Bearpaw Lake

In Grand Teton National Park the eyes track the skyline. There is no doubt about this. And feet must answer for what the eyes insist on seeing ever more closely and clearly. Curiously, a goodly number of the day hikes in Grand Teton National Park measure in for the round trip route at just around eight miles – the eye makes extravagant demands….  Most of these routes run flat along their length, and thus make very doable day hikes.  There are not less than a dozen of such treks, but our favorites of these cluster along the eastern side of the waterworks, providing the classic Teton water-and-peaks-‘o-granite views.  Among these, the path from String Lake to Bearpaw lake may be the very best.

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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The path begins at the String Lake Trailhead, shown in the pano above (43.784416N, 110.727310W), and heads north along the lake shore.  Alternative starts may be commissioned anywhere along the mile long eastern shore of String Lake.  On a sunny day, you will find the picnicking areas along the shore of String Lake packed to the limit with enthusiastic visitors.  In summer months, you will need to arrive before 9 am to secure a parking spot – no joke, the String Lake area is super popular.

Leaving the bulk of humanity behind, make your way north.  You will most probably be accompanied lakeside by a small flotilla of canoes and kayaks paddling along the length of String Lake.

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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Near the north end of String Lake you will pass the portage between String and Leigh Lakes (43.796686N, 110.728348W).  This is busy junction, with boats departing/entering String Lake before/after moving north and south along the portage. The portage from String Lake to Leigh Lake is about 225 yards, and gains less than 50 feet – all in all not an unpleasant lift.  The southern bay of Leigh Lake is one of the most beautiful locations in the park (43.798275N, 110.727328W).  Bordered in thick shore growth, the crystal clear water in the shallow bay opens up to the north with most excellent views of Boulder Island, the bulk of Leigh Lake, and towards the north end of the lake, Mystic Isle.

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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The HP on the Shore of Leigh LakeThe HP makes an appearance in the image above, shot towards the northwest from the eastern shore of Leigh Lake (43 48.2552N, 110 43.1717W).  Note the presence of Mount Moran and Leigh Canyon in the background.  The path continues, tracking north along the eastern shore of Leigh Lake.  Leigh is a mighty Lake, and would take two days with a fair bit of bushwacking to circumnavigate.  Our travels encompass only a quick  three mile run up to Bearpaw Lake, which lies just a fraction of a mile north of the top of Leigh Lake.  A highlight at the midway point is the the set of three campsites, 12A, 12B, and 12C.  The sites are primitive, with very strict occupancy regulations, but offer some of the best lake shore camping anywhere.  The pano below was recorded at site 12C.

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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Cascade Canyon from the East Shore of Leigh Lake

The image above provides a view into Leigh Canyon (43.8150N, 110.7558W).  The canyon lies between Mt. Woodring to the south and Mt Moran to the north, and is (mostly) used by climbers seeking to access routes on the northern Teton summits.  I am interested in a venture here next summer – since access is pretty much exclusively by (private) boat, I have to imagine that the canyon is relatively wild and uncrowded.  The shot below shows one of several bear boxes and hanging rigs that lie near the back of the Camp 12 sites.  Given the relative remoteness of the location, I would guess that bears could be frequent visitors to the camp.

Campsite 12 Along Leigh Lake

Bearpaw Lake (shown below) is a small lake that is isolated from the Jenny-String-Leigh Lake system.  It lies nestled (together with Trapper Lake) in a lovely basin in the relatively untraveled region of the park.  Although it is highly unlike that you would find your self completely alone here, solitude seekers will be encouraged by a very low head count.  There is one large campsite available on high ground between the bulk of Bearpaw Lake and a minor, heavily silted, arm – a bit too right in the middle of things for my taste, but again, the traffic here is low.

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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A small stream exists the northern tip of Bearpaw Lake (43.8317N, 110.7280W), and leads north into a heavily silted corner of the lake.

Bearpaw Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Trip, July, 2014.

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Bearpaw Lake, Grand Teton National ParkNorthern End of Bearpaw Lake

Images in this entry were recorded on July 26, 2014, using the Nikon D810 with the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR.  This combination represents the state of the art in outdoor photographic gear.  I’ve used it all, and I will take this simple setup above anything other one-camera + one lens setup.  Panoramic images were recorded using the Apple iPhone 5s with the Autostitch app.

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Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

Hermitage Point Trail – Grand Teton National Park

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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Grand Teton may very well be the most versatile park in the NP system.  Within park boundaries, one can tackle classic big wall rock climbing, ride your bicycle along paths the run below some of the most dramatic peaks on earth, float a legendary river, or paddle around in beautiful mountain lakes of remarkable clarity.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

The northern portion of the park is dominating by Colter Bay, with its many boating options.  While these boating opportunities are unique and wonderful, they are not the only reason to spend some time in this part of the park.  Some of our favorite hiking trails start in the southern end of the Coulter Bay complex, near the boat launch.  The trail to Hermitage Point provides an excellent chance to experience the northern park vistas along a flat and fast track out and back to an excellent terminus on the shore of Jackson Lake.  Along the way, you will also be able to make visits to two other smaller Lakes, Heron Pond and Swan Lake.

Grand Teton Visit, July 2014.  Hermitage Point Trail.

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The pano above and the image below were shot at Heron Pond.  The trail passes along the eastern shore of the pond, which provides stunning views of the northern portion of the Tetons, including most notably, Mount Moran.  The pond is filled to about 50% of its surface with some species of water lily – and I am not certain that these are proper lilies, but anyway, some form of aquatic veg.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grant Teton National Park

Excellent time can be made along the Hermitage Point trail, which gains/loses only a couple of hundred feet along the 4.4 mile trek.  Much of the trail is either close and above Jackson Lake, or runs very near to the shore.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

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The pano above, and image of the HP below, were recorded at Hermitage Point.  The approx 4 mile distance is just long enough to insure that you will never have to share the point with more than a couple of other people.  Passing power boats, as shown in the image of the HP provide a curious contrast to the otherwise natural wonders visible from this viewpoint.

Hermitage Point Trail, Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton Visit, July 2014.  Hermitage Point Trail.

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A variation on either the route out or back leads you to Swan Lake, shown above, which is another lovely lake near Colter Bay.  This is a mature Lake, wrapped in shade from firs and pines that run right down to the shoreline and nearly filled with water lilies – an especially welcome rest stop on an afternoon return.

Images appearing in this entry were recorded using either the Nikon D810 and the AF-S NIKKOR 24-120mm f/4G ED VR, or the Apple iPhone 5s (all panos).

Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.

Brooks Falls – Katmai National Park

Brooks Camp Ranger Station

The location is legend.  Mention Brooks to a wildlife photographer, even the most rank beginner, and the response will be that they have either been there, or are planning a visit, or dreaming about a visit.  There is simply nothing else like viewing brown bears from the wildlife viewing platforms near the falls of the Brooks River.

Under favorable circumstances, you will visit perhaps ten or more big Alaska brown bears feasting on a lively run of salmon.  You will gain an appreciation for the dedication these bears have for consuming salmon, and the industry with which they pursue their efforts – these animals are not messing around, this is survival.  You will witness bears in close proximity, which invariably leads to intimidation behavior, feinted attacks, and occasionally outright extreme violence.  All of this happens within 100 feet of the viewing platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

To be sure, a visit to Brooks Falls is a genuine adventure.  Katmai National Park can only be reached by boat or plane.  If you arrive too early in the year, or too late, or if for any reason the salmon are not in the Brooks River, there will be no bears.  In this case, you will have traveled to a moderately picturesque spit with notoriously lousy weather just to visit with the Park Rangers.  Don’t get me wrong, the Rangers at Brooks Camp are amongst the best in the system, but you are there to see the bears.

The Alaskan portion of your journey will most probably begin with your arrival at Anchorage, and almost certainly by plane.  From Anchorage, you will need to get to one of several more remote locations that lie within float-plane range of Brooks Camp, which is the administrative unit that oversees the business of managing visitors to Brooks Falls.  Homer is a popular departure point, and although Homer is an interesting place to visit in and of itself, the flight from there is longer than from several other locations.  For our visit we choose to stay in King Salmon, AK, which is home to a number of adventure lodges that serve both wildlife enthusiasts and fishermen.

The image below shows the view eastward from Brooks Camp on the western shore of Naknek Lake.  Most visit to Brooks Falls begin here.

Naknek Lake from Brooks Ranger StationBrooks Camp consists of the Ranger Station, a lunch kiosk, a camping area, a lodge and cabins, and a small general store.   If you have arrived by boat or float plane for a day visit, you will immediately want to visit the ranger station.  Here you will need to check in and schedule an orientational seminar (see below).  The seminar is held inside of the ranger station, and  is mandatory for entry onto the bear viewing platforms.

Brooks Camp Ranger Station

Brooks Camp Ranger StationA large map in the seminar room (see below) provides an overview of what the rangers present during the seminar.  There are two platform complexes, the Lower Platform at the west end of the floating bridge, and the (main) Falls Platform.  The Falls Platform itself has two sections, one of which (upper) is directly adjacent to the Brooks Falls, and a another (lower) section that is a 200 meters or so downstream.  You must make an appointment to access the upper section, but access to the lower section is on a first-come basis. The rangers staff the platforms and regulate entry.

Map of Brooks Camp

An enclosed lunch area is located just west of the ranger station – see two images below.  The shelter is surrounded by an electrified fence – a neat reminder of where you are.

Picnic Shelter at Brooks Camp

Brian and the HP in the Picnic Shelter

The HP and Brian enjoy their lunch in the enclosure (above).  Most guided tour outfits provide a pack lunch.

To get to the wildlife viewing platform, you travel south from the ranger station along a path that passes by the lodge and general store.  Meals are served to the general public at the lodge commissary.  After several hundred meters you encounter the floating bridge, which is a major junction along the way to the Falls.

The image below was shot from the Lower Platform northward across the floating bridge.  The bridge is continuously monitored from both sides by Park Service Staff.  The presence of bears on either side leads to a temporary closure –  bears frequent this area and the wait for a crossing can be 30 minutes or more…it depends on the disposition of the bear.

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Beyond the floating bridge the path follows a gravel road west.  Griz can appear anywhere along the way and constant vigilance is required.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows one of the many well-worn bear paths that intersect the main pathway.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Below, the HP and Brian prepare to access the south gate of the Falls Platform complex.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows one of the gates along the elevated platform at Brooks Falls.  These gates are designed to regulate human access to the platform – no chance that they could fend off a determined bear.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The image below shows the HP and Brian at the Fall Platform pavilion.  Rangers posted here regulate access to the upper section based on the time of your appointment.  From here you can also freely access the lower section of the platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

 One last gate brings you to the main Falls Platform.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park

You first glimpse of the platform gives you a read on how crowded it will be.  There are two decks, each with space for about 10 shooters – if everyone plays nice…

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Excitement builds as you approach the viewing platform – not too crowded today, excellent!

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

The shot below was made from the upper portion of the platform.  If you are stuck in the back, a long tripod and something to stand on can improve your shooting perspective.  If you are hand-holding you can usually find a slot to aim through.

Brokks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

And finally, after long travels and after securing a sweet spot on the platform, the bears!

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

To get the flowing water look above, I shot at 1/20s.  You need to be patient, and also make a lot of shots – the bears move around quite a lot, and getting an acceptable image is a little challenging.

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

Brooks Falls, Katmai National Park, AK

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Images in this entry were recorded on July 26, 2012, using the Nikon D4 and the AF-S NIKKOR 200-400mm f/4G ED VR II at various focal lengths.  Exposure was mostly f/5.6 and 1/1000s, ISO at 2000.  ITTR used, corrected in conversion using Nikon NX2.

Copyright 2014 Peter F. Flynn.  No usage permitted without prior written consent. All rights reserved.