Spring brown bear cubs (born earlier this year in the hibernation den) wait patiently for their mother to catch salmon on the Brooks River, Katmai National Park & Preserve, Alaska.  Photo taken from the lower river bridge, Brooks River, Katmai National Park & Preserve.

I returned from an 18-day trip to Katmai National Park & Preserve yesterday. I usually visit Katmai at least once yearly to photograph its iconic brown bears1 and expansive wilderness.

This year was very different for me. Bad weather was relentless. The pouring rain and high winds removed my motivation to backpack into remote areas, away from the popular Brooks Camp and famous Brooks Falls.

It is a strange year up there. The salmon arrived very late and in lower numbers. This resulted in many bears leaving Brooks Falls, where spawning sockeye salmon pool up before jumping the 6-foot high falls, only to get eaten in mid-air by skilled bears fishing the lip of the falls.

The lower numbers of sockeye salmon are likely related to the record-breaking high temperatures (89 degrees F) in the summer of 2019. Those high temperatures caused the spawning salmon to turn around and go into the depths of Naknek Lake. The bears left, too, until the temperatures reached their normals of the low 60s.

During this hot spell in 2019, I saw many dead fish. I headed to the backcountry, where I ran into bears, wolves, and lynx, all trying to find food in the extreme heat. Their regular feeding cycle was way out of whack.

The sockeye in the Brooks River are on a four-year cycle (one year in the river, three years in the ocean), so the 2019 impacts of heat on the salmon could be realized this year, 2023.

A double rainbow one morning over the Brooks River.  You can see Alexander’s Dark Band in between the primary and secondary bow.

“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

— Dolly Parton