Grizzlies of Bear Cave Mountain - 2024 02Grizzlies of Bear Cave Mountain - 2024 02Join me in the northern Yukon Territory for one of the most amazing wildlife photo safaris on the planet! Photograph grizzly bears (brown bears) in one of the wildest and most intimate settings possible.

The Bear Cave Mountain camp is at the core of the Ni’iinlii’njik (“where fish spawn”) Territorial Park, located a little south of the Arctic Circle in the northern Yukon Territory. The area is extremely remote (2+ hrs by helicopter from Dawson City) and strictly managed.

Our trip is in run conjunction with guide Phil Timpany at Nakina Adventures, who has over many years worked closely in partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to develop the Bear Cave Mountain camp and bear viewing business.

Phil has been coming to this area for 30-years and knows the personalities and family lineage of many of the bears.

Only 28 people get access to Bear Cave Mountain each autumn during grizzly bear viewing season, 7 groups of 4 individuals.

 

Grizzlies of Bear Cave Mountain

A unique and exclusive photography safari

 

Friday, October 04 to Tuesday, October 15, 2024

Ni‘iinlii Njik Territorial Park & Wilderness Preserve, Yukon

4 spaces available for experienced photographers
 

CDN $18950 (about USD $15600; £11200 using May 2021 exchange rates)

All-inclusive price covers: all transport, meals, and accommodation after arrival in Whitehorse, and all Canadian sales tax

 

Click here to express your interest for this safari

Note that I also have Bear Cave Mountain safaris running in autumn 2022, 2023, 2025, and 2026 - see my schedule for details

 

 

This safari is unique among by my grizzly offerings in the Yukon: it is a photographically unguided tour for a group of four experienced photographers for one of the most amazing wildlife photo safaris on the planet!

Photograph grizzly bears (brown bears) in one of the wildest and most intimate settings possible.

The Bear Cave Mountain camp is at the core of the Ni’iinlii’njik (“where fish spawn”) Territorial Park, located a little south of the Arctic Circle in the northern Yukon Territory. The area is extremely remote (2+ hrs by helicopter from Dawson City) and strictly managed.  

Our trip is in run conjunction with local guide Phil Timpany at Nakina Adventures, who has over many years worked closely in partnership with the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation to develop the Bear Cave Mountain camp and bear viewing business.

Phil has been coming to this area for 30-years and knows the personalities and family lineage of many of the bears.

Only 28 people get access to Bear Cave Mountain each autumn during grizzly bear viewing season, 7 groups of 4 individuals.

Normally the Bear Cave Mountain safari is limited to a maximum of 4 individuals, 3 guests and myself, but for this session I am opening it up to four experienced photographers who would like to book and travel as a group.

I will meet you in Whitehorse when you land, accompany you to Dawson City, and see you off in the helicopter to Bear Cave Mountain unaccompanied for an independent photography week (you have two local guides at Bear Cave for camp logistics, cooking, and security while bear viewing) . When I fly in with the next group, we briefly see each other again while swapping spots on the helicopter, then you make your own way south back to Whitehorse.

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Who is this safari for?

This safari is meant for adventurous and experienced photographers who want a profound and personal wilderness experience.

Ideally this is a safari for a group of four friends or two couples, all of whom are experienced photographers.

You will capture images that reflect the up-close and very personal encounters we have with these amazingly intelligent bears.

In addition to the grizzly bears, you may also see wolves, caribou, moose, martens, and even wolverines. 

Physically, this is a relatively easy trip with walking on forest paths of distances up to about 1-km to shoot locations.

 

 

Grizzly winter portraitGrizzly winter portraitGrizzly bear in a snow storm, Fishing Branch River, Yukon, 26 October 2018. This is an almost smiling female grizzly watching for salmon (she was about 20 ft distant at this point).

Above: a female grizzly portrait shot from about 20-25 ft (7-8 m) distance
 

Below: Bear Cave Mountain camp - your home for 7-nights (notice the bear prints on the boardwalk)


 

The safari schedule

Your overall schedule is built around a core shooting schedule that includes 6 full days and 2 half days at Bear Cave Mountain. To get in and out of the Yukon, we allow 2 extra days at each end so that we have flexibility in case of weather-related travel complications in Dawson City.

Day 1 (Friday, 04 Oct 2024)

Arrive Whitehorse International Airport (airport code YXY); overnight at the Coast High Country Inn (single). I will meet you this evening in Whitehorse.

Day 2 (Saturday, 05 Oct 2024)

Fly from Whitehorse to Dawson City in the early morning. We have a full day free to explore and photograph the historical buildings of this famous gold rush hub and the local trail network; overnight at the Aurora Inn (single)

Day 3 (Sunday, 06 Oct 2024)

In the morning, I will accompany you to the helicopter hangar, where you head out by helicopter, passing through the spectacular Tombstone Mountain range and open tundra, to Bear Cave Mt, a 2+ hour flight (watch for caribou herds on the way); after arrival and lunch, you will be out on the shore of the Fishing Branch River for your first photo session; overnight at Bear Cave Mt camp (shared cabin)

Day 4 Monday, 07 Oct 2024) to Day 9 (Saturday, 12 Oct 2024)

All day photography on the shores of the Fishing Branch River; overnight at Bear Cave Mt camp (shared cabin)

Day 10 (Sunday, 13 Oct 2024)

After your final morning photo session, we will briefly cross paths as we exchange places on the helicopter after it lands at Bear Cave Mountain. You are whisked back to Dawson City; overnight at the Aurora Inn (single)

Day 11 (Monday, 14 Oct 2024)

You fly from Dawson City south to Whitehorse in mid-afternoon and stay overnight at the Coast High Country Inn (single)

Day 12 (Tuesday, 15 Oct 2024)

Depart Whitehorse for national and international connecting flights

 

Click here to express your interest for this safari

 

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Above: on the way in, you have one full day to explore and photograph historic Dawson City

 

Below: up close and personal with grizzly bears

 

 

What's included?

Once you step off the plane in Whitehorse on October 4th, all food, accommodation, and tour expenses are covered with the exceptions noted below.

Transfer from Whitehorse airport to hotel upon arrival (you are responsible for airport transfer on departure)

Hotel accommodation on Day 1 (Coast High Country Inn standard room, single accommodation)

All meals starting with dinner on Day 1 and ending with lunch on your Bear Cave Mountain departure (you will be responsible for your remaining meals on the trip south)

Round-trip flight Whitehorse-Dawson City with Air North

Hotel accommodation on Day 2 (Aurora Inn standard room, single accommodation)

Group helicopter flight from Dawson City to Bear Cave Mountain

All meals and accommodation (shared log cabin) at Bear Cave Mountain camp (you will be responsible for your own meals from the time you arrive back in Dawson City on the way out)

Accommodations on the way out: Days 10 (Aurora Inn) and 11 (Coast High Country Inn): 

All park access and guiding fees

Canadian sales tax is also included in this all-inclusive package price

 

Not included:

Canadian tourist visa, if needed

Travel and evacuation insurance

Airfare to get to Whitehorse

Tips and gratuities

Personal gifts and spending

Alcohol

Food other than with regular meals

Meals in Dawson City and Whitehorse after your departure from Bear Cave Mountain

Excess baggage charges (see the FAQ)

Any costs to compensate for delayed / cancelled flights

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Above: your ride departing from the gravel bar in the Fishing Branch River

 

Below: your experiences with the grizzlies are 'unfiltered' (no hides, no baiting - you are out with the bears in their world)

Fishing Branch photography set-upFishing Branch photography set-upI've had a number of people ask me about how we were shooting at the Fishing Branch River (Bear Cave Mountain). Our main viewing area for the week (for 4 photographers) was along a flat bit of an isthmus between the Fishing Branch River (off to the right and behind) and this side slough, where there were around 150 chum salmon spawning. The bears came down trails just behind the bear in the stream most often, but sometimes came down another path just behind where I was sitting (at most, 2 m from my head!). The bears used all this part of the stream for hunting salmon and occasionally walked right past in front of us (3 m or so). This picture was shot at 16mm on a full frame camera, so you can figure from there how close the bear was in reality (about 5 m at the moment) - given the speed at which they could accelerate that would be the equivalent of a second or so to lunch over our way. We rotated positions each day we were there - while we all agreed there that it was to get different vantage points, I'm not entirely convinced that it wasn't to share the risk of being at the sharp end of a charge ;-). Taken at Bear Cave Mountain, Yukon Territory, 27 October 2018.

 

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What should you bring?

You will receive a recommended kit list from me prior to departure. There are some strict weight limits on the chopper flight, so you have to be very selective in the camera kit you bring (see FAQ). In brief, you should bring:

– two camera bodies –

– a tripod and head –

– wide-angle, mid-range, and telephoto lenses –

– a laptop computer or tablet, charging and storage devices –

– warm clothing (if needed, winter boots and winter camo suits are provided by Bear Cave Mt camp) –

 

Click here to express your interest for this safari

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Above: snack time - once bears catch a salmon they typically head into the woods for a few minutes for their snack, then get back to fishing

 

Below: moose are also common along the Fishing Branch River (and caribou herds sometimes move through the area)

 

Below: a northern timber wolf wading across the Fishing Branch River Wolf in a riverWolf in a riverA timber wolf halfway across the Fishing Branch River, Yukon Territory, 28 October 2018.

 

 

FAQ

How safe is this trip?

This safari has a number of risk factors. First, and probably foremost, is that you are flying in relatively small turboprop planes and in helicopters in the Arctic. Weather conditions in this part of the world can be challenging but northern pilots are famous for the flying skills.

At Bear Cave Mountain, you are out on trails and on river shores in very close (5-m or 15 to 20-ft) proximity to one of the world's greatest predators. Fortunately their favorite food is salmon eggs, so they should be healthy, happy, and fat bears at this time of year.

Still, they are potentially dangerous and you always have a local guide along who carries a shotgun and is watching the local environment (bears can be amazingly quiet coming out of dense bush). In all the time that photographers have been visiting Bear Cave Mountain, it has never been necessary to shoot a bear. Because of the protocol in place to manage human-bear interactions (e.g., using only specific viewing sites where the bears know they may see humans, by avoiding quick movements and loud talking, and by being extremely clean at the viewing sites, not leaving any food scraps that might get bears associating humans with feeding opportunities), grizzly bears are essentially indifferent to photographers in their presence. Humans are not viewed as competition for salmon, nor as a threat, so you aren't really worthy of any effort whatsoever by the bears! They have better things to do!!

I have added some unedited videos of the trip in, which helps give you an idea of some of the flavor of the tour (and some of the risk factors). Click here to get to that page.

 

Will we see ice bears on this safari?

Bear Cave Mountain is most famous for 'ice bears.' This 2024 safari is a little early in the autumn viewing window to expect to encounter full-on 'ice bears.'  The bears are the same, of course, but you are visiting mid-season and not able to count on the cold winter conditions (-15 to -30 C range) that typically start about 1- to 2-weeks later. If you are interested in visiting when ice bears are more likely to be encountered, check out my safaris with later departure dates in 2025 and 2026. One big advantage of the mid-October slot is, however, that you have significantly more daylight than even a couple of weeks later and also have a higher likelihood of seeing a larger variety of individual bears, as well as moose.

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Below: if we get some snow in early-October, we may get bears starting to get into 'ice bear' mode

Ice mist grizzly bearIce mist grizzly bearA grizzly on the bank of the Fishing Branch River. Taken on a cold October morning, near the Arctic Circle, Yukon Territory, 23 October 2018.

 

Why do grizzly bears gather here?

The Fishing Branch River is quite unique in that it has warm spring water percolating up through the gravel beds where chum salmon spawn. This is an extremely late run of salmon that have adapted to the unique conditions here. For grizzlies, this is like a pre-winter buffet that allows them to gorge on very nutritious salmon eggs prior to waddling up the side of the mountain above, where there happens to be caves perfect for their overwintering slumber. Earlier in the viewing season, there tends to be more bears exploring more fishing sites. Later in the season, there tends to be fewer bears doing regular 'rounds' of preferred fishing sites.  

 

Claws!Claws!Claws of a grizzly bear, Fishing Branch River, Yukon Territory, 27 October 2018.

 

What kind of camera(s) should I bring?

Bring a camera(s) that you are comfortable with, that is reliable, and that can fire quick bursts for bear fishing action. This trip is also suitable for photographers shooting video. In my view reliability is the most important factor to consider. The last thing one would ever want was a camera malfunction on a trip like this. Personally, I stick with DLSRs for this reason (I bring a Canon 1DX ii as my primary body, with a second DLSR as back-up). Bringing a mirrorless and DLSR would also be a good combination.

You should consider three lens options: a medium to long telephoto; a mid-range zoom or portrait lens; and a wide angle. On my last visit to Bear Cave Mountain, I brought my Canon 200-400mm with internal extender (so 200-560mm range) plus an external 1.4X extender. I found that this reach was overkill and all my best images were shot between 250mm and 500mm range. Bears behave differently each year, however, so in some years a longer lens could be useful. Personally, my plan for future Bear Cave safaris will be to usually bring my 300-mm f/2.8 with a single 1.4X extender.

Last visit I brought my Canon 85-mm f/1.2 portrait lens. I used it for shooting some video and for close-up details of bear claws (above). I found it a little short, so next trip will more likely bring a lightweight 70-200-mm f/4 or a 100-mm f/2.8 portrait lens. For a wide angle, you might consider something in the 16mm to 35mm range (there can be some stunning sunsets at Bear Cave Mt and a wide-angle is also useful for shooting in Dawson City).  If you are shooting on a cropped sensor, consider that I was on full frame cameras and adjust accordingly.  

Also bring a sturdy tripod and head. Even if you prefer to shoot hand-held action shots, the tripod can be useful just as a place to keep your camera handy (we will be sitting for some long periods).

What clothing should I bring?

Expect early-winter conditions in early-October, as we are almost at the Arctic Circle. Bring multiple layers, durable pants (e.g., soft-shell), a warm jacket, hat, and mitts (I like fingerless gloves inside mitts in which I can also roll back the ends and get my fingertips free). Bring waterproof outerwear in case it rains or gets really cold. Bear Cave Mountain camp can supply warm winter hunting camo suits and winter boots should it get extremely cold. You should be counting on temperatures dropping to as low as -15 C  (5 F) overnight with days hovering around the -5 range. Each cabin has a small woodstove that keeps sleeping conditions warm most of the night. You may want to have some synthetic base layers for sleeping.  

How much stuff can I bring?

You have two considerations: the Dawson City scheduled flight and the helicopter ride. Officially the Air North flight has some pretty severe gear restrictions, especially for carry-on (10-kg). You have 20-kg of checked bags allowed, with overweight charged at around CDN $2.75 per kg. In practice, it seems that hand baggage does not get closely scrutinized but that is a dangerous thing to count on when traveling with expensive camera gear. You may want to consider packing up most of your camera kit in a hard case for the trip to Dawson and switching to camera carry-on packs for the chopper flight. You can leave the hard case at the Dawson hotel during your time at Bear Cave Mountain. You need to exercise common sense with regards to the helicopter flight as well as it also brings in fuel, food, and other camp supplies. Technically you will be on a weight limit so you should only count on camera kit plus clothing.

Do I have to spend all day sitting on a river bank?

It is possible to spend part of the day at the camp should you wish. The camp is actually a great shoot location: grizzlies regularly wander through camp and rub their backs on scratching trees adjacent to our cabins. Many photographers, however, will want to stay out on the river all day, where you may end up sitting in the bush or snow for many hours. When out all day, the local guides bring a packed lunch and have lots of coffee, tea, and snacks along.

 


 

What is the food like?

At Bear Cave Mountain camp, the local guides do all the cooking. I can attest the food is hearty and delicious! Vegetarian and vegan options are available if you let me know ahead of time they are required (I am vegetarian).

Do we have internet access?

After you leave Dawson City, you have no internet or cellular connections. The Bear Cave  Mountain Camp has satellite internet connection for emergencies only. You may want to consider having at least one Garmin Inreach system among your group for sending and receiving personal text messages. 

What are accommodations like?

In Whitehorse and Dawson City, you stay in comfortable hotels and have single accommodations. At Bear Cave Mountain camp, you need to share the small log cabins. Bear Cave Mountain camp has a simple shower facility with water heated by wood stove. Toilet facilities are primitive (an outhouse is down a trail, about 25-m from the cabins - an interesting walk in bear country at 3 in the morning!).

 

Sleeping quarters at Bear Cave Mountain camp  


How much does it cost to get to Whitehorse?

If you book your travel early, airfare can be very reasonable to Whitehorse. For example, Los Angeles and Toronto return tickets to Whitehorse for autumn 2020 were in the USD $500 range when booked in the Spring. Late bookings will be substantially more expensive. Whitehorse is serviced by Air Canada, WestJet, and Air North. For most people arriving from a distance, I strongly recommend booking with Air Canada: if you encounter delays on your trip, the odds are much higher with Air Canada that they will be able to reroute and still get you to Whitehorse more or less on time. 

What happens if I have a medical emergency while we are at Bear Cave Mountain camp?

Should you have a medical emergency at camp, the only evacuation option is helicopter. That means that you should have travel insurance that includes helicopter evacuation charges. Because helicopters cannot fly in all weather conditions, it is possible that a medical evacuation could take some time. Our local guides are trained in first aid - their training is, however, meant to help stabilize people sick or injured in remote locations, not to provide ongoing medical care or advice.

Do I need travel insurance?

Yes. Besides providing you with compensation if you need to cancel your trip prior to departure, good travel insurance will help you if you have problems traveling to Whitehorse or on the safari.  I suggest that you consider policies such as Global Rescue to cover evacuation expenses and a policy for adventure travel medical treatment.

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Below: packing for the flight to Bear Cave Mountain

 

When are payments due?

The initial payment of CAD $1000 secures your space for the safari and is applied to your 50% deposit. The balance of your 50% deposit (CAD $8475) is due 18-months prior to departure, by midnight Atlantic time on April 04, 2023. Your final balance of CAD $9475 is due 6-months prior to departure, by midnight Atlantic time on April 04, 2024. 

What happens if I need to cancel?

If you need to cancel up to 12 midnight Atlantic time on April 04, 2024, I will provide a full refund less your CAD $1000 deposit. There are no refunds after 04 April 2024. I strongly advise that you arrange travel insurance at the time of your booking to ensure that you are able to get compensation in the event of health or family emergencies.  

I know things happen in life and that this is a very expensive safari, so should you need to cancel late I will certainly make every effort to fill your spot with another photographer. If I can fill your spot, I will refund all payments made less your CAD $1000 reservation fee.  

Do I need to pay Canadian sales tax?

Yes. However, the Canadian sales tax is already build into the price of the safari, so the price you see is the total amount of what you need to pay.

If comparing safari prices with other tour operators, please keep in mind that there are no other extra charges once you reach Whitehorse, either for sales tax or for food, accommodations, or the Dawson City flight.

How do I pay?

You can transfer your payments directly to my bank account. You can pay by credit card if you wish, but there would be a 9.5% surcharge on the safari price to cover online credit card booking fees.

Does the trip need a minimum number of people to guarantee it runs?

Yes, I need a group of 4 photographers to run this trip. If you are a single person or couple, you should reserve for one of my other Bear Cave Mountain safaris, where I can book individuals. 

What happens if Tendrel Images cancels the trip?

If for any reason I need to cancel the safari, you will receive a full refund of all monies you have paid, including the CAD $1000 reservation fee. 

I cannot make the trip in 2024 - can I come in other years?

Yes. I have a double 2-week slots booked for 2023 (20 Sep to 08 Oct) and the season finale in 2026 (19 Oct to 06 Nov). In 2025 I have the single week right at the end of the season, prime timing for ice bears.

I am also offering grizzly bear photos in early-August in the Taku Wilderness in northern British Columbia; those 6-day tours can handle a slightly larger group and are a relatively more economical way to have a very personal experience with grizzly bears.

 

 

I hope you can join me in the Yukon!