Kaktovik Alaska Polar Bears Photo Tour
September 23 – 29, 2017, $8350
Trip participants limited to 6 people.
Have you dreamed of seeing and photographing polar bears in their home on the edge of the Arctic Ocean? This trip takes you into the realm of the arctic’s top predator, to observe and photograph these magnificent creatures of the north on their terms!
Steve Kazlowski will be your guide for this extraordinary adventure. Steve’s extensive knowledge of the polar regions and many years of photographic experience make him the perfect guide for this journey!
Day 1: Arrival Day
- Travelers arrive in Fairbanks after flights from lower 48 states or other Alaska destinations and are transferred from the airport by Pikes Landing Waterfront Lodge van. Hugh will meet all participants at Pikes Landing at 6:00PM for orientation and welcome dinner at a local restaurant. At dinner we will discuss the trip itinerary in detail and talk about polar bear and northern lights photography technique.
- Your first night will be spent at the comfortable Pikes Landing Lodge in Fairbanks. During this first night in Fairbanks keep your eyes open for aurora borealis! Pikes Lodge offers a northern lights “Wakeup Call” and a decent place to view and photograph the aurora on the banks of the Chena River is located behind the lodge.
Day 2: Part 1, Fly to the Native Village of Kaktovik
After breakfast at Pikes Hotel we will make the short trip to the airport and catch our early morning flight north to the arctic coast. The flight takes roughly 1 ½ hours and crosses the entire northern half of Alaska. We will fly over landmarks such as the Yukon River and Brooks Range mountains on our way to the arctic coast and the village where we will be viewing and photographing the bears. Luggage weight and size will be restricted on this flight to 100 pounds total per person in two bags (including camera gear). So everyone will consolidate their gear and take only what is needed for the next four nights on the arctic coast. Gear should consist of necessary camera equipment and medium sized duffel for toiletries, clothing, and cold weather gear (We can supply appropriate sized duffels for anyone who needs one). Arctic weather conditions will be encountered, so suitable clothing and gear will be needed, please see the gear list at the end of this itinerary for what is necessary. In addition Ron will review everyone’s gear in Fairbanks after the orientation dinner to ensure that everyone is appropriately equipped.
Upon arrival in the Native Village at roughly 10:30 AM we will be met at the village airstrip by Steve Kazlowski* a well know arctic photographer who’s boat we will be making excursions on for the rest of the week. A bus will transport us to our accommodations for the next four nights. Although our lodgings are not luxury, what they lack in appearance is made up for in hospitality and a certain charm. Built from modular oilfield camp buildings the Inn is basic yet comfortable. Accommodations are in double rooms with twin beds, bathrooms with showers are located down a short hall all rooms are double occupancy unless otherwise arranged in advance (extra cost). All our meals are prepared and eaten in the café located on site and are always hearty and tasty! Our schedule will depend on weather and individual interests, but the best photography tends to be early in the morning and later in the evening (sunrise is roughly 6:45 AM and sunset is roughly 7:00 PM at this time of year with a 9 minute loss of daylight daily! We will schedule our meals around our photographic forays. The remainder of this day we will settle in and get oriented with our surroundings and then head out to observe and photograph the bears!
Steve Kazlowski is a veteran of 14 seasons photographing polar bears in the arctic and has worked on many photography books on the arctic and polar bears including “The Last Polar Bear”, and “On Arctic Ground” a recently published book on the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPR-A) that Steve and I (Hugh Rose) both contributed photos to. Steve and I have known each other for many years and spent many hours together photographing and observing the bears. Steve has also guided many photographers in the arctic and in my opinion is one of the most experienced photographers in this field. Steve has spent thousands of hours boating in the Kaktovik area to photograph polar bears and has teamed up with Kaktovik resident Jack Kayotuk to provide boating services for our group.
Day 2: Part 2; After arrival, Photograph and watch polar bears
A few words about the native village
We will be visiting a native village inhabited by approximately 250 Inupiat “Eskimo” people who are endemic to this region of arctic Alaska. The village is located on a small 3 mile by 2 mile island just off the arctic coastline. This Island was an important stop for whalers at the turn of the last century, but did not become a permanent settlement for the semi-nomadic Inupiat people until 1923 with the establishment of a fur trading post. The island is characterized by a large saltwater lagoon that is located on the east side of the island and provides a sheltered anchorage for the village fishing boats. The downtown consists of a cluster of homes built on the barren tundra approximately one mile from the village airport. There are limited roads and vehicles located in this village, but a vehicle is important for travel and photography of the polar bears. We will have one of the only rental vehicle available and although it may not be pretty it will be sufficient for the purpose. Keep in mind that we are visitors from a different culture to this village, and we need to be respectful of our hosts and their village. This means asking before we photograph people or their belongings and being respectful of all private property. Experiencing the culture of the Inupiat is as much of an experience as watching the polar bears!
Why are Polar bears (Nanook) here?
The circumpolar indigenous people of the world have been hunting marine mammals and whales for thousands of years and the Inupiat of Alaska are no different. In a very tightly controlled hunt, arctic coastal villages are allowed to hunt the bowhead whale, which frequent the waters of the adjacent Beaufort Sea/Arctic Ocean. A whale harvest quota is awarded to each village according to number of residents and the historic harvest.
The Inupiat name for the polar bear is “Nanook” or “Nanuq” and the domain of Nanuq is not the beaches and tundra of the arctic coast, but the pack ice that covers the sea surface for 9 months of the year. Polar bears feed mainly on seals that live on and under the arctic ice, hunting them using a number of different techniques. Like their cousins the brown bears from whom they evolved, during times of hunger, polar bears can be opportunistic and will feed on whatever food opportunities appear. Other food sources can include vegetation such as grass, small rodents, bird eggs, other marine mammals and scavenging on carrion. Polar bears are attracted to this area to scavenge on the carcasses of butchered whales, and begin to arrive here before the annual whale hunt begins on Labor Day each year. In mid summer when the arctic pack ice moves off shore, Beaufort Sea polar bears are often marooned on shore where there is little to eat. These bears enter the fall season hungry from lack of readily available food and have keyed into the presence of whale carcasses in this area starting in September. A bear’s memory is so good they will remember the time and place where food was available and return to that same spot the next year at the same time. The bears typically arrive in late august before the whale hunt begins, and will scavenge on the remains of whale carcasses from previous year’s hunts. We will be visiting this area after the annual hunt is typically finished. If bad weather has delayed the whale hunters you may be fortunate enough to witness the community event that surrounds the harvesting of a whale. We have a 3 hour boat ride scheduled for this afternoon and will spend additional time on land watching and photographing the bears. Weather permitting we will venture out in the evening to look for and photograph the northern lights.
Days 3, 4 and 5: Photography and bear viewing
A 3 hour morning and 3 hour afternoon boat ride is scheduled for all three of these days with additional time spent on land photographing bears or searching for arctic foxes and snowy owls. Conditions permitting we will look for and photograph northern lights after dark.
Day 6: Final morning of polar bear photography – Return flight to Fairbanks
A final 3 hour boat ride is planned for this morning, giving you one last opportunity to photograph the bears from the water. After lunch the return flight typically departs at 3:30 PM leaving much of the afternoon for a final foray on land to photograph and observe one of the largest predators found in the arctic (see special travel note in the information section at the end of this itinerary). After the 1 ½ hour flight back to Fairbanks over the Brooks Range you will be met at the airport for the shuttle trip back to Pikes Hotel. Dinner this evening will be on your own and can be found at Pikes Waterfront Restaurant next door or at a number of other fine restaurants located close by.
Day 7: Flights home
After breakfast this morning you will be transported to the Fairbanks airport for your flights home.
Information about Alaska
“Before you travel “
- A valid US ID is required for travel to and from Alaska via commercial airline
- Special Travel Note About the arctic:
In the unlikely event that our return flight from the Kaktovik back to Fairbanks is cancelled due to weather, an additional fee of $450 per person will be collected from each trip participant for each additional night we have to stay in the village. This is to cover the extra cost of staying in the village and the cost of a rental vehicle so that we are still able to view and photograph polar bears. I apologize in advance if it becomes necessary to collect this additional fee, but weather in the arctic can be unpredictable.
ARRIVING IN ALASKA:
- Please have your flights arrive in Fairbanks no later than 4:30 PM on Sept 23 in order to arrive in time for our welcome/orientation dinner. When you arrive in Fairbanks please call 456-4500 from baggage claim and inform the desk clerk that you are at the airport and need a ride to the lodge. Pikes is located approximately 4 minutes away so the van will arrive outside baggage claim before your bags are delivered. Simply walk outside and look for the van with the Pikes Waterfront Lodge logo on it. If you choose to arrive before September 23, please contact me with your travel plans, so that I may notify Pikes of your arrival date and time. The free shuttle will also transport you back to the airport at the end of our trip.
- Please have your departure flight leave from Fairbanks on the September 29 or later if you plan on staying afterwards. It is possible to depart on a red eye flight on the evening of 9/28 (really early morning of 9/28), and not spend this final night in Fairbanks.
SAFETY AND SECURITY:
- Your safety while on the trip is my top concern! Most activities will be dictated to some degree by the weather and safety is always paramount, however, it is important to remember that a good part of this trip takes place, far from any hospital services. Although I will take great care to ensure your safety, accidents do happen. For this reason I require that you have insurance to cover you while traveling. There are many insurance companies offering travel insurance these days so a good way to find the right policy for you at the right price, is to visit a website such as www.insuremytrip.com. This service will match the right policy to your needs and price. They offer insurance from companies such as MEDEX, American Express, Global underwriters, AIG and many more. Travel insurance will also cover a number of other potential problems with your trip, for instance, if you must unexpectedly cancel or interrupt your trip the cost of your trip will be refunded, lost baggage protection, and medical bills incurred while traveling are all usually included in an insurance policy. Make sure you purchase a travel insurance policy that does include evacuation coverage in the unlikely event that you do need to be medi-vacced.
- Remember, exploring and photographing arctic wildlife in a wilderness environment does contain inherent risk, so use common sense! Please think before engaging in any “risky” behavior and know that I will be given safety briefings throughout the trip on safe behaviour around polar bears.
- Security-wise there’s not much to worry about in Alaska!
- Cash or credit cards work just about everywhere in Alaska, however, in the more remote parts of Alaska (that we visit) NO ONE accepts credit cards! If you want to buy any kind of native art work or other souvenirs to take home I would recommend carrying some amount of cash for these purchases as credit cards will not be accepted.
- There is standard phone and cellular phone communication service and wifi in Fairbanks, and Kaktovik, however, internet may be unreliable in Kaktovik
- Laundry is available on days 1 and 7 in Fairbanks and may be available in Kaktovik on a limited basis
- You are traveling to the high arctic in early winter!! Keep in mind the arctic has ever changing weather with temperatures that can swing from below freezing to cool in a matter of hours at this time of year. Expect daytime temperatures in the 20’s and 30’s (perhaps as high as the 40’s) with nights well below freezing. Both rain and/or snow are possible as well so think layers when packing starting with a waterproof and windproof outer shell with layers of wool or fleece underneath. Warm hat and gloves are essential as are liner gloves for photography! Dressing in layers is very helpful as you can remove or add as the temperature dictates.
- You will be traveling by small aircraft and will be limited on the amount and weight of luggage you can take. Soft-sided duffel bags work better than hard-sided cases and you must limit your bags to at most two bags per person, one of which will be your camera bag (there is very limited space for carry-on items in this aircraft). Each of your bags can weigh no more than 50 pounds. Carry-on space in the aircraft is limited to a small space under the seat in front of you that will fit a laptop computer bag. If you are visiting other parts of Alaska before and/or after this trip and have clothes and gear that you are using on the rest of your vacation, but do not need on our trip north, it is possible to leave bags at Pikes Waterfront Lodge until your return.
- All meals are included in the cost of the trip with the exception of dinner on the evening of Friday October 2nd. I try to supply high quality, nutritious and healthy food for this trip. In some remote locations we can be limited by whether an airplane arrived with fresh food or weather kept the plane from landing. Please keep this in mind and try to be flexible. Please notify me of any special dietary requests, food allergies or food preferences. I will do my best to make sure that all special dietary needs are met, but please keep an open mind and be flexible. Alcohol is not provided on this trip and a local ordinance makes it illegal to posses or consume alcohol while in the arctic. So no alcoholic beverages will be available in the native village and please do not bring your own as the fine for possession is $1,000 and I have seen bags searched!
-Please notify me of any special dietary requests, food allergies or food preferences.
WHAT TO BRING:
- Depending on your own needs, the following is a suggested packing list:
Being prepared for all weather conditions by dressing in layers is the key to comfort, and packing smart is the key to being prepared. Starting with a thin base layer of either capilene or merino wool works best. Products such as Patagonia capilene base layer and/or Icebreaker or Ibex merino wool work great. I prefer the merino wool products, as the merino wool is soft on the skin and takes on no body odors. This allows for wearing these garments longer between washes. On top of your base layer you want a medium weight polar fleece or merino pullover, and a heavier weight zip-up fleece to go over that. A lightweight down sweater or jacket to put over these layers and a heavier weight down jacket for your warmest layer is critical. The final “top” layer should be a waterproof (either Gore-Tex or equivalent), breathable jacket that acts as both a rain coat and windproof layer. You can finish your layering with warm hat and gloves. For those doing photography a pair of thin fleece gloves work best so you can operate all your camera controls with gloves on! If you have any questions on the gear to bring or on the gear list please contact me!
- Warm Waterproof boots A warm waterproof boot is perfect for all our activities north of the arctic circle. In Kaktovik the ground can be wet and getting on and off a boat can often involve stepping in a few inches of water. If your boots are waterproof your feet will stay warm! I suggest a boot like the “Arctic Muck boot” or Sorrels. These boots are warm, waterproof and comfortable enough to wear on any forays.
- A pair of light slippers, clogs or sandals For wearing in the lodge in the Native Village
- Gore-Tex (or equivalent) jacket Gore-Tex jacket for wind and rain protection (outer layer)
- Gore-Tex (or equivalent) Rain pants
- Down Jacket or Parka For the cold windy days You are traveling to the arctic at the beginning of winter, a warm down jacket is necessary
- Lightweight down jacket Layered under your Gore-tex jacket or under your heavier down jacket
- Sweater or fleece jacket for the third layer
- long-sleeved shirt or midweight fleece pullover for the second layer, 2 of these are nice if you get one wet or dirty you have a backup
- Base layer shirts 2 or 3 base layer light weight capilene or merino wool shirts either short or long sleeve
- Base layer underwear You will want one base layer of long underwear (capilene or merino wool) in case we get a really cold day. These do not take up much room!
- Long pants 2 pair of long pants. Some of the new lightweight quick drying material pants are fantastic for this.
- Socks 5 pair of medium to light weight merino wool socks
- Underwear I’ll leave this to you to decide how many pair you need!
- Warm Hat Ski hat
- Warm Gloves Warm ski gloves
- Thin fleece gloves For photography
- Chemical hand warmers These can be purchased in Fairbanks before you depart
- Dress is always casual, so no dressy clothes are required!
- Water bottle
- Small battery operated alarm Clock This is important if you want to rise early for good light etc, plus we have some early morning departures!
- zip-lock plastic bags
- A Headlamp A headlamp is important for night time activities such as photographing the aurora. The headlamp leaves your hands free for working a camera while you photograph aurora borealis. Please get a headlamp that comes with a fold down RED lens. Many headlamps today such as Petzl, come with a fold down red lens, this is to preserve your night time vision when you need to use the light and so you don’t blind your neighbor!
- Your regular toiletry kit
- All personal prescription meds and favorite remedies. Whatever you usually need (Consult your physician.). Remember we will be isolated from stores and pharmacies most of the trip, so stock up on your usual meds
- Small basic First Aid Kit
- extra pair of prescription glasses,
- Earplugs Where we stay is quiet, but just in case there is an annoying noise, this is not a bad idea!
- The Camera gear you chose to bring is dependent on what you own. If you have any questions about the most appropriate gear please contact me. I use Canon equipment and I keep a few lenses on hand to rent to trip participants, including a 500mm f/4.0 IS (with matching 1.4X and 2.0X extenders) and a 400mm f/4.0 DO IS. Please contact me in advance to discuss availability and price.
- A tripod is an absolute must for aurora photography.
- A tripod head: A ball head such as a RRS BH55 or BH 40 is perfect, gimble heads such as whimberlies do not work well for this trip, because they are too bulky and heavy
- RRS or Equivalent “L” bracket is important for photographing the aurora. Often vertical compositions are the best for aurora, in order to capture more sky. I have watched too many people struggle while trying to orient their camera in the vertical position by rotating the camera on their ball head to find the slot where the ball drops into the vertical. An “L” bracket alleviates this problem and allows you to compose a vertical composition much more easily and efficiently especially in the dark! The bonus is an “L” bracket also acts as protection for your expensive digital SLR!
- A beanbag I recommend a Kinesis photo gear bean bag. I would also recommend you purchase this beanbag from Kinesis with the lightweight filling material to save on weight in your luggage
- Telephoto lens 300mm or longer for wildlife and birds
- Tele extenders Preferably matched with the lens
- Spare camera body If you own one. I’ve seen many cameras come to grief on trips and I hate to see anyone on a trip without a camera, who wants to photograph!
- Longer range zoom For wildlife and landscapes (70-200mm)
- Medium range zoom For people and landscape (24-105mm)
- A fast (f/2.8) Wide angle zoom For landscapes and aurora (16-35mm)
- Lots of extra memory cards
- A digital storage device Such as Epson P-2000, Hyperdrive, or laptop computer If you plan on shooting more than you have card space for this is important.
- Battery charger and spare battery
- Polarizing Filter
- Cable release for aurora photography
- A camera back pack to carry all this gear I recommend the Kiboko bag made by Gura Gear. These bags come in different sizes, are light weight, very durable and weatherproof and will fit all the above mentioned gear
- A telephoto lens camera pouch I recommend the Kinesis line of telephoto lens pouches; see the L511, L522, L611 and L622 at: www.kgear.com
REMEMBER, this list is only a general recommendation and that personalization of the list should be considered by each individual according to her/his own needs.
In addition I recommend that you DO NOT PACK the following items in your checked luggage:
- All airline tickets and travel documents
- Credit cards, money
- Anything of any value I just heard of a laptop computer stolen from checked baggage between Vancouver and Anchorage
- Luggage keys
- Prescription glasses
- Camera gear
- Prescription medications
- A light change of clothing
- Your light hiking boots
- Rain jacket
Books on this region of Alaska:
- Arctic Village, Robert Marshall
- Arctic Wilderness, Robert Marshall
- Shopping for Porcupine, Seth Kantnor
- Ordinary Wolves, Seth Kantnor
- Two in the Far North, Margaret E. Murie
INCLUDED IN THE TRIP PRICE: $8350*
- Airport transfer in Fairbanks on days one, two, six and 7
- All accommodations in Alaska from night one to night 6, including; Fairbanks and Native village.
- All meals from dinner on day one to breakfast on day 7, with the exception of dinner on night 6
- All transportation on the trip including airline flight to Native Village
- Boat rides for viewing and photographing polar bears (weather permitting a total of eight, three hour boat trips for a total of 24 hours of boat time)
- Bus rides for viewing and photographing polar bears
* In the unlikely event that our flight from Kaktovik is altered or cancelled due to weather, an additional fee of $450 per person will be charged for each additional night we spend in Kaktovik. This fee covers our accommodations and allows us, in spite of the uncontrolled circumstances, to continue photographing. We apologize in advance if this additional fee becomes necessary, but travel in Alaska’s Arctic can involve extreme weather.
- Flights to and from Fairbanks to your home in the lower 48.
- Alcoholic beverages are neither included nor served in Native Villages
- Money for purchases of souvenir items
- Cost of any additional boat rides beyond the 24 hours provided for the trip
- Charge for Extra nights spent in Kaktovik due to weather induced flight cancellation
- Non refundable deposit of $1000 per person is due on booking trip
- Half of the trip price minus the $1000 deposit ($3675) is due by March 15th
- The remaining half of the trip ($3675) is due by June 15th
- Cancellations are refundable until May 15th minus the $1000 deposit, after this date payments are refundable dependent on your space being filled by another traveler
- If cancellations are made after Aug 15th I will make every effort to get your money back, but rely on filling your space. For this reason I would recommend trip insurance if you believe that there is any chance you may have to make a last minute cancellation.