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Spalding

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My wife and I were supposed to go on our 20th wedding anniversary to the Congo to see the lowland gorillas - but the political turmoil of the recent election had the guide we were using stressed enough that we thought visas etc would make the trip to risky for the investment; so we scrambled and managed to get a room at North Face Lodge (http://campdenali.com/) at mile 89 of the Denali NP road from Monday 8/1 through Friday 8/5. I have been to AK 4 times prior fishing at Bristol Bay Sportfishing in Iliamna (www.bristol-bay.com or www.alaska-grizzlies.com). I like to fish is an understatement! My wife had never seen AK before - so I twisted Jerry Jacques' arm into letting us stay at his lodge for a couple of days of (essentially private) bear viewing in Katmai NP/Preserve.

 

We flew into Fairbanks on Saturday 8/30 and stayed for two nights.

 

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We stayed at a Best Western Chena RIver Lodge that is pretty close to the airport and backs up to the Chena River. The rivers were at flood stage - so swollen you couldn't fish them - and most road overpasses would need to be portaged as there was not enough clearance to get under the bridges. We rented a car and 'drove the area' as best we could. we had pretty miserable weather for most of our trip.....mid 50's during the day and 30's at night with a fair amount of rain and showers all week. There is an REI in Fairbanks - and we stopped and doubled up on our rain gear!

 

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we had dinner the first night at: Chena's Alaskan Grill....right on the chena river. was nice! food is not inexpensive in AK either!

 

it was raining the next day - so we got in the car and drove to http://www.chenahotsprings.com/ Chena Hot Springs. we didn't see much on the drive! Chena Hot Springs is cool to see I guess.....you aren't getting a lot of enthusiasm out of me for this drive. We also drove through North Pole AK.....was miserable weather - and honestly off season and not too much to see on a rainy Sunday.....we had lunch at the Cookie Jar... http://www.foodnetwork.com/restaurants/ak/fairbanks/cookie-jar-restaurant-restaurant.html a DDD location - and well worth the small wait we had to get seated. the weather broke a bit in the afternoon and we stopped at Creamers bird center... http://www.creamersfield.org/ we managed to see some sand hill cranes and other waterfowl.

 

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Dinner the second night was at Brewsters: http://brewstersalaska.com/ this was actually a fun place to eat for us. we like to sit at the bar - and the bartender was a Russian immigrant.....he and the others at the bar made for a memorable dinner...was a lot of fun.

 

We dropped our rental car off on Sunday night back at the airport - so we could take the hotel shuttle on Monday morning to the AK RR train station...........

 

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Honestly - the AK RR experience was OK....we scratched it off of our life list of things to do......and probably won't go out of our way to do it again. we upgraded to first class on the 4 hour ride to Denali.

 

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....if you want to see the first class experience - do it on the shorter (less expensive) leg of the trip between Fairbanks and Anchorage - and mostly sleep on the 8hr leg from Denali to Anchorage.

 

We got to the parking lot / bus pickup on Monday at noon. The bus left about 1pm to make the 89 mile journey to North Face Lodge (about 7 hours with rest and animal sighting stops). Unfortunately there had been a major land slide (news worthy size in the lower 48) that had taken out a good section of the park road. This meant the drivers had a small window of opportunity to get through road reconstruction spot - and canceled the normal en route picnic that Camp Denali provides......bit of a bummer as it is supposed to be a neat picnic experience. but - it is what it is!

 

if I forget to post some pictures - here's a link to a google photo album of some of the 5100 pictures I took on the trip:

 

https://goo.gl/photos/A63JwBHQwEPkTndw9

 

https://goo.gl/photos/A5SVrDbpYZe3u4M4A

 

Mammals and birds were sparse in Denali! Every sighting was an event - and everyone had their eyes peeled on the bus trying to find things........we lucked out and saw Denali the first morning of our stay at North Face Lodge (NFL). It is an amazing sight. The staff and amenities at NFL are really top shelf. Access to canoes on wonder lake....really nice hiking poles, gators and mtn bikes.....and the food is awesome....not to mention heat and flush toilets! Camp Denali is a little more rustic with personal cabins and outhouses.....and a more elevated view of Denali.......the hiking is really cool....and NFL/CD offers 3 levels/grades of hikes each day to choose from......it's really a wonderful place. We had nice sightings of caribou, moose, ptarmigan, loons, and misc other animals......the blueberries were EVERYWHERE - and they were delicious.....walking on the tundra is also cool.....tundra walking is encouraged and you are encouraged to walk so as to not make a path/trail (scattered).

 

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OK. So we took the bus back to Denali (town) on Friday - and caught the noon AK RR down to Anchorage...coach....and slept a good chunk of the trip.....

 

We stayed in Anchorage at a Ramada......not the greatest - but worked. You can read all my reviews on tripadvisor.com if you are really interested.

 

We walked the streets of Anchorage for a day....it's cool to see - but nothing amazing (if you ask me) (maybe I have been to Anchorage too many times now and I am starting to get a little biased. We walked the sunday market.....looked in some of the art galleries and had some brew pub food.....yadda - yadda......can't wait to get on Iliamna Air and get to the next stop!!!

 

The bears were clearly the highlight of the trip...by this point my wife had unfortunately come down with bronchitis and was not feeling well. Fortunately she pushed through! Bristol Bay Sportfishing is a great place to do a lot of varied things off of the grid. Fly in - fly out everything (weather permitting)...if socked in - there are just enough roads to explore and fish locally if need be. Fortunately we managed to get to the bears for two days. For all you nature photographers - Art Wolfe spends 2 or 3 weeks every year at the end of July photographing the bears and walrus. That's right. Walrus! The walrus are a pretty decent flight away (90 miniutes to two hours) from the camp - and I think only the super cub (wheels) can make the trip to land on the beach...that means only you and the pilot in the plane. Jerry may have another plane with more passengers and wheels - I am not sure. speak with Jerry if you want to try and see walrus.

 

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Not too much to say about the bear experience except it was the highlight of the trip. the places we went we were basically all by ourselves....we were even dropped off with camping gear in case the weather socked in and he couldn't get the plane back in to pick us up. not that far fetched on the first day as it was raining and cold.....just as we got the tent up to get out of the weather some, we heard the beaver coming in to get us.....

 

One last note: Mooses Tooth Pub and Pizza is well worth it in Anchorage....we stopped coming and going http://moosestooth.net/ was really good!!!

 

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Edited by Spalding
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sorry - not sure why my cell phone pictures rotated.....any one have a suggestion on how I rotate them in the post?

the float plane is a beaver.....(I think from the 1950's)

the fish is a silver salmon.

to get a sense of the walrus (which I unfortunately didn't get to see on this trip (but there is always next trip!)) http://artwolfe.com/showcase/walrus-round-island-alaska/

Edited by Spalding@cissltd.com
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Atravelynn

Tremendous bear photos. I hope your wife was not too under the weather, but good thing she was able to participate in the bear viewing. I can't imagine what it would be like to show her the photos of what she missed.

 

For the Bristol Bay part of the trip I wasn't sure if you did the flyout or if you stayed at the lodge. How much time did you spend? Those cub photos aren't usually something you come across quickly.

 

I noted the Art Wolf trip goes to Round Island, probably the best place to see walrus. Hope you can make it there some time in the future. An alternative (that could be less expensive) might be arranged through Esther's B&B in Togiak, Alaska. I stayed there enroute to Round Island, but went by boat. Don't think the Iconnu sails to Round Island anymore, but a different boat might.

 

Happy Anniversary. You'll get to those gorillas too someday!

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Hello Atravelynn!

 

Thanks for the photo compliments. It was really a great two days with the bears even though the weather was a little sketchy with drizzle, rain and seemingly cold to me in the mid 50s for early August. (I have been fishing Katmai four times in early June and not been near as cold as we were in August.....caught me a little off guard.....no bugs though!) We stayed at the lodge for three nights. We flew in on Sunday afternoon about 5pm and left on Wednesday at 5pm....we saw the bears on Monday and Tuesday and I did a quick fishing trip on Wednesday morning before we flew back out. We always use Iliamna Air Taxi from Anchorage to Iliamna and back. took the red eye back to the east coast through Chicago...was a really nice flight set up....the lodge is nice...gourmet breakfast and dinner with a packed lunch......I believe all the rooms have their own bathroom and heat (and dark shades for sleeping!)

 

The lodge is a "full service" flyin - flyout operation. http://alaska-grizzlies.com/ (this web site still under development) and http://www.bristol-bay.com/ . They will do what you want per day - and I am sure when yo are booking you can discuss and specify what you hope to accomplish on the trip with Jerry. The planes are VFR (visible flight rules) - so if Iliamna is socked in - everyone is grounded and you need to find something to do local to Iliamna - which is not that problematic.

 

I am curious about the walrus (since we didn't try and see them on this trip) - and I spoke with Jerry Jacques yesterday. He said the walrus "come in" about May-15th and depart about September 15th. Early in the season you can combine with bears on the coast digging clams.....once July hits you can see the bears fishing in the rivers. Per Jerry; "we can move up to 10 people to the walrus at the same time. We use brooks falls as the alternate if the walrus are out to sea. that only happens 10% of he time on a 5 day trip we have a 90% chance of seeing walrus during June and July."

 

here are some walrus pictures I got from Jerry. The first one, is one of Art Wolfe's:

 

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this is a picture of Jerry Jacques with the walrus:

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some plane pictures:

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Edited by Spalding@cissltd.com
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i forgot to add my "flying bear" shot:

 

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got milk?

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where are you mom?

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Atravelynn

So 3 nts at Bristol Bay. That makes sense. It would be hard to get all those shots plus the fantastic flying bear (complete with the colorful native fireweed) in a fly-in or fly-out as they call it.

 

I think some unexpected inclement weather like you had is just the norm in Alaska. But it can upset the photography or fishing plans for sure. Seems it can also make you sick. That respiratory stuff often affects may during weather changes.

 

And it is a walrus fly-in or fly-out. I get it. It looks like the Art Wolfe trip gets closer and more eye level to the walrus than I did. What a handy bit of info you have provided. At first I thought the Art Wolfe trip camped for several days ON Round Island, which would hike up the costs quickly. The daytrip would be more economical.

 

Was there any talk of warmer or cooler than normal temps? When I was in Katmai several years back, while the whole of Alaska was hotter than normal, Katmai had been cooler, meaning nature's summer schedule was a bit delayed.

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there really wasn't any talk about hotter or cooler really......my sense was they just accepted the weather! "it is what it is" (like you said = "the norm")......in Denali the previous year there were fires and smoke everywhere....this year there were floods............seems the extremes are getting a bit wider

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Atravelynn

Ok thanks. I would like some of those blueberries that you photographed--right now!

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Very nice bear shots. Excellent freeze in action. I'm very early in the planning stage, probably in a couple of years time. Tried to book Brook falls 6 hours after reservation lines opened this year for 2017 and nothing was available for my dates.

Had to postpone the trip and rethink everything ! Perhaps 2018 !

Looked into Kodiak. Too expensive. Now looking into Silver Salmon creek lodge for a night or two. Bear viewing is not cheap, especially when there are four of us !

I'm thinking about mid August and pray weather does not play havoc.

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Atravelynn

Very nice bear shots. Excellent freeze in action. I'm very early in the planning stage, probably in a couple of years time. Tried to book Brook falls 6 hours after reservation lines opened this year for 2017 and nothing was available for my dates.

Had to postpone the trip and rethink everything ! Perhaps 2018 ! Do try again, there are cancellations that crop up.

Looked into Kodiak. Too expensive. Now looking into Silver Salmon creek lodge for a night or two. Bear viewing is not cheap, so true! especially when there are four of us !

I'm thinking about mid August and pray weather does not play havoc.

How about Bristol Bay?

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Hi Chakra; Give Jerry a call/email.....I know he can be creative/flexible......and you won't have the crowds at Brooks all the time (you will if you decide you want to go to Brooks, but that is your choice!)

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SafariChick

@ very much enjoying this report - I have only been to AK once but loved my trip - you got some great bear photos!

 

@@Chakra HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Silver Salmon Creek Lodge! And also like @@Atravelynn said, keep calling Brooks daily to check for cancellations, they are very nice about it and they do get them! When we went, we only got our spot at Brooks a few months in advance due to a cancellation. It was the first few days of August so not absolutely prime time of July but we still saw a bear per day fishing at the Falls! And then we stayed at SSCL which was just great, super closeup experience with mother bears and cubs, etc. on foot - very intimate - and the lodge is a really nice cozy place with each family getting their own guide but meals shared communally. My report, in case you're interested http://safaritalk.net/topic/11276-alaskan-adventure-an-american-family-safari/ - the SSCL part starts page 2 post 21.

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Hi Chakra; Give Jerry a call/email.....I know he can be creative/flexible......and you won't have the crowds at Brooks all the time (you will if you decide you want to go to Brooks, but that is your choice!)

 

Apologies for hijacking your thread and I'll try to get in touch with Jerry. I have to admit I didn't look into his lodge carefully, as it sounded like primarily a place for anglers.

 

 

How about Bristol Bay?

Do try again, there are cancellations that crop up.

Bear viewing is not cheap, so true! especially when there are four of us !

.

 

HI Atravelynn: I live in England and the time difference and international calls make it a bit difficult. After some serious thinking and extensive researching I decided to drop Brooks falls. As much as I wanted to have "that shot" of bear catching salmon but I'm not sure if I'd enjoy the crowd and viewing and jostling from a platform. I wanted to have a bit more intimate experince and SSCL seemed to be the best bet. Also I had a very good vibe about the owner Davd right from the first e-mail. I'll certainly check out Bristol Bay as well, but SSCL fits nicely with my itinerary of spending a few days in Kenai peninsula.

 

 

 

@@Chakra HIGHLY HIGHLY recommend Silver Salmon Creek Lodge! And also like @@Atravelynn said, keep calling Brooks daily to check for cancellations, they are very nice about it and they do get them! When we went, we only got our spot at Brooks a few months in advance due to a cancellation. It was the first few days of August so not absolutely prime time of July but we still saw a bear per day fishing at the Falls! And then we stayed at SSCL which was just great, super closeup experience with mother bears and cubs, etc. on foot - very intimate - and the lodge is a really nice cozy place with each family getting their own guide but meals shared communally. My report, in case you're interested http://safaritalk.net/topic/11276-alaskan-adventure-an-american-family-safari/ - the SSCL part starts page 2 post 21.

I have indeed read that excellent report and many of your other reports as well. In fact I'm about to start sharing my experince on Costa Rica here and was going to thank you for your report on Cost Rica.

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Game Warden

@@Spalding Thank you for posting this trip report: some stunning photos: have any other Safaritalkers got Denali on their travel plans?

 

Just quickly off topic, I've edited your display name to remove the email address, however, your log in details remain the same.

 

Best regards, Matt.

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Alaska Grizzly Safaris

I wanted to thank Spalding for the nice review of our lodge and for posting all the images he took on his trip with us. I would like to answer the questions that have been asked on bear viewing locations, weather and walrus.

 

Weather

June and July will have the best weather. Starting mid August things start cooling down and we tend to get more rain. September will be the coolest. Remember this is south western Alaska it can rain hard with the wind blowing at any time during the summer. Good rain gear is a must. Also remember rain protection for your pack and camera.

 

 

My personal favorite place to see and photograph grizzly bears is Katmai National Park, Lake Clark Park and the Bristol Bay area. The reason is high density bear populations, streams with large runs of salmon, coastal areas with sedge grasses or clam beds.

 

Sad to say Bear viewing is very expensive. There are no roads to drive there so you must get there by small bush planes and that drives the cost way up

 

Brooks Falls is one of the best places to capture the iconic image of salmon jumping a cascading water fall with a grizzly catching salmon mid jump. Every dedicated wildlife photographer or bear lover should spend a day at Brooks Falls at least once in their life. During July and September there are lots of bears at the falls. If you are physically in poor shape this is a good place. All walking is on a level trails or wood walkways. You will need to walk at least 2 miles a day to get to the bear viewing platforms and back to the plane or camp ground.

 

 

Brooks is very very crowded. During July at least 300 people are there every day with 50 seaplane landings and take offs each day. 95% of the bear viewing is done on 3 wood platforms and the rest is confined to a mile long stretch of river. The Park Rangers do a good job of controlling the crowds. Personally Because of the crowds I would not want to camp or stay there overnight but for a day trip it is a worthy destination.

 

I agree with the people that have recommended Silver Salmon Creek Lodge. David Coray and his son Oliver run a first class operation. It is a excellent choice for multi day trips.

 

 

Art Wolfe and I have been doing trips together in Alaska since 1978. Art has got some good images of walrus at Round Island but over the years Art and I have discovered other Bering Sea beaches with walrus that we prefer for photography. I will not talk about my lodge other than to say over 50% of our guest do not fish, they come to our lodge for the wildlife viewing, photography and to explore the wildest parts of Alaska.

 

Jerry Jacques

WWW.Bristol-Bay.com

Edited by Alaska Grizzly Safaris
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Game Warden

@@Alaska Grizzly Safaris Please do feel free to talk about your lodge and directly promote your services in the Lodge Camp and Operator News subforum where self promotion is allowed. Also add your contact details and website address in your signature line which can be done through your profile settings.

 

Best regards, Matt.

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Alexander33

Great report, and I really appreciate the background information and resources. Seeing the bears fishing for salmon is on my must-do list, and now I've just added the walruses!

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@Alaska Grizzly Safaris

Thanks Jerry. Honest comments and just like others I am also very interested in seeing those walruses. I did see the live webcam feed of them through Explore.org. Same guys who have the Brooks falls on live webcam as well and that has definitely caused an explosion of visitors ( to add to what is already a crowded place) to Brooks falls this summer. I genuinely disregarded your lodge as a Fisherman's choice. I have some time to plan ( and to save money for the trip ) as this would be a trip of a lifetime and I'd get in touch with you. Thanks to the OP for bringing the walrus to my attention !!
Edited by Chakra
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offshorebirder

Thanks for this trip report @@Spalding and for the follow-up info @@Alaska Grizzly Safaris.

 

Alaska has been moving up my bucket list for some time - both for birds and mammals. I really appreciate the info about Brown Bear and Walrus viewing and about the Bristol Bay Lodge.

 

And congrats on the super "flying bear" photo! I also like the parent Common Loon feeding its chick, as well as the Caribou shot.

 

* Question: are Caribou easy to see & photograph at the Bristol Bay Lodge?

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Alaska Grizzly Safaris

The Alaska Peninsula and Mulchatna heard are what we have access to. 18 years ago the 2 heards numbered 500,000. The haerd crashed and droped to apx 30,000. They are recovering and are 70,000+ but are very spread out.

 

We can often find them from the air but it is hard to land and then get within photo range. We only had 2 times last summer that our guest got shots of caribou.

 

In Denali Park you would have better odds of getting good images of caribou.

 

 

Jerry

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