Friday, August 5, 2011

PHOTOGRAPHING A CHARGING GRIZZLY

I ended my last post with all of us standing across a river from a group of grizzlies. After we were there for a short time, Chris , one of our guides, told us she wanted to try a different area about a half a mile away. She wanted to know if any of us wanted to make the trek to this different site. Phyllis and I talked and we decided she would stay with Ken and the larger group while I traveled with Chris and three others. I kissed Phyllis and took off with the group. 




We were hiking for about fifteen minutes when Chris pointed down toward an island and said that this was where we'd be heading. The woman next to me asked me how we were going to cross over to the island. I looked and said, "I don't think there's a bridge" and laughed. She asked if I thought we would need to wade across the river. I told her, "Now we know why we were given the boots!!!"


As I was speaking to her, I was also looking at the decline in the water. It was a pretty steep hillside with no real path. Chris stopped and pointed down to the river and told us that we would need to get down the hill. I'm thinking that I'm in boots that come up mid thigh and I'm carrying about twenty pounds of camera equipment. If I slipped going down or crossing the river, most of that equipment would be ruined. 


From our past hiking experience, Phyllis and I knew that going down steep hills can be more difficult and more dangerous than going uphill. I have also learned that if you feel yourself slipping, the best thing to do is let your legs go out from beneath you and fall on your bottom!! It's not very dignified and a little painful but with both hands holding equipment, this was the safest way. You just hope there is no sharp object or snake under you!! 


I was asked if I wanted to go down first so when I got to the bottom, I could help some of the ladies. I looked down and it kept getting steeper. Heck no, I didn't want to go first! So like most guys I looked right at Chris and said, "Sure, no problem." Sometimes we are the stupid sex !!! 


I started down and at one point did sit down. I looked back and told the three ladies and one man looking down at me, "I just wanted to show you what we have learned to do if you feel like your losing your balance." Yup, that's why I did it!!! I made it down with no further problems and then helped the ladies finish their trip down. Well, so far it was not bad but now we were standing at the edge of a fast flowing river. It wasn't deep, only about eight inches. The real problem was that we would be walking on a bed of small slick stones in water that were moving at a pretty good pace. 


Chris told us to pair up and hold hands to help with our balance. I was paired up with a very nice lady who was a little younger than me and as we started walking across she said, "Please catch me if I start falling". I laughed and said, "Okay, but if I start to fall, you should grab my camera." We made it across with no falls. We took our time but we made it. 


After a short walk, we were on the other side of the small island, on a beach that stopped at a wall of thick bushes. In front of us was a rushing river full of salmon and across from us was another group of bears about ninety feet away. Some of the bears were in the water and some were on the shore eating fish they'd caught. 


I set up my tripod and camera and started looking through my lens. I was capturing images as quickly as I could. I saw the brush on the other side moving and noticed that I was not the only one seeing this, as a few grizzlies had turned and looked. We soon saw the reason for the noise and the moving brush. A fairly large grizzly came walking down to the river's edge.


 
At this point, Chris was standing next to me and said, "Here he is. He's the mean one. I was wondering if he was going to be here." I looked at her, laughed and said, "He won't be a problem, right?" Chris answered quickly, maybe a little too quickly, "Nope, he won't be, don't worry, honestly!" But that's exactly when I started worrying. I've heard that word, honestly, said just that way. It was what I would say to Phyllis when I was trying to reassure her about something, even when I was just as worried as she was.


I decided to focus on the mean one, I wanted to keep my eye on him. He didn't give me much time to think as he started walking into the river.



He was large and walking at a pretty slow gait. He was looking around at the other grizzlies, into the river and in our direction. Then, I noticed he was moving faster as the other grizzlies moved away from where he was. One lone cub stood watching from 
the river's edge. Then I saw the water splashing and knew he had picked up speed. Remember, I am seeing all this through my camera's lens. 



I kept shooting, seeing he was moving in an east to west direction.



But then I realized he had changed position and was heading   straight in our direction. Chris whispered, "Don't worry." 
Without taking my eye away from the camera I replied, "Oh, no, I'm not worried!" I followed with what I'm sure was a very nervous laugh!!




I kept shooting and he kept charging. I could hear some of the ladies in our group asking Chris if he was charging us and now they sounded nervous!! I actually don't know if Chris answered them. For the next few seconds,  I didn't hear anything except maybe my heart beating loudly!! At this point, I was thinking that instead of that extra lens I brought, maybe a change of underwear would have been a better choice.


 If you look at the water in this image below you can see the red from the salmon, the river was loaded with them.

He was still charging now about twenty feet from me and as you can see, heading straight for me. I know there were four others there but at that moment, it was the grizzly, my lens and me. All at once he stopped, reared up and hit the water with his paws and jaw.



Instantly, I could see what had happened. It was not us that he was charging at me but at a salmon and he'd caught it. Just as quickly, he turned and walked back to the shore with this salmon firmly in his jaws.



He lumbered over to a spot then quickly pealed and ate his catch. No other grizzlies tried to steal or challenge him for his bounty. He had earned their respect, in more than a few fights by looking at his sides.



As I turned and looked, I started laughing. All the other members of my group had walked about ten feet away from me. As I looked, they all broke out in laughter as I did. Chris said they were all sure he would stop the charge but wanted to give me all the space I might need.  Sure that's what they were doing lol.

Well, I hope you enjoyed hearing about our trip to Alaska and seeing the images. By the way, if some of the images in this post don't seem as sharp as they usually do, well I'm sure the other members of the group might have bumped into my tripod. After all, it couldn't be that my hands were not as steady as usual. Sure, it must have been their fault!! Right???
If you enjoyed reading this please remember to stumble it...Thank You!!

35 comments:

Aaron said...

well that was one intense experience...i could feel the stress and anxiety even in your writing....it is amazing you stayed put and kept shooting because you really got some keepers from it. Love the action shots of him charging.
aaron
http://streetogroffy.blogspot.com/2011/08/streetogroffy-compositionally-speaking.html

JIM said...

Thank you Aaron
As far as me staying put, it was not bravery lol I had no where to go lol. They can run at 38 I can't. At that point I was just putting my trust in Chris, although if I had turned and seen they all had moved away from me I might have had second thoughts lol

Mary said...

Jim, I don't know that I would have still been there to ever see him catch the Salmon! You definitely are much braver than I am :)

JIM said...

Thank You Mary
Like I told Aaron..lack of options and not bravery kept me there lol

BlogNostics said...

Now you've proven yourself very honest Jim!

The shots were great. You had us all hooked in your story.

melissa said...

Geez Jim...you're a great adventurer with a very good sense of humor. I guess it was more that than anything else that kept you alive. You have a very sharp mind. And you are very trusting...I wish I could put in more faith in people the way you did.

I could tell at which point you became very nervous :P judging from the images you took (just kidding)...

There was more action here and I truly liked it (not at your expense though:P)

The grizzly bear acted very quickly...I really thought at first that it was targeting the birds...

I liked the closest shot you got of it...

You got me hooked at your story. One-of-a-kind!

Ann said...

Amazing photos! I wasn't lucky enough to see this many bears when in Alaska, but still had an unforgettable trip!

Nelieta said...

LOL..I almost had to change my underwear! What an amazing experience! I was already thinking which tree to climb! Wow, absolutely amazing, Jim! You are so fortunate to capture these moments!

Savira Gupta said...

Amazing and that too in action....still trying to pick my jaw off the floor!

Moonlight and Magnolias said...

What a wonderful story and images! LOVE IT!

Bec Owen said...

My heart was thumping as I was reading this, Jim! You certainly know how to relate your story well. Like Aaron, I love the action shots of the grizzly charging...you were able to capture some truly amazing moments!

Debbie said...

HA! Love it... I have been waiting for these shots!! :P
Loved the story you gave to us with the photos, I will be honest I had a feeling the bear was after food, which didn't include snacking on you... Great moment Jim

Thanks again
Deb

mine http://www.scatteredmusings.net/2011/08/moment-friday-ritual/

David said...

Amazing story and incredible photos!! Most folks would have probably ran in fear but it's great you captured those action shots. Thanks for sharing!!

Jim said...

You're a true proffesional photographer in more sense than just earning a living from it! To stand your ground and keep snapping away with that coming at you is true dedication, or sheer idiocy!Bravo!

AJ said...

Agree with Jim. If that were me, I would've...I dunno, maybe hit Chris with the camera. Hahaha!

Love the suspenseful narrative! Like reading a novel. Very gripping. But it was also like a movie because of the accompanying photos.

Excellent post!

Sconch Textiles said...

Wow. No other words, just wow!

Sam x
www.sconchtextiles.blogspot.com

Techmaker said...

Another excellent shots from JIM. Thanks for sharing...

Derek Jones said...

Wonderful pics Jim and a great story to match. I'm sure if that was me, I would have have run for my life. Good on you for being so brave :)

JIM said...

Thank You everyone. hey Derek and the others who mentioned my bravery..take my word bravery had nothing to do with it lol. Where was I going to go???? I was on an island with deep brush on my left and in back of me, the river in front of us and a small shore line that stretched for a half mile. They can run 38 MPH I can't lol. Plus Chris and Ken have never had a problem at the point in 20 years. I really didn't think it would attack us and when it charged in our direction the whole thing took maybe a minute and a half, all I could do was keep shooting, it was over as fast as it started. lol But thank you all for your kind words, it was a really fun day!!!!
Jim

Dangerous Linda said...

WoW -- SO EXCITING!! And GREAT images!!!

Alfandi said...

wow..I really love the last pic..with the salmon in the mouth and the birds in the background..nice..

Jewell said...

Jim....I adore your blog, but I have to tell you, this series on the trip to Alaska was your best since I've been reading. The pictures, as always were fantastic but who knew you have such a fantastic outlook and sense of humor!!! Thank you for sharing this adventure with us!! =)

JIM said...

Thank You Al,Linda and Jewell
It was a wow trip lol...Enjoyed every part of Alaska.
Jewell - Thank You for your very nice comments , I try to keep my outlook positive and my humor is part of being able to do what I love with someone I love!!!

Ravenmyth said...

Jim this is an amazing story...and it took some bravery to hold your ground and do what you did. The shots you got were one of a kind. Lots of action going on. Loved the story...held my breath all the way through. Love your blog...I now have your button planted on Ravenmyth....(beautiful Button Design)...Stay Safe out there in Animal Land.

Bongo said...

What AMAZING photos...what I would give to actually be that close to that bear....As always...XOXOXOXO

Leah Griffith said...

Beautiful images! I must admit, I would have high-tailed it in the opposite direction;)

Cathy Sweeney said...

That's quite a story -- I really did enjoy reading it. I admire your bravery. Even if I had known he was going for the salmon, I would have been scared to death. Great photos!

sweepyjean said...

Amazing shots, Jim! What an adventure. Whew! So what happens, the desire to get the shot overshadows the fear?

FYI: I saw this link on Jim's Magnificent Monday on the Cycle of Life.

Rimly said...

God that was some experience! As I kept looking at the shots of that grizzly charging, my heart was thumping. Very brave of you not to turn back and run in the face of that kind of danger. It also goes to show that animals dont often attacked unless threatened. For that grizzly it was that salmon that was the target. Great shots.

Kriti said...

This was phenomenal Jim! Wow! I agree that extra pair of underwear must have been sorely missed! You are brave with your lenses Jim and really really good!

Sea Green Natural said...

Wow! That is just amazing... your photo's really show how huge and strong they are. Ya, I probably would have had to change my underwear.

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

Jim, you are one heck of a dedicated and talented photographer and brave to boot! I think I would have been racing back up the hill, camera and all!
You told a great story with suspense and humor and your photos were the icing on the cake. My husband is quite a good photographer and I can't wait to show these to him.

Blessings!

Martha J. M. Orlando said...

This is Martha's husband - an avid photographer - awesome photography. What length lens are you shooting with? I hope it's a long one!

Alpana Jaiswal said...

Jim,I was sure that I posted a comment here,anyway..this is fantastic...weren't u guys scared...I can't dream of this.The shots are perfect...

sulekkha said...

I will have to add another adjective to your name Jim, Brave Writographer :) Really great pictures and you stood your ground, wow...Wonder what Phyllis had to say about all this.