Being from an island myself, when told we were heading to Barter Island, I did not know what to expect. In my mind an island belongs in the tropics. This was the final stop on our Alaskan journey and I was tired and anxious. But the idea of approaching a polar bear kept me excited and full of expectations. So far, the trip had already exceeded my expectations: got my grizzlies, snowy owl, arctic fox, bald eagle, humpback whale, sea otter, black-capped chickadees, black-billed magpies, spruce grouse, puffins, wolves… what else could a guy ask for? But my uncle had designed the perfect trip and Kaktovik would turn out to be the highlight of the 10 day adventure. We landed on a dirt airstrip. Similar to Barrow but a lot more desolated, Kaktovic is a village with barely over 300 habitants and a lot more charming than it’s big sister. We were driven in a school bus to Waldo Arms, the comfiest, weirdest place we met on the whole trip. Located in another place, it would be a dump, but in Kaktovik, it’s charming, energetic and just plain cool. The cooks (I forgot their names) are pretty awesome and could put together anything you want as long as they have it. Keep in mind that Waldo Arms is in the end of the world and any supplies has to fly a long way to get there, hence everything is a bit pricy. We got extremely luck and got assigned Steven Kazlowski as a tour guide. Besides being an amazing photographer, Steven is a very welcoming, approachable guy and made our trip amazing. We got even luckier when we found out that there were two bow whale carcasses in a beach 8 minutes away and polar bears were all over the place… over 30 of them.
After a quick lunch we drove to the site and got some amazing shots from the bus. As you all know, polar bears are the largest carnivore on land, so we were not allowed out of the vehicle when they were close. After a nice session we then jumped into zodiacs and approached them on the other side of the island. This experience was incredible! To be so close to them, to see this amazing animal and photograph it was just a lot more than I had dreamt. The younger ones were very playful and at one point one of them attempted to climb on one of the boats. The light was not good… it’s was cloudy and foggy so the magic of the sun over their fur was lost, but still some good images were achieved. We went back to he carcass site at night for another session and even spotted a grizzly munching away around 5am. Next morning, with everything already packed, bags already in the truck, we decided to go again to the site for a quick last chance to see the bear. We got a special treat. Mamma bear and cubs walked slowly and gave us a great show.
My last night in Alaska turned out to be my best night in Alaska. There was a sense of being on a refuge more than in a hotel, a sense of constant readiness if you will. I slept with the camera by my side. I met very cool and knowledgeable people. I shot some nice photos…This is a place I will go back eventually. There is no doubt in my mind. This was the adventure I was looking for.
For more photos of my Alaska Odyssey click here.