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.
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 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.
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.