Yes, you did read that correctly. I shot this photograph while being charged by a grizzly late yesterday evening.
Yes, I know - you're not the only one who thinks I'm mad. But this is how it happened.
Before I flew out to the Yukon, I thought the schedule that was meticulously prepared by Margaret Goodwin of Yukon Tourism was a great way to see as much of the Territory as I possibly could in a week. What we didn't know at that stage was that I would encounter a grizzly at speed!
We were taken on a hike in Kluane National Park by Brent Liddle (see photo below) of Kluane Ecotours. He's a very interesting bloke, who not only cares deeply for this park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but is a mine of information on the area, as well as local flora and fauna. At the start of the hike, Brent informed us that he had carried bear spray for thirty years, but had never had to use it.
At the end of a six-hour hike through a stunning landscape of mountains surrounding Lake Kathleen, we were probably five minutes from the four-wheel drives. That's when one of our seven-member group called out that there was a grizzly up ahead. She had seen the bear stand up and reckoned he was at least seven to eight feet tall.
With two cameras around my neck and a sweater and a rain jacket knotted loosely around my waist, I ran on to join the group. Brent told us to stand together so that the grizzly, with its poor eyesight, would think we were a large enough object to pose a threat.
At the start of the hike, he had told us not to make loud noises if confronted by a bear, so as not to frighten it. And he had emphasised that you never run, because that action signals to the bear that you are prey.
Run? I wasn't going to run. I wanted photographs of this grizzly.
Mate, how many people get a chance to do that? Seriously?
I moved to the front of the group just as the grizzly re-appeared. He looked at us very briefly and then began his charge.
There was no time to think. He charged 10 metres (about 30 feet) and covered the ground very quickly. I shot the first image during his charge, but before I had any time to hit the shutter a second time, he changed his mind and ran into the undergrowth instead.
A few seconds later, he re-appeared on another trail a few metres to our right - exactly where I'd run to catch up with the group. I got four shots of him on the track before he vanished again.
But here's the deal. Because I have an analytical mind, I tried working out why I'd only had time to shoot a solitary frame as he charged us. Then I figured it out. I had my 300mm lens on a Pentax K200D slung around my neck. Over that, supported in my right hand, was my all-purpose 18-125mm lens on my Pentax K100D.
I estimated that the bear appeared for three seconds while he made up his mind. His charge lasted another three seconds. That was six seconds in all - but here's where it gets really interesting.
I had shut off the Pentax K200D with the long lens and I had fully retracted the double-barrel lens, because we were practically at the end of the hike. As I mulled over the time-and-motion study in my head, I realised what the answer was.
I asked one of the hikers to time me as I re-created the exact situation. I went through exactly the same motions. I moved the Pentax K100D away from my chest and grabbed the Pentax K200D with both hands. With my right thumb, I triggered the "on-off" switch. With my left thumb, I moved the focus button from auto to manual. Pointing the camera at the bear, I had rotated the first barrel to the fully open position. Then I had rotated the focus ring to the maximum. Next, I used my left thumb to move the focus button to auto and finally hit the trigger with my right thumb.
It took five seconds, as I had suspected.
All of which gave me one second to take the shot. I guess one solitary frame isn't a bad result in those conditions.
Brent's bear spray lives on - and hopefully he won't have to use it for another 30 years!
For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
G Is For Grizzly
This Bear Charged Me A Few Hours Ago
Photographs copyright: DAVID McMAHON