When I plan a backpacking trip and am working out where to camp each night my main consideration is “Where can I take the best pictures?” I think about the best views and which angle of light I want. And so my camp sites and hiking goals each day are based upon trying to be at the right place at the right time.
Capturing images of wildlife is not as easy to predict. Bear, goats, deer and marmots are all doin’ their own thing. One never knows when you’ll cross paths, so I simply hope for a magical moment and that my camera will be ready!
This summer I hiked the Copper Ridge – Whatcom Pass Loop, in North Cascades National Park. I planned camp sites atop Copper Ridge and Tapto Lakes. But the most magical part of the trip was my encounter with salmon spawning in Indian Creek at its confluence with the Chilliwack River.
The long descent down to the ford of the Chilliwack River provides a wonderful opportunity to observe striking changes in flora. Pine forests slowly transform into rain forest as one nears the valley bottom. The forest is wet, humid, different…
Then come the two fords, first the Chilliwack. My sore aching feet welcome the cold fresh waters…then I hobble across a short section of wet forest and come to Indian Creek.
The creek was full of salmon, bright orange in color, hovering in the crystal clear water. Here Indian Creek is about 10 meters across, its banks enveloped with dark green. The sky is a narrowing strip curving away.
I feel like I have been transported to an entirely different point of the globe. Time seems to stand still. There is a fallen tree stretching out in the middle of the stream and I make my way there. A birch provides some support as I try to balance myself and marvel at the majesty of the fish. Some seem playful, darting here and there, others simply hangin’ out, languidly gliding in the waters.
As I wander around the banks I sense some motion up stream. Looking up I see a huge brown bear, maybe 800 lbs along the right side of the creek. I freeze, as does the bear. My racing heart slows after a few minutes, my thoughts reactively consider flight, then a millisecond later I am calculating how far the camera is and how brave I will be to approach such a huge bear.
The allure of photographing such a magnificent creature snacking on salmon easily wins the moment. Gathering the camera I start up stream towards the bear. My partner, seeing our visitor, lets out a scream, and off he goes, back into the forest.
The night brings horrific storms, heavy rain, incessant thunder and lightening envelope our tiny tent. But here in this deep gash of a valley we are protected. With all the noise I wonder if our giant furry friend will come visit us, maybe hungry for some of our food, but I realize that he is likely very well fed and so not interested.