EXPOSED Ep. 7: Wildlife Photography

Day, after day, after day. This is our eighth morning, and we sit, and we wait, and we hope that some bears come by. We've been sitting here an hour and a half this morning, it's -24 (celsius), we have not seen a bear yet, and trust me, this cold starts to seep into you, and into your brain.

♪Intro music♪ the yukon is a place i've long had a love affair with. It's located north of british columbia and right beside alaska.

It's actually a huge territory, it's bigger than the state of california. We arrived for our ice grizzlies shoot at the end of october. Which, in the northern yukon, can be pretty severe in terms of temperatures and shooting conditions.

So why did we come this far north just to photograph grizzly bears fishing for salmon? Because these grizzly bears are ice grizzlies! These bears come in, they fish for chum salmon, and as they come out of the water their coats freeze, creating all of these beautiful big icicles and ice chunks hanging off of their coats, and that's what I wanted to photograph.

I started my trip by flying from calgary into whitehorse, which is a 2-hour flight into the capital city of the yukon. From there, we got on a tiny plane that seated sixteen people, and flew another hour north to dawson city.

We then got on a helicopter and went 2.5 hours further north into the absolute middle of nowhere, to bear cave mountain. We’ve been sitting around for 4 hours today waiting for the go-ahead from the helicopter pad.

We are now at the pad, it’s snowing, it’s not that clear out, but we’re gonna give it a go. So hopefully the next 10 days is going to be spent photographing grizzlies with icicles hanging off of them.

Bear cave mountain is located in the heart of fishing branch territorial park, which is a joint park managed by the vuntut gwitchin first nations and the yukon government. It’s full of caves that the bears hibernate in and because of that, the area is off-limit to humans.

It’s about the size of banff national park, it’s 6,500 sq. Kms and right on the arctic circle, with no roads or trails or any way of getting in there other than by helicopter.

None of us were sure what to expect when we arrived at camp. The helicopter came in and … there’s nobody there, just 3 people greeted us, and there’s 2 little tiny shacks.

And then basically it’s just river and wilderness. There’s a part of the fishing branch river about 9 kilometers long that has thermal springs underneath it and porous karst, and what that creates is a part of the river that, even though it’s on the arctic circle, does not freeze during the winter.

Chum salmon come up thousands of kilometers from the bering sea and get to this little portion and they spawn there. And grizzly bears have come to know this over thousands of years and come to this area, and they fish for these chum salmon to fatten up right before they go into hibernation.

I don’t know if you can tell or not, but it’s a fairly cold morning this morning. We got up at the crack of dawn and we're out here at 9: 30, which is the crack of dawn on the arctic circle.

And sat around for a couple of hours in -20 and, uh, didn’t see anything. And then, all of a sudden, had a mother and two cubs of the year come by on the far side of the river from us.

Then we had 4 days of almost nothing. And, I was actually starting to get pretty nervous, thinking, oh geez, I didn't come all the way up here just to get 200-300 shots total, of which there were probably only 3-4 that I was really happy with.

We quickly realized that there weren't just bears everywhere, this wasn't a large congregation year. It was quite a challenge, you know, there were probably 7 bears in total that we had access to, that we could see.

And a lot of days we didn’t see any of them. We did spot a couple of moose and we had pretty regular interactions with pine martens that were running around in the forest, in behind us, as we were sitting on the river’s edge most days.

But for me the real highlight besides the grizzlies, was at night. We had 4 incredible nights of northern lights, some of the best i’ve ever seen in my life. I was staying out there for 2-3 hours at a time and photographing them, and doing time lapses of them.

This is what we do. Day after day after day. This is our 8th morning, and we sit, and we wait, and we hope that some bears come by. We’ve been sitting here an hour-and-a- half this morning, it's -24, we have not seen a bear yet, and trust me, this cold begins to seep into you, and into your brain.

Just had a mom and cubs, sophie, show up in front of camp here… just going to sneak out and see if we can get some shots. We had two treats for us today.

Number one, it's only -8 degrees, which is pretty warm for up here. And number two, we got bears, in the snow! ♪Music♪ we got a 10 year-old female called sophie, the bear that we've been seeing on and off with her 2 cubs, she's got 2 cubs of the year.

We've been seeing her on and off across the river from us, and we finally got a nice close encounter. I think I took about 2,000 shots.

A couple of the other guys took even more. So, a very successful day so far. Now we're just staked out, hoping she shows up on the main river again.

She was pretty much oblivious to us. There were a couple of times where she would basically come right up and fish right beside us, sometimes within 10 or 15 feet. I can remember one encounter in particular, we were sitting out on this little spit that kind of pokes out into the river.

And there’s a little tiny bit of sort of marshy pond literally just off of my left foot. And sophie came into this little pond area and actually grabbed a salmon.

I just stayed absolutely still. She came in, grabbed her salmon, and just walked away and ate it 10 feet away from us. It was one of the most memorable grizzly bear experiences i’ve ever had.

And I want to clarify, too, that we weren’t going close to the bears. We were just going and sitting somewhere and then allowing the bears to decide how close they were going to come to us.

And some of the bears don’t. We saw a couple that would just stay on the opposite side of the river and not come anywhere near us. So even though we had some pretty slow times where we weren’t seeing much in the way of bears, because of the northern lights and because of sophie, I actually ended up coming home with about 7,000 images.

I’ve photographed grizzly bears all over canada, but this ice grizzlies trip in the northern yukon was probably my favourite grizzly bear trip of all-time. I got home, and one of the first things I did after looking at the photos, was go, geez, you know, i've got to get back up there.

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