This story appears in the February 2014 issue of National Geographic magazine.
Photographer Paul Nicklen waded into the frigid water of a river in the Canadian Yukon and set up a camera with a remote trigger. Then he waited for a bear to come by. He’d seen plenty of bears chasing salmon in the river, but it took 15 days before a grizzly came to inspect the shiny camera housing.
Nicklen had been drawn to the Yukon because of its beauty. He wanted to take pictures of the massive mountains and glaciers. But a gold rush started in 2011, after mineral deposits were unearthed north of Dawson, and so his coverage shifted: “It quickly turned from a pretty-picture story into an urgent one about mining a wild place.”
Nicklen mingled with miners in hotels and bars, hearing their stories about why they’d come to the Yukon and the dollar signs that had attracted many of them. Away from the mines, Nicklen wanted to capture the wild spirit—and animals—of the area. After the grizzly bear wandered away, he retrieved his dry suit, which he’d propped up against a tree. It was frozen stiff from the subzero temperatures, so he stomped on it to thaw it, put it on, and went into the river to retrieve the camera. The final frame had captured a clearly inquisitive bear.