How did your day go? I will bet anyone that they did not have a day like I did. I spent most of the day on a small mound of sand surrounded by thirty to forty brown bears all around us and protected by two Russian Park Rangers with large guns.
Now that we know what I did, how did all this happen? We started our day by meeting for breakfast at 7:30. It was so nice taking a long hot shower and reestablishing a relationship with a bathroom. We then got on a different Kamaz for a ride to a local airport. I left most of my clothing at the hotel and gave then laundry since I will return on Wednesday.
We all boarded a helicopter for the ride south to our bear camp. The helicopter ride took about one hour and we were able to open the windows to take pictures. The helicopter had no seats. We sat on the sides of the helicopter on one long bench with our gear in front of us. We flew by volcanoes and beautiful green slopes and crevices filled with snow.
Eventually we landed in a small grassy area near a campsite. We got out of the helicopter and walked to our home for two days and nights. The tents are large and we were each given our own tent. There are two cots and two chairs inside.
After dropping off our clothing and some gear, we all met in the front of a beautiful lake with a large volcano on the other side of the lake. The Camp is surrounded by an electrified fence to keep the bears out. We all met in the front of the lake and immediately saw our first bear. We were then given large boots that go above your knees to wear. A mother bear and two of her cubs followed. Bears give birth in January in their dens. The mother bear is very dangerous and will attack if she feels that her cubs are in danger. The cubs stay with the mother for three years. They follow their mother wherever she goes. The bond seems to be unique and very strong.
We waited for the mother bear and her cubs to pass and then boarded a pontoon looking boat with our cameras wearing these weird looking boots and carrying one folding chair each. Dmiitry, Sonya and two guards with large shotguns joined us.Dmiitry brought snacks and beverages.
We rode for about thirty minutes to a sort of sand bar near the shore. Along the way, we were pointed out a monument to a Japanese photographer who was eaten by a bear about ten years ago. Last year, a forest ranger was attacked and killed. This is serious stuff and could be quite dangerous.Dmiitry told us that Putin has visited along with dignitaries and he has seen some movie stars as well. We set up our folding chairs in a line with Dmitry and Sonya setting up in back of us. The guards were at either end. When we arrived there were at least twenty bears and more were coming. The bears were looking for sockeye salmon.
We stayed on the sand bar for approximately six hours walking around the confined area and sitting down on our chairs. I had to understand and master the technique of taking pictures of bears. For you photography people, I set my camera in manual mode so that I could have control of both the shutter speed and aperture. I set ISO at 200 and eventually raised it to 400 as the day progressed. I found out that my shutter speed worked best at around 800-1000 and my aperture varied how many bears were in the image. In the middle of the day my technical stuff and the skill to anticipate the bears to create exciting images clicked. I took about 2000 pictures of these amazing creatures and was very happy with the results.
The pontoon eventually came for us as the day was getting colder. It does not get totally dark here until about 10 PM and light starts to appear at about 4 AM.
Upon the arrival at the Camp we were told to hold onto our monster boots since we we were going to use them tomorrow. Dinner was another creative and different feast created by Natalia in a big working kitchen.
After dinner I went through my ritual of downloading and started to edit by bear pictures. They are outstanding and I am my worst critic. After talking with Kika for about an hour about this trip and photography, I worked my way back to my tent and tried to sleep. With two Russian bears snoring on either side of me, it became difficult and I got about two hours of shuteye. As Andy says, “You can sleep when you die”.