 lens
  • 80-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens

 

For the Fuji system, I brought…

  • X-E2 APS-C body
  • 18-55 lens
  • 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 lens
  • 1.4x teleconverter

 

When we were out with the bears, we had to keep all our gear with us—no leaving it in the ATV trailer where bears could find and chew on it.  We were thus discouraged from taking too much gear out into the field.  I’d typically take one body with one long lens.  If I took the Nikon with long lens, I’d sometimes take the lightweight Fuji with the 18-55 lens for landscapes.  I ended up not taking the backpack or the rest of the gear into the field after the first day.

The vast majority of the time, I used the Nikkor 80-400 and Fuji 100-400, and I thought each was a good choice.  I didn’t use the 1.4 TC after the first day or two; on the APS-C body, the effective 150-600mm focal length without the TC was more than enough.  On the Nikon, I rarely wished I’d had either an APS-C body or teleconverter.  The Fuji 100-400, in particular, is a superb lens—hand-holdable up to five stops, and without the vignetting problems of the Nikkor 80-400.

I rented the Nikkor 80-400 from borrowlenses.com.  I felt like this was a great deal—12 days for less than a tenth the price of buying the lens new, and the 80-400 is a specialty lens I wouldn’t normally use in my other shooting.  Let me know if you’re planning to rent from borrowlenses.com; I can likely get you $20 off your first rental.

I brought along my di-GPS Pro receiver for the Nikon body.  This GPS receiver, from Dawn Technology in Hong Kong, plugs into the Nikon and geotags the images.  Then, in Adobe Lightroom, you can view a map of where you took your photos.  (The numbers represent how many photos I took in each spot.)

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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As you keep zooming in, you can see more and more detail.  Here’s the mouth of the creek, where the bear fish and clam much of the time.

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As I mentioned above, I was curious how the two camera systems fared compared to each other.

The summary is that the Nikon DSLR is clearly a better camera than the Fuji X-E2.  It’s also bigger, heavier, more expensive, is faster, and has more megapixels.  But the X-E2 also did a great job, too.  With a slight edge towards the Nikon, the number of “keeper” photographs was about even between the two cameras, as were the total number of photographs out of the thousands I took.

One key speed difference is that the Nikon has buttons readily available to adjust ISO, autofocus, and almost every other camera setting.  On the Fuji, many settings are behind menus that you have to navigate through.  I was not as familiar with some of the lesser-used Fuji options at the beginning of the week, and by the end of the week, I had learned how to get more out of the Fuji than I could at the beginning.  I started and ended the week still loving both cameras.  I think you could take either kind of system and come back with great photographs.

Would I recommend that anyone take two different camera systems with them to Lake Clark?  No.  But I would take two bodies—one as a backup for the other.  I’d also recommend taking a couple of lenses:  First, a 100-400 lens, ideally with a 1.4X teleconverter.  The Sigma 150-600 lens would be an interesting alternative.  Second, I’d take a shorter landscape lens—a 24-70, or 24-85.  A 100mm lens is too long to do much in terms of landscapes, or snapshots that help tell the story of your trip.

 

Rounding out my photo gear choices, I brought my Induro CLT304L tripod, with a Really Right Stuff BH-40 ballhead.  I briefly considered my alternate, smaller, lighter-weight tripod, a Gitzo G1027 Mk II (no longer available, but similar to the Mountaineer Series 0 tripod).  I’m glad I took the larger tripod; I would have been frustrated by the low height of the smaller tripod—and probably frustrated by having a somewhat less sturdy platform.  I absolutely love the RRS BH-40 ballhead; I’ve had mine for years.  I use Wimberley and RRS plates for my cameras and lenses.

 

One final note on other tools to bring along…  I brought a small folding hex (Allen) wrench set, useful for adjustments to the tripod mounting plates.  I forgot to bring anything to clean the camera sensor, and I started out the week with a noticeable piece of dust on my sensor.  Fortunately, one of my traveling companions had brought his blower (I use a Giottos Rocket Blaster), and I borrowed it one day at lunch.  I’d bring at least two, and preferably three, batteries—maybe more depending on how efficient your cameras are, and how much you shoot.  It’s convenient to swap out batteries at lunch for a fresh set.

 

I brought a small laptop computer with a large internal hard drive, along with a memory card reader so that I could back up my images every day.  The memory card reader failed—but fortunately, I had the right cables for connecting the computer directly to the cameras, so I backed up that way.  Having a computer also let me see how well I was doing at capturing photos, since I could view the images full size.  As an example, I could tell that my Fuji photos at the beginning of the week were great when the bears were relatively still, but the Fuji did a terrible job of continuous autofocus when the bears were running as they fished.  By adjusting to use only the mechanical shutter (instead of the electronic shutter), and by switching from single-point focus to wide/tracking focus, the action photos got a lot better by the end of the week.  I’d never really thought about those choices before.

 

Do you have questions or comments (or even suggestions) about my gear?  Please comment below.

Alaska Homestead Lodge, Silver Salmon Creek

[Updated:  See addendum at the end of this post.]

While in Alaska, we stayed at a great lodge, The Alaska Homestead Lodge.  It’s part of a small Alaskan bush community at Silver Salmon Creek.  The owners, James and Shelia Isaak, live next to the lodge and keep it in great shape.

(Click any image to enlarge.)

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The lodge itself is on the inland side of the tidal marshes, only a few hundred yards from the coast.  It was common to be sitting in the upstairs dining room and watching bears walk in from the beach, right past the lodge on their way into the forest.

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We also had a great guide, Belle, who has been guiding three years at the lodge.  There are two lodges along the coast, and the guides from both lodges cooperate with each other to share information on the radio about what the bears are doing.  The guides drive four-wheel ATVs with small trailers.  I did this trip with four of my friends, and we all rode in the trailer together up and down the beach, through the creek, and along the trails.

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Here’s a snapshot showing a typical morning at the beach, with a group from each lodge watching the mom and three cubs dig for clams.  We all wore rubber boots (supplied by the lodge) to keep our feet dry.

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A pleasant surprise was the food at the lodge.  Not just good; it was great.  Our chef’s summer job last year was at Bouchon.  Meals were prepared in the lodge’s upstairs kitchen and served at the communal dining table.  The grilled salmon was fresh and expertly prepared—I think we had it three different nights.  We also had pork tenderloin, lasagna, chicken fajitas—and fresh desserts, such as berry crisp, and chocolate pie.

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The lodge had a garden and greenhouse from which the salads came… lettuce, kale, broccolini, cabbage, and more.  For the most part, the bears left these alone—even the berries used in the desserts.

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Like much of Alaska, the only reasonable way in and out of the lodge is by plane.  We used Natron Air Taxi as our charter to get to the lodge from Anchorage.  We had cloudless, blue sky for our flight on this GA-8 Airvan.

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And here we are coming in for a landing on the beach.

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The weather continued to be great for the first five days.  The previous three weeks were rainy, and the following two weeks were predicted to be rainy—but we had five solid sunny days.  And then it turned foggy, misty, and rainy for us, too.  The lodge recommends having a buffer travel day on each side of your stay, in case you get weathered in and can’t get into or out of the lodge.  We almost were stuck at the lodge an additional day.  Tim, our pilot, persisted and was able to land further north and taxi down the beach for a couple of miles to get us.

On a positive note, the fog and clouds added some variety to our scenery and photographs.

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[Addendum]

It occurred to me after posting this that I didn’t describe what a typical day was like.  Each day, you work out your schedule with your guide.  We’d typically get up for an early shoot around 7:00 AM, then back to the lodge at 8:00 AM for breakfast.  Then we’d head back out after breakfast for a few hours, and return for lunch around noon.  Because of the high latitude, the quality of light stayed pretty good until 10:00 or 11:00 AM—even longer if it was a little hazy.  If something especially good is happening, our guide would radio the lodge to let them know we’d be running late.  After lunch, we’d often take a break (nap time), and head out again for a few hours before or after dinner.

A lot is dependent on the tide.  At high tide, the bears are usually in the meadow eating grass and sleeping.  At lowest tide, they are clamming.  Near low tide, they could fish.  During our week, high tide was in the afternoons, so we spent most of the time photographing in the mornings.

Just talk to your guide about the photos you want to take, and they’ll do their best to make it happen.  If you want photos of bears eating grass, you’ll love going out during high tide.  If you want photos of bears fishing, you might go out a few hours after high tide.

Conservation Photography and Other Photo Adventures

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