Alaskan Eco Trip

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Aviator hopping upstream the Alagnak River to fish and photograph the 2016 salmon run and all the animals that rely on this awesome event! Let the photofishing begin! 

 

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The ATA Lodge built base camp here on the Alagnak River inside Katmai National Park. It’s a sweet and secluded spot in the tundra, with some of the best fishing and wildlife watching available on earth. Here in mid river, all five pacific salmon species can be sustainably caught and freshly thrown over fire. This McGee family owned and operated Alaskan Lodge will make you feel at home in the bush, only far far away from home, and humans. It has proved to provide a true Alaskan Adventure for those with respect for nature, a love for a wild way of living, and an urge to share your primal passions with new friends, all with the comforts of a cabin. http://www.atalodge.com

 

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“Snagging Sockeye” is one of the many methods of flyfishing I can practice here at the atalodge. Since this species of salmon don’t actually hunt and eat on this already arduous journey, you have to snag them by casting and sliding your hook through the stream. It may seem too easy when you first find the massive flow of fish, but there’s a catch in order to keep. You must hook the sockeye in the mouth, which ain’t that easy. This is one of many rules and regulations implemented by the Federal Fisheries of Alaska to protect pacific salmon populations. The sockeye are amongst the most abundant, but the kingsalmon has been overfished by commercial fishing. Other rules for king salmon are in place, let’s hope it’s enough for now. For an enlightening lesson on how Alaska has become a model state for sustainable seafeeding. 

 

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Salmon is one of the planets most treasured meats. So packed with protein it even satisfies a bears eager appetite. Near the atalodge on the Alagnak River, the salmons meat is still in tact and edible to us. But, as they make their way further up this terminal river, their body begins to rot and the precious oils and fats we crave burn off. I personally will take home less than my limit, but still enough to instinctually share this bounty with my family.

 

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Hike to Pike fish with Paps! Adventurous activities are endless here at the ATA Lodge in Katmai National Park, Alaska. Yesterday while salmon fishing on the river, I watched a full bellied bear wiggle his way up and over the hill to digest those pounds in peace. My new mystery set in, I had to know the “unknown over the hill.” Our awesome guide, James, tells of a mountain lake we can hike to and fish for pike. We anchor our river boat and track onto a game trail. Inside the tundra feels like a fantasy. The soil is made up of spongelike fungi, lichen, and mosses dotted with billions of berries. Knitted together they form the floor for life. This tough trek hardly made for man, makes me hungry. The wild blueberries keep me going, but picking at a pike is my purpose.

 

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Pike are highly piscivorous (fish eating) predators but will ambush anything. In this case, I used a barbless fake frog. Barbless hooks are a growing trend. If they are difficult to find, simply smash the barb with your pliers. This act of respect does far less damage during the catch and release practice, and if your sport fishing is properly played most fish will stay hooked. This fish is going over fire though 🔥😋

 

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The arrival of the salmon attracts all wild life to the river bank, also spawning a native Alaskan scene from every angle.  

 

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Although by boat is the most accessible way to view wild life here on the Alagnak River, it has its threats to our photographs. The constant bounce obscures my sharpness and the occasional splash stresses my equipment. On land, I practice my patience and hope for some pay off, but there are rules for adventurers in Bear country. Most seem obvious to me, but I see bears as a complicated and emotional species like humans. With this way of thinking, the golden rule will keep you safe “Treat others as you would like to be treated.” Simply respect them, their personal space, and their way of life. For detailed essentials visit adfg.alaska.gov 

 

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Photographing wild Bears, especially a Sow with her cubs, takes responsibility to keep the peace. Singing, whistling, and talking while you trek are effective ways to avoid confrontation. These cute second year cubs are as curious as me, but big moma is who draws the line. I like the break up from the branches in this photograph, and ofcourse the attention. Can y’all feel such wilderness in these woods? A zoom lens is necessary for such shots, for respect of the animal. 📷Nikon D7000 @ 310mm. F/5.3 1/200 iso 1600 

 

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Bears are individuals, each having their own level of tolerance, favorite fishing techniques, good days and bad. This devilishly handsome beast is patrolling his fishing bank and impulsively pouncing on sneaky salmon pods who are using the rivers edge to help avoid the fierce friction of the current. I picked up a couple signs from him, probably protecting his fishing hole. He turns sideways to show me his size, and looks to make sure I’m paying attention. Size definitely matters in bear world. Head down signals readiness and ironically, confidence. Other aggressive signals would be staring, jaw snapping, and swaggering. This bear stood his ground and continued his mission to eat, but for the most part, the sound of our boat means the sight of a big furry butt headed for the horizon. I don’t blame them, as 5,000 bears are hunted down and killed in Alaska annually, but the older and wiser ones seem to know when hunting season is. 📷 Nikon D7000 @ 165mm, f/11, 1/500, Iso 320. I had to jack up my shutter speed from shooting on a boat, but luckily there was enough light. 

 

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The Bald Eagle. Yes it’s been Americas national bird since 1792, yet fame can’t buy immunity from man. Twice in life, these Eagles became close to extinction in the lower 48 states. First came the attacks from farmers, then the DDT pesticide formula was heavily injected into the food chain, causing deformities in eagle eggs. Top predators can give us a health check on an ecosystem, if they are in danger, so is every other living thing. With more than half of the worlds population of Bald Eagles living in Alaska, here is by far your best chance to witness this remaining raptor. The adult eagles can be easily spotted if you train your eye to find 2 white dots, and once noticed, they make an awesome photographic challenge. We banked the boat so I could trek closer to his perch. I didn’t approach him while anxiously shooting like I have been in the past, worried to miss the take off. This time I casually closed the gap, set up my tripod and predicted my best possible camera settings. A very fast shutter speed is expected, but I also want to catch the sense of movement. Perfectly sharp edges against a flat white sky could weaken the Eagles power and appear to remove it from its natural environment. As I sit beneath him, I study his behavior and soak in his screeching sounds he cries out to his lost partner. Memorable minutes later, we hear his answers. Take off! I felt his draft in my chest, and his release of stress from separation. 📷NikonD7000 @ 280mm f/8 1/1000 iso320

 

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A day in nature is a great day, but the day I see my first wild wolf is the best day ever! When I was kid, one of my older sisters adopted a wolf for me for Christmas. She donated some money and in exchange, I received pictures and social updates of the pack in the mail. His picture was as bold as he was black, and I was obsessed. My wolf was being raised for release in Montana, quite possibly one that saved Yellowstone National Park, or the population in Idaho when wolves were reintroduced into the wild in 1995, after decades of elimination. Adopting a wild animal can be a direct way to help save a species from extinction. And who knows, this powerful gift to a kid may create another naturalist this world needs.

 

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Katmai National Park could have been mapped out for the sake of Brown Bears. It is world renowned as a park with “More Bears than Humans,” and the way the mountain melt flows through the tundra and into Bristol Bay constructs classical Bear habitat. Even so, this mother Bear has a sense of urgency and stress, and for good reason. She has chosen a tough fishing spot where the water is deep and the salmon are hard to catch, all for the fear of males who prefer to fish in the easy shallows. I have been watching them for a few days now. I become camera ready on an island and focused on the hillside. Everyday her appearance becomes more frantic as she runs down the hill, occasionally stopping to let her cubs catch up. She gives it a go, but I fear her lack of patience is cursing her success. Her cubs seem healthy, but she is skinny, and I worry.

 

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If y’all spend your Alaskan Adventure at a lodge in the wilderness, I recommend a road trip on the back end. 1, to experience the coast. 2, to ease yourself back into civilization. The Anchorage airport makes it effortless to freeze any salmon while you rent a car and truck along one of Americas most scenic highways. My Dad and I made the remarkable 3 hour family friendly trip to Seward, a fishing village on the Gulf of Alaska. A place where I have been told I can taste the famously fresh and sustainably caught seafood, and even have the privilege to feast alongside giant whales.

 

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Seward, Alaska. A true maritime town with a lot to offer. Fresh seafood, stunning scenery, passage into Kenai Fjords National Park, friendly faces, and dive bars stocked with raw stories from the great Gulf of Alaska. 

 

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The Sea Otter is a common Resurrection Bay resident, and quite popular around town here in Seward. Some adaptable individuals have learned to scavenge off the planets most successful predator, people. Fisherman fillet and toss our scraps overboard, but the fatty scraps we avoid is what a cold water marine mammal needs most in life. The routine also attracts many tasty and crunchy bottom feeders such as crabs, now up for grabs. Visitors and fisherman get some entertainment while the Sea Otter receives a seafood buffet. It’s a recycling relationship we should learn from.

 

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Seward is our hometown access into Kenai Fjords National Park, an elaborate ecosystem almost unimaginable to many. With the worlds remnants of the last ice age engraving its existence on earth in front of our eyes, this place makes life elsewhere feel modern and mediocre. The Seward harbor provides plenty of coastal glacier and wildlife watching tours. We chose http://www.KenaiFjordsTours.com just by chatting with the friendly staff. It was a cold and rainy day full of character, and our Captain was funny and informative while safely operating this brand new fast and fuel efficient boat. 

 

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Glacier ice is responsible for creating this fjord filled coastline. A tireless supply of storms continue to dense up the ice in the mountains, fatefully carving its way to sea by building valleys. Depending on the century, these valleys become either a terrestrial or marine wildlife habitat. Just as I thought this couldn’t get any cooler, a ray of sun pierces through and reveals the only color not absorbed, blue. Nature rules! 

 

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Humpbacks are the most famous behemoths here in the park, and they seem to know it. Photographing them is everyone’s urge on this boat today, and as chuckling as all the cheering is, you need concentrate and try to read the beast for your best opportunity. Breaching can be a form of communicating, and the whales often leap many times in a row to get there point across. Stay in focus. 

 

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The Alaska Stellar Sea Lion is a prized presence in the park. The thought that a species so smart, stellar, and of such size is hunted down by an even smarter and larger species, blows my imagination. It’s learning like this that makes eco travel unrivaled. This is as close as we can get to this rookery, but we also viewed them at the Alaska Sea Life Center where the injured are studied and rehabilitated. From my hotel room, I can even watch the live cam channel from the Sea Life Center. Their snuggles and quarrels were my Saturday morning cartoon 😂. Unfortunately the Stellar Sea Lion is on the endangered list for obvious reasons. Overfishing and pollution are devastating decisions. They will prove to be too much pressure on life on earth if we don’t change our selfish ways now. 

 

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The Orca is our marine counter part. Humans are the most social and cultural being on land, but the Orca is at sea. Misunderstood and mistreated by us for so many years now, the Orca is finally getting the respect it deserves. The sight of a wild family living it up in Alaska feels extraordinary. This connection can be yours on your next Eco Adventure!

 

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Orcas can be classified in two different groups. Residential Orcas take up a resident bay and feed on fish and rays, but here we have a family of Transient Orcas. These indomitable animals can be friendly or fierce as they travel great distances hunting down marine mammals such as seals, sea lions, and even whales. The two different societies rarely interact since they don’t compete for food, but also Orcas can be quite the conservatives. “If moma didn’t introduce you, then I can’t play with you.” Our captain on the Kenai Fjords Tour recognizes this family as transients, but there seems to be some behavioral hints as well. They are in hunting mode as they swim silently. I spot them as we exit the mouth of the glacier fjord, and they enter. This photograph is my last glimpse of these intelligent predators as they dive down. I imagine they are coordinating an ambush on the harbor seals lounging on the ice sheets that have calved off from the glacier. Welcome to Wild Alaska!
Unable to turn back and follow for schedule reasons and for respect of interfering in the hunt, we started our journey back to the Seward Harbor. I spent some time talking to the captain, feeling truly lucky. But he tells me this Orca family has not reproduced in decades. My mind flashes with everything I’ve learned about Orcas, and my heart tenses up. Industrial chemicals we put in our oceans become a part of the food chain, but are especially easily stored in seal blubber. Scientists believe these chemical are altering Orca reproduction world wide. And with such a slow birth rate ( every 4 years ) this irreplaceable family gene and their traditions may die off forever 😔 Let’s show them we care! 

 

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My first time in Alaska has come to and end, but in a way I was just born, into a more natural world 😃. I am leaving feeling a part of our planet, at peace, full of knew knowledge to spread, lucky to have witnessed, and proud to have supported Eco Travel and the people who protect Wild Alaska! Part of the purpose of this trip for me was to scout for an Alaskan Adventure itinerary for the Eco Travel tour company I’m creating.   Shadow Trekkers. http://www.shadowtrekkers.com @shadowtrekkers

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