McNeil 2006 Notes

Gear I took with me and could have left behind.

  1. Macro Lens – I brought my Canon 100mm macro lens along just in case there might be some macro shots, but never used it once. Let’s face it, you are there for just one thing and that is to photograph the bears. If you are going to spend some more time in Alaska while at McNeil then leave the lens at the hotel till you get back.
  2. Canon 24-70mm 2.8 lens – while this is a great lens for landscapes, I did not shoot this lens while at McNeil. Every bit of extra weight will cost you on the flight as well as at the end of the day. Pick your lenses wisely and think about what you are there to photograph.
  3. Canon 17-40mm lens – I thought I would thro this lens on to get some snap shots of the group around the bears, but did not use it. I used my 3 mega pixel digital point and shoot for all my snap shots on the trip. Easy, convenient, and right there in my coat pocket when I needed it. I highly recommend you take one with you for your trip to McNeil. Great to grab shots of camp life as well as all those “tourist” shots while at McNeil.
  4. Too many clothes – I brought a lot of clothes with me, but not the right kind for the weather we had. It rained most of the time there and Gore-Tex is great for a light rain, but does not work in a down pour. I have had my North Face jacket for a few years and it always worked in most rain conditions, but did not work for the kind of weather at McNeil. You need real rain gear for McNeil, the rubber kind!
  5. Laptop Computer – I could have left it at home. While us digital photographers think we need one, I only used mine once back at the hotel. Kevin brought his and we used his after we got back from McNeil. If there is a group of you going, bring the laptop that is the fastest among the group. I uploaded my images to my hyper-drive that worked just fine. Then I transferred them to my computer when I returned home.

Camera Gear I took and used.

  1. Canon 1Ds – This was my main camera used at McNeil. Worked without any problems at all. You will find that your older digital camera will still give you some great images; the battery management is not as good as the newer cameras. Several photographers had the Canon 1D MK II and shot the whole time at McNeil on one battery. Kevin did the whole trip using just two batteries. In my case it was cheaper to buy several new batteries than to shell out $4000 for a new camera.
  2. Canon 300 2.8 AF lens (non –IS) – This lens is a real work horse. This was my main lens and worked out great. I think the ideal focal length at McNeil is 400mm and I would love to have a 400mm 2.8 lens for the trip. If you have priced them, they are very expensive.
  3. Six Camera Batteries – I know this was a little over kill, but when you don’t have a way to recharge batteries then you need to have them. I only used three batteries while at McNeil, so it was a good thing that I did not just bring two! Of course the battery charger came with us and was used at the hotel to top off the batteries just before the flight over to McNeil.
  4. Lots of memory cards – I took 13 gigs with me stored in waterproof Gepe cases. These cases are waterproof and are fluorescent green so you can see them if dropped. I highly recommend these cases and you can pick them up at B&H Photo for about $18.
  5. Canon 10D – This was my back-up camera for the trip just in case the 1Ds did not make it or I ran out of batteries. I used the 10D for snap shots around camp to record camp life at McNeil.
  6. Nikon Coolpix 3200 – My snappy camera I carried in my pocket. This was my true snap shot camera at 3 mega pixels and works on two AA batteries. It’s great to have one of these small digital cameras with you. Of course now days you can get 5 and 6 mega pixel point and shoot cameras, so look into getting one of those for you travels.
  7. Lowe Pro Trekker – my main back pack and it is a real work horse. The water proof cover let me down on this trip and needs a new water proof finish applied. This is a big and heavy pack, but is great for this type of photography.
  8. Hyper-Drive – This was my portable hard drive I used to transfer images to while at McNeil. The Hyper-Drive is a stand alone hard drive that you plug in your cameras memory cards in and it automatically transfers the images into a folder on the hard drive. Works on AA batteries and is a real great tool for the digital photographer.

Things That Failed

  1. Tent – My trusty Eureka Timberline tent has weathered many Alaska outings, failed me on this trip. I think the weather proofing finally got wore out. The other factor I am sure is the fact that 20 to 30 MPH winds did not help. You need a sturdy tent at McNeil. I am thinking one of the more popular brands of dome tents would be best.
  2. Rain Gear – Guess what? Gore-Tex does not work in the driving rain all day. I have been a believer in Gore-Tex for many years and it failed me this time in Alaska. The people that live, work, and play here know that well. So you may want to re-think the rain gear that you have before going to McNeil. Some rubber bib pants and jackets are what the rangers use and it works great!
  3. Layers – While I was not real cold, let’s just say that I was not in as good of shape as I could have been. I had all the right gear for layers, but failed to pack them due to weight concerns. I should have brought them! Pack wisely, because you can’t go buy what you don’t have once you are there.
  4. Camera Pack – while my Lowe Pro pack has weathered some bad conditions in the past, it failed miserably here at McNeil this year. I had to dry out my camera gear each day after we got back to the cook shack. I would look at buying a rain proof cover to fit over my pack such as the ones they sell at REI. Condensation will kill a camera! If yours gets wet, take out the battery and let it dry over night before turning it back on.

Gear that worked great!

My camera gear worked great without any problems. It is always a good idea to bring along your camera’s manual so you can figure out the little quarks that don’t work or you forgot how to set.

Hyper-Drive – My portable stand alone hard drive worked for seven days before needing to put in new batteries.

Cabelas Hip Waders – These light weight hip waders worked great. I put some inserts into the boots so that my feet would like me at the end of the day. You do need hip waders, so get some that will be comfortable to wear all day.

My PDA and Keyboard – My old Handspring Visor and my Targus Keyboard to record my journal was a life saver. This is one cool little set up combined with the Wordsmith software, it imports right into word. Of course, there is the new PDA’s with word and all that now days. But will your PDA work for two months on 2 AAA batteries? Did not think so!

Hope these tips will help. Drop me an email if I can help you.

-mark