Please read the previous installments if you’d like to get the full story of how we ended up here
So, here we are on the last day of the trip. It’s been a trip filled with amazing experiences, some of the best wildlife photography I’ve ever had, great flying, great weather (mostly) and a wonderful crew to spend the week with. By this time I’m feeling so great about the trip, the photography, the experience……I’m full of memories (and my memory cards are full with pictures) and feel like I’ve experienced the trip to the fullest.
Our plan for today was to go out and shoot for a half day and then return to the lodge to catch our afternoon flight from Iliamna to Anchorage. When we awoke at 6am, I peeked out the windows and saw a grey sky that was letting go of it’s stored moisture in the form of rain. We dressed and congregated in the lodge for another wonderful breakfast. Over our feast, our guides said the weather didn’t look promising for flying today and it was doubtful we’d be able to get out. The alternate plan then was to take a short drive and hop in a boat and go up one of the many rivers in the area to search for wildlife. Our outfitter has boats at the lodge as well as several positioned around the broader area for water access to various locations.
We all looked at each other and then started talking about what we wanted to do. It became clear that folks weren’t that up for sitting in a boat in the rain, especially right before a flight. We were all so satiated from the previous days on this trip that we didn’t mind staying in and relaxing on this morning. We made the decision to stay and do an image critique and a bit of a processing workshop led by Jack. We each pulled 10 images and assembled on the couches in front of the screen to look at each others excellent work.
reviewing images at the dining table
We spent a good couple of hours reviewing images, offering advice, seeing how others interpreted the scene, or caught a particularly nice pose or piece of action of the bears. It is so wonderful to see others work from the same location…..Image critiques/reviews are something that I really enjoy as it opens my eyes wider to how others interpret and view the exact same scene that I’m at.
After a few. hours we had finally gotten our fill of images and processing knowledge so we called it a day. We still had a few hours left before we needed to leave for the airport. I had heard one of the staff mention an area down the way that locals had dumped their discarded fishing boats. Wrecks, derelicts, etc on the beach. Several of us decided to take a walk down the road to check them out. After walking about 1/2 mile down the road, we found a path through the bushes and walked through wet grass up to our knees to the shoreline of a small bay. Here we found 4-5 abandoned fishing boats in various states of decay. I love photographing weathered wood and peeling paint and I found these boats to be willing subjects for an impromptu photo shoot.
After about 20 minutes in the rain and wet grass, we had seen all there was to see and made the walk back to the lodge to change in to dry socks and finish packing for the trip home.
For our trip home, we all had slightly different itineraries and plans after we got to Anchorage. One was headed on over to Denali to spend a few days there. One had booked a late night flight out of Anchorage direct to Portland. Jack and I had planned on flying to Seattle and then I would continue on to Portland arriving late in the night. Well, when we got to the Iliamna airport for our 3pm flight, we were informed that flights were delayed due to weather and it will probably be a 2-3 hour wait to get out. Argh! We patiently waited at the airport until finally our little airplane arrived and we departed for Anchorage. Because of the late departure, Jack and I would miss our connecting flight to Seattle. Oh, this is going to be fun! (not). but with a sense of adventure and knowing that we’d make it home eventually, we didn’t worry too much about it.
Once on the ground in Anchorage we headed directly to the Alaska ticket counter. My ticket agent said there weren’t many options to either Seattle or Portland….the first available was 7am the next day! I looked over at Jack at the next ticket counter and saw he wasn’t fairing much better. I hemmed and hawed a little bit and as I was doing that, my ticket agent said something just showed up on a 9pm flight out to Seattle. I said to book it now before it’s gone and she managed to secure the seat for me. The only wrinkle in the plan is that I would arrive in Seattle about 2am and my rebooked flight to Portland wouldn’t depart until 7am. Looks like it’s going to be an all night travel extravaganza!!!! Jack and his agent weren’t having much luck and eventually he had to settle for a 6pm flight the next day! Incredible he has to wait so long to get out of Anchorage.
We all said our goodbyes and I made my way to my gate to wait for the flight. Eventually we boarded for Seattle and had an uneventful trip. Once there, I found a group of unoccupied seats and laid down for a nap with my head resting on my camera bag (didn’t want that to walk away). With my alarm set, I did manage to fall asleep for a few hours. I awoke, grabbed some coffee and waited for the next flight. Landing in Portland, it felt good to be close to home. I made my way to long term parking and loaded my bags in my truck. I climbed in looking forward to the drive home and ……..nothing. The truck wouldn’t start! Sounded like a dead battery but I wasn’t too sure. Thankfully the PDX airport has a service truck that patrols the area and I called them to come give me a jump. 20 minutes later they arrived and my truck started right up and I headed for home.
Pro Tip 103 – When booking flights in and out of Alaska, give yourself a wide margin of time to account for weather delays.
Was it a trip of a lifetime? Unequivocally yes! I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Majestic landscapes, incredible time spent photographing the bears, a great host and great facilities, food that was incredible, good friends, both old and new, and great flying across the landscapes and waters.
If you’ve ever wanted to photograph Alaska and more specifically the brown bears feeding on the largest salmon migration, come with us next year as we lead a workshop for others to have an incredible experience.
Stay tuned for thoughts on equipment used on this trip and my thoughts on what to bring.