DANO Pendygrasse

odds and ends from an unusual life

The Grizzly bears of Tweedsmuir Park Lodge in Bella Coola, BC.

Hello friends,

I've been planning my trip to Bella Coola to see the grizzly bears for over a year. It finally happened last week and I'm here to share some photos and stories. I had to take a couple vacation days to make the whole thing work, so at 7AM on Wednesday morning, about an hour later than planned, we aimed the trusty Xterra north, destination; Tweedsmuir Park Lodge. We were staring down the barrel of a long drive and a lousy weather forecast but the thought of a bear encounter helped the miles fly by.

We arrived at the lodge around noon on Thursday after an overnight at the Nimpo Lake Resort. (Pretty nice, wish we had more time there) and after a delicious lunch we set off on our first activity, a 3 hour drift down the Atnarko River. We heard from all the staff about the dozens of sightings in the last 24 hours so I was half expecting to be greeted by grizzlies at the boat launch. As it turns out, we didn't see any for the first 2 and a half hours. But then, just as the rain started and we pulled out the Gore-tex pants, I heard a twig crack off on the left bank of the river, turned and saw a sow and three cubs emerge from the forest. Thus began a 45 minute encounter that saw two sows facing off across the river while we sat in between.

The drift provided our first glimpse at these huge animals and set the tone for the entire trip. At some point we stopped counting the bear sightings.

By far though, the highlight of the trip was a nature walk with Ellie Archer where we spent about a dozen heart-pounding minutes within a car length of a perfect grizzly.

There are words and there are pictures but the experience of sharing space with these animals is bigger than they can accurately portray. So let's just get to the photos.

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We arrived to typical BC weather after some of the driest weather on record. Still, the river was extremely low.
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Our first bears. The cubs huddled behind mom as she faced off with another sow.
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Teamwork. We called the big one "toughy".
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This was the second sow. She walked out into the rapids as we were already committed. She's looking back at her cub deciding what to do as we inch closer. She retreated back to shore before we got too close...
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Moments later she crossed the river and sniffed the wind.
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Deciding it was safe, she got back to fishing.
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This was our big beauty. S/he came down the same trail as us only meters away. We settled back and let her do her thing. So close. So amazing.
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She wasn't sure about passing us by and spent some time checking us out and making the decision.
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Usually, when I'm making a tough decision, I like to wrap my arms around a tree.

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After passing us S/he found a nice rock in the river to look majestic on.
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On the drifts, we had time to watch the dolly varden in the crystal clear river. They were all over the place, sitting behind the spawning salmon and feasting on any stray eggs. Bad shot, but my fishermen friends will appreciate it.
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We made our way to the end of the road to get a view of the ocean. It's beautiful country but the loss of their Ferry service will surely impact the tourist trade in their already struggling town. Kim and Garry take in the view and watch for slappy seals.
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Easily the best illustration I've ever seen on a "danger" sign.
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This is Clayton falls. It's named after my friend Clayton Larsen. At least that's the story I'm going with.
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Out here, there are stars. Out here we are small.
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As we're packing up, a sow and a cub give us one last show. This kind of access to wildlife is just unbelievable.
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A gift from the lodge. Safety first!

Thanks so much to Swede, Beat, Ellie, Rebecca, Tim, Amelie and all the staff that took good care of us. And remember folks, a long lens doesn't make you photographer any more than a laptop makes you an author. Getting the shot is never more important than being present in the experience and respecting the people that you're sharing it with.

If you like the shots, leave a comment, and if you want to have a great bear encounter, get your ass to Tweedsmuir Park Lodge.

D.
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