Facing your fear in grizzly country

We saw a group of people gathered in Grand Teton National Park. That usually means one thing: a sighting of a large animal. As we approached, we saw the bear casually snacking in the clearing ahead. A few weeks later, in Waterton National Park, as Beth hiked behind Joe, she glanced over her shoulder and saw a big black bear watching her from 20 feet away. The bear and Beth exchanged non-threatening looks, but eventually the bear took off after another hiker screamed a warning back to her family. Screaming in front of a bear is not recommended, rather calm, confident, soft tones.

Were we worried as we hiked on trails through such beautiful terrain?

Almost every trail we hiked had a sign of warning.

The first hikes we took in Pray, Montana (just north of Yellowstone National Park), we walked with no regard to a possible encounter with a bear. We saw a local runner on the trail carrying bear spray in his hand. It then dawned on us that it was time to seriously consider that we might have a bear encounter. A few hours later, the waitress at the nearby Old Saloon started a conversation with us. When she heard that we’d hiked with no bear spray, she scolded us.

We picked up a can of bear spray that Joe wore in an easily reachable “carpenter’s” pocket or in a holster on his belt. (Not inside a zippered backpack where he wouldn’t be able to reach it easily.) Instead of bear bells, which we thought were not noisy enough, Joe carried our metal Sierra cups that made a rhythmic, louder sound as he walked. A fellow hiker who grew up in Switzerland said it reminded her of cowbells.

We took many hikes in Glacier National Park and never saw a bear. That was good. When we talked to fellow hikers about possible bear encounters, we were surprised how many people admitted they would not follow best safety practices if they saw a bear. Some said they would approach the bear and take photographs if they had the chance. Others said they would yell or try to run away. Neither are best practices.

Even though we generally keep a watchful eye out for what is around us, we doubled our effort to be aware of our surroundings. Maybe that’s how we saw the little things others might have missed.

A large bee was determined to visit every flower, and we were determined to get a photo of the bee at work. That’s how we caught this bee mid-air.

On a walk near some ponds, we saw a flash of blue near our feet. When the northern bluet damselfly landed on the road, we slowly bent over to take its photo.

Moments later another flash of blue. A mountain bluebird!

The beautiful landscape in Glacier National Park is home to not just grizzly and black bears, but also elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goat, and other animals.

The best protection for hiking in bear country is getting information about bears and following best practices for what to do if one is encountered. Equiped with that, our bear spray, and clanging Sierra cups, we felt we had done what we could to minimize our risk. That left us free to enjoy the bees, damselflies, and birds.


June 2017



About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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17 Responses to Facing your fear in grizzly country

  1. Ainsley F says:

    Wow it looks so beautiful there!

  2. Lovely to find your blog via “the eternal traveller”. Your photos are simply beautiful, especially of the bee and the damselfly. Gorgeous scenery too.

    Wildlife should always be treated with the highest respect and regard.

    (Stop by our blog and take a peek. 🙂 )


  3. David, a friend, writes: ” … As a teen in 1960 I was RV camping with neighbors in Glacier. It was my first trip out of Ohio (my parents didn’t vacation). I was clueless about bears and the risks of hiking alone. The sponsors of the trip read me the riot act after I’d wandered off by myself to explore a lake five miles from the campground. So the next day I found two other teens in the campground as interested as I was in getting away from the adults. Half-way to the lake we encounter an older man who had been attacked by a grizzly just 10 minutes earlier. He survived by playing dead but had suffered a bite to his hand and deep claw wounds in his thigh (he’d tried to escape up a tree but she brought him down). His mistake had been to hike with his dog to a point on the trail between mama grizzly and her cubs. She killed the dog before going after him. Two of us helped him limp back down the trail while the 3rd ran back to get help. In short order rangers arrived with a stretcher. He spent 3 weeks in the hospital and we teens got written up in the local paper. I’ve had great respect for bears ever since!”

  4. karenmsisk says:

    Somehow this bear advice report calls to mind the “Darwin Awards”. Is it video games or too much silly television or just plain lack of good sense that numbs judgment?

  5. Learn as you go, right? I remember watching – with horrified amazement – as a crowd raced after a black bear in Yosemite. Poor thing got up a tree as fast as it could. It made me wonder if bears communicate a people-encounter strategy?

    • Right. We guess that crowd response is a sign how distant our society is from nature & how nature excites us when we get back in touch with it, but we haven’t learned the proper etiquette. We need training!

  6. plaidcamper says:

    Lots of sensible advice! Carry (accessible!) bear spray, listen to ranger advice/warnings, exercise caution and all will be well. Beautiful hiking territory and the damsel fly is a delight.

  7. The most frightening thing we have met on our hikes in NZ is two little wild pigs. I was worried where Mumma was but we never saw her. Ruth.

  8. Good advice. I would love to see a bear one day, but not close up. I think that might freak me out.

  9. Very brave and great pictures of the insects. Looking forward to the close-up shots of bear paws and teeth and Joe in action with the spray can.

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