Close Encounters of a Bear Kind

I had originally posted this in my Tumblr Account  and thought I would share because it is camping and bear season.

Recently in Glacier National Park  I had two close bear encounters. My first close encounter happened when I was hiking with a very loud group of four adults and four kids. Everyone had started hiking ahead and I bent down to look at a ripe alpine strawberry.  I was standing in front of some willow scrub about 1m off the trail.  A fellow hiker in my party shouted out to me  “B…B…Bear!”  I looked up and didn’t see anything and then someone said “the bear is behind you.”  Sure enough not more than 3m away the bear was behind the willow scrub eating what I was looking at, ripe alpine strawberries.  I backed away and walked a brisk pace to where everyone had gathered.  I am still not sure if everyone was gathered to watch the bear or the potential show that could have unfolded.  All went well and he started to come towards us then did a 180 and walked the other way down the trail. I was able to get my camera out and snap this pic.  This could have had a different ending because the bear appeared to be fairly young & curious, or potentially passive-aggressive. He was not afraid of us at all.

Because I have had over ten years experience working outside often alone or in pairs I experienced many bear encounters within 1.5m to 100m.  I have been false charged by two grizzlies, huffed at by many a black bear including one with two cubs that she sent up a tree.  All had been close encounters and all survived without a scratch.  Human/bear contact happens.  I always get the biggest adreneline rush when a bear and I made contact.  I swear for six years I was a complete bear magnet – bears everyday.  My very last encounter that scared me was the black bear with her two cubs, she was only 1.5m behind me.  But we both acted accordingly and went on our merry way in opposite directions.  At the time being young and stupid I often mocked and laughed that at the beginning of every field season I had to watch yet another Bear Aware Video.

So when Chris and I decided that GNP was the place to go hiking and camping we didn’t think anything of it.  We were prepared…we had bear training (six years ago), bear spray and bangers in the RV (or at least we thought they were there) and knew what to do or so We had thought.

How wrong were we, especially with the second encounter that happened the next day.  The eight of us were spread out because we only had to go about 500m to the waterfalls and the busy trail had a stream of people on it.  Chris who was approximately 4m in front of me with D got to a vegetated corner and decided he should clap his hands and yell “Go Bear”.  At that exact moment, I caught movement off to my right.  Sure enough a cinnamon black bear with the pointy ears and roman nose.  I am holding hands with W and don’t know how far back the other family is.  As I sit and look at this bear who staring back at me with stiff front legs, I debate what to do.  Do I join chris? Stay still or go back? Crap – what a dilemmia.  The bear is approximately 4m away and I get a bad feeling with this one.  I don’t like his stance.  I yell out “bear!”  Because I don’t hear anything behind me I move forward walking at a brisk pace dragging  W.  I turn the vegetated corner, not too sure if the bear will trianulate that way or not and don’t see Chris.  When I yelled bear Chris picked up D and ran down the trail further to get out of the well vegetated portion of the trail. Now I pick up W and start to run so I can meet up with Chris & D.  I look back because I hear the two other kids with us.  They are at the top of the trail where the bear is.  I trip and fall over a rock and roll with W.  He is crying now.  Chris comes back to meet with us.  He is yelling out “bear” to the kids.  They are yelling back “What bear…where”  Chris yells back “right there”.  They come down the trail and meet with us.  The bear crosses  in front the the kids parents right after the kids run around the corner.   The kids never saw the bear that was right beside the trail. We came out unscathed but we as a group had done many things wrong and we were lucky.

So what will be do next time.  Not leave bear bangers & bear spray in RV.  Review bear aware techniques again.  We were very rusty and having the kids made us act differently than when we work outside in an adult-only environment.  We will stress to all kids in party that they can not run off and above all we will stick together as a group no matter how busy the trail is.  The funny thing is that I would still rather meet up a bear than a cougar any day! Even more so with little kids on the trail with me.

Below is some hints and tips when hiking or camping in bear country.

When in Bear Country:

  1.  Avoid conflict by practicing prevention.
  2. Be alert.
  3. Look for signs of recent bear activity. These include droppings, tracks, evidence of digging, and claw or bite marks on trees.
  4. Make your presence known by talking loudly, clapping, singing, or occasionally calling out. Some people prefer to wear bells. Whatever you do, be heard! It doesn’t pay to surprise a bear.
  5. Keep children close at hand and within sight.
  6. Photographing bears can be dangerous. Use a long-range telephoto lens.
  7. There is no guaranteed minimum safe distance from a bear – the further, the better.
  8. Stay away from dead animals. Bears may attack to defend such food.
  9. It is best not to hike with dogs, as dogs can antagonize bears and cause an attack. An unleashed dog may bring a bear back to you.
  10. Never leave pets unattended.

Children should not:

  1.  Run or play in areas with dense bush.
  2. Play unsupervised in bear country.
  3. Make animal-like sounds while hiking or playing.
  4. Approach bears, especially bear cubs.
  5. Be encouraged to pet, feed, or pose for a photo with bears, even if they appear tame.

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