On my first day at my 2019 DenaliNP trip I decided to do a Discovery hike. A Discovery hike is an all day hike led by a ranger, where up to 11 people can join. The hikes are varied since a ranger cannot do the same hike more than twice in a year.
This hike took us to the Highway Pass area and the goal was to reach the top of a creek on top of a hill and see what is on the other side. At a point in the hike a decision needed to be made (as an example from the ranger in examining the landscape for good routes): go up a steep hill following the creek to the top or go up a less inclined area and climb a ridge to our left. It was decided to go up next to the creek since we couldn’t see if the ridge route would take us to the top or just reach a dead end.
It was at that moment when we started to hike again up towards the top of the creek when someone on the group (a family of five, a couple, two guys, the ranger, and me) yelled “bear!”. We all turned to our left and we saw two bears on top of that ridge that we decided not to scale (40 yards from us). Both bears were digging for squirrels, a mama bear and a quite large kid (I assume that this would be the last year the kid would stay with the mom, after the winter ended, since the kid was not small).
The mom was really digging the hell out of the grass, with chunks flying off the ridge towards us. The baby at some moment ran away from the mom when it chased a squirrel into an hole in the ground. We all immediate started yelling at the bears while staying together. I think I was to the right of the group, with the ranger to my left and another guy to his left and then the rest of the group behind us.
About ten seconds into yelling the mom squared herself toward us and charged !!! Within one second the bear took five steps toward us in a sprint at full speed, which looked like she was going to attack us, but then stopped. That was a mock charge, obviously ................ I didn’t know she was bluffing when she started coming down the hill and I reached for the bear spray expecting that she was going to get down to business and reach us. All I could think is "it's on". Her face and the manner she was coming down told me she was beyond pissed.
We all kept yelling at the bear and she decided to stop the charge and go back up the ridge towards her kid. I guess she took an assessment of the situation and decided it was too many of us to bother with. After like a minute of us yelling the ranger instructed us to start coming down the hill slowly as he was keep an eye on the bear.
Yup, that is the bear and you can see all the dirt being removed. It is not in perfect focus since I had settings for landscape (F14) and they (and we) were moving, sorry.
So, we kept moving down the hill and the bears went back to their squirrel eating business. We had to figure out another place to explore since that original route was claimed by the bears.
Now ................. I suspected something and I wanted to ask the ranger about it: what if it wasn't 10 people yelling at the bear but 1 or 2 people; 40 yards close to the kid looked to me too close for comfort for the mama bear. So I asked him "what if there were only two people instead of ten, the bear would had come completely down the hill, right ?". He said that was a good possibility, and that would have been a more serious situation.
Suffice to say that on two other hikes that I did in the area I ran into a lot of bear scat (some very fresh), lots of berry fields and lots of ridges that I had to yell like crazy in case there was a bear on the other side. But, to be honest, I don't care ................ if a bear eats me, a bear eats me, simple as that.
On my last day of hiking at GlacierNP I decided to hike Firebrand Pass. The trailhead for this hike resides outside of the park, at the side of the road at route 2, next to the train tracks (which you have to cross).
The trail starts at a meadow that becomes a forested area pretty soon. I was alone on the trail, it is not a common trail; I believe I ran into 2 plus 1 plus 2 people the whole day.
Once I left the forested area, I entered a more dense area of bushes to the left and right of the trail, making me more aware to yell and make noise since the brush would cover the sight of bears. I would guess that the brushes were about 4 to 5 feet high. I was really making a lot of noise that day .........
On a straight area, no corners, I am making noise when "this" happens within one second (time travels slow in these situations): I hear the sound of something moving in the bushes to my left towards me and the first sound I identify as a squirrel moving but then the sound amplifies incredibly into a trashing of the bushes. At that point I know for certain that what is trashing towards me, ending ten feet from me, is a bear that I can’t see since it is concealed by the bushes to my left. Yes, ten feet, not yards, feet !!
I immediately stop and start yelling “hey hey hey!”, an expression that conveys in my brain the puzzlement of how this could be happening. I take a step back and within that second have the bear spray out, with my fingers reading to release the safety. I am very good at having the bear spray ready to take out, from past experience.
A sensation of incredulity fills me, like thinking this has to stop, this is too close and there is no way out at all, how can this bear be so close to me? I am now yelling and taking a couple of steps back, still not seeing the bear, which fills me with dread that no matter how prepared I am, I don’t really know where it exactly is and how it is reacting to me ...... I guess that is the part that scared me, not knowing what the bear was really doing as a result of my noise.
Within ten or twenty seconds, the bear moves to a brush farther away from the trail and me, 20-30 feet? And there it happens, I hear the bear masticating its food. That is how incredibly close this asshole has come to me. Now I am at total panic, but controlled panic; I have taken a few steps back, I am making noise and I am aware of what is going on. I just can’t tell what is going to happen next.
Another jump to another section of brushes farther away from the trail gives me the exact position of the bear, now that I am alert to its exact location. It is now 20 yards away from me and I believe that my noise has annoyed it, not to run away or leave but just to find juicy berries farther away from the noisy racket.
I keep telling people that I don’t want to run into bears and I mean it. This exact thing happened to me in Grand Tetons, but in that occasion the bear (a black bear) trashed the brushes on the trail in front of me and crossed the trail IN FRONT OF ME to eat at the brushes on the other side of the trail. Then, just like this bear, he stopped to eat and completely ignore me. On that occasion, I retreated slowly and kept track of the bear by seeing the brushes being trashed. Just like then, the bear ignored me and kept eating. That part of that trial was a switchback area and after ten minutes of me waiting for the bear to progress up the hill and continue my hike, I saw a large amount of bear scat on the trail. The bear started lower on the hill, went up straight and crossed the switchbacked trail a few times, eating the abundant crop of berries and crawling all over the place. That is why I knew I was dealing with a bear at the Firebrand trail, the trashing in the bushes and then the bonus of hearing it eat its food.
I am writing this blog post after I had ANOTHER encounter with a bear a few weeks later (to be told in another blog post) and I can’t make it more clear: NO MORE BEARS, PLEASE !!!
These are my top ten tips for first time Day Hikers ……… based on my experiences making stupid mistakes.
I regularly don't understand the algorithm that Amazon uses to recommend books to me. It tends to heavily recommend books based on the last book that I bought and then goes overboard, without considering the genre and type of book under that genre that I read.
I believe that algorithm is the cheapest thing that Amazon has used, which brings me to a recommendation that actually WORKED.
I loved this book; it is based on a real story and you can not believe how these men survived (not all of them ..........) shipwrecks at this remote island in the seas between Australia and Antartica.
Lowed it !!!
so I have looked at other webpages and I am realizing that I am posting too many pictures of not the best quality instead of creating posts with stories with the best pictures and THEN add links to the bulk of the pictures in my Flickr account.
I started to also organize to reduce the drop down menus, specially under Utah Hikes. I want to just post perfect pics to make this attractive, quality over quantity. But I find it hard to reduce the number of pictures, but I have to. I think I have done that in half of the Utah pages and now I need to think how to re-organize the GlacierNP page and create areas of hikes instead of one page per trail. We will see.
Last week I had one of the best hikes of my life. I am still editing pictures and I will eventually post a section here under ........... DENALI !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is the best experience of my hiking life, but I will leave the details for later and stay on topic: ..... and then I ran into bear, a HUGE mama bear, with .......... two kids.
Ok, let's rewind 4 hours: I started at 7am getting on the bus to Eielson Center. The plan was to get off at Highway Pass and explore a dried alluvial flow that left the road into some hills one mile away from the road. At the last rest stop before getting off the bus, I asked the bus driver (a nice fellow from Puerto Rico, Manuel, who chatted with me during the ride) to stop at Highway Pass. Then, he mentioned to me that he would have to drop me off one mile for an upcoming "surprise" to the bus ...... bears feeding on a caribou kill. Every single bus was stopping for 10 minutes, watching what was a mamma bear and two cubs (big cubs) eating it. I took pics, the distance too much to be on focus, but when I zoomed one of them when I was editing them, you can clearly see the caribou and the bears on top of it; out of focus, but the point is made. I will publish the pic just for fun.
My luck, Highway Pass is one mile away from the kill and that is within the rules (other rules, 25 yards from caribou, 300 yards from bears ...... spoiler alert: this one rule is getting broken in four hours). He let me off, some people on the bus surprised that actually people get off the bus and then get off close to bears. Manuel's last words to me where "hope I see you again, in one piece, that piece not inside of a bear" .... HA HA HA HA. On the four days that I was there, I was the only one that got off the bus to hike, i think that 99% of the people don't hike in there, what a waste !!!!
I will detail the hike in the Denali page, let's fast forward four hours of FUN FUN FUN .... no trails, bushwhacking, climbing hills, loving all of this, losing my GPS in the brush ................... The hike got longer in distance that I expected and I was getting close to Thorofare Pass (3 miles from Eielson Visitor Center). I had just crossed the creeks in the Stony Hill area and I was getting close to an open area where I had seen caribou the previous day.
At this point, let me quote from a book that I used to learn about Denali in that SPECIFIC AREA: "Watch for bears. While the lower vegetation provides good visibility, there are many depressions and ravines that can hide bears so make noise when you approach these areas. If you see buses stopping for more than a few minutes, determine the reason because by this time in the bus trip, longer bus stops mean bears have been spotted".
I read this part, I forgot this part, I have been hiking for four hours yelling "Oye Oso" since I knew there were bears eating a mile away from me and probably more on the way after smelling the carcass, but now I was close to the end and stopped yelling.
I cleared a small creek, with a few brushes and started hiking fast to go past the flat area and get to the Thorofare Hill in 30 minutes. My rule at the time was to stop the hike in 30 minutes in order to catch one of the last buses. 30 minutes and then stop a bus, no sooner than that. At that point, I noticed a bus stopped on the road (the green ones that I needed to get on); it was early so I decided that was not the bus for me and I did not start walking towards the road (at this point about 300 yards to my right). I assumed they were looking at caribou (25 yard rule) that were there the day before. I kept walking towards them and finally noticed a yellow dot, got the camera and zoomed ........ looked like the ass of a blond caribou sitting down. There are depressions on the meadow, so I had to be at the correct angle to really see (EXACTLY WHAT THE BOOK SAYS).
I kept walking towards it until it got up and I decided to look again, that caribou sure looked fat ............. I saw a bear, a blond bear at about 400-500 yards from me. In hindsight, I realized that I was downwind from the bear, so she would never have smelled me and I would have surprised her. At 400 yards, two more dots got up and then my fear was confirmed when I used the camera zoom (the way of the ground made it difficult to see what it was, it was close but undulations were hiding the animals): it was a GIGANTIC blonde grizzly bear eating flowers, with her two young cubs next to her, napping and getting up and down. At 300 yards the bears became clear to my eyes and the ground looked down on them, so I had no need for the camera zoom, the bears were clear. Still the bear didn't notice me, I think. I decided to get on the road and walk towards the bus ...... the road curved towards, that's right, the bears. I took my bear spray out (lesson learned from the last encounter) and walked towards the bus, constantly and i mean CONSTANTLY watching the bears (they were not going to get the jump on me) and then ............................ the stupid gene took over:
I got to the bus, took a look at my watch and I was 30 minutes early to end the hike ..... rules are rules. I waved at the driver and kept walking on the road. DO NOT FUCKING DO THAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My Gandalf maneuver on my last bear encounter has made me too confident with bears.
The bus left and then I stopped on the road between 200 and 300 yards from the bears. Sat down, took pics knowing that the next bus was coming in 30 minutes. Enjoying the bears, never looking away from them, until I zoomed the camera on the mamma bear and say her sniffing the air. At this point I was upwind from them, so I freaked out a bit and thought that she just smelled my presence (probably she knew I was there the whole time when I got on the road and I was visible to her). I got up and walked further up the road, giving me another 100 yards away from them. A bus came by, not the one I can get on. The woman driver opens the door and asks me if I want to get on and she can drive me past the bears .......... I realize at this point that she thinks I was walking on the road, saw the bears and they interrupted my hike down the road and I would be too close to them for safety ......... the truth is that I was coming from the area she was protecting me and I realized how close I really got to them. I told her that's ok, I was waiting for the next bus. No need for her to think that this idiot got close to a mamma bear on his own stupidity.
So, 30 minutes later (rules are rules) a bus came by and I finally got on it. The pics that I took are mostly blurry (it was very windy and I had a crappy setting on the camera and forgot to create a focus point on the bears ..... I was using it for landscapes and that is not good for details on moving animals), but about 3 of them are clear enough for me to develop and publish.
So, there kids ............. I can't wait to hike Denali and run into more bears, HA HA HA HA HA
"Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God" .... those are the words that I uttered when I arrived at the Great Gallery site in Horseshoe Canyon. But I am getting ahead my myself, since this post also stars an Infinity G50 car.
One of the items on my hiking bucket list has been The Great Gallery pictographs from the Barrier Canyon style (1000 years ? more ? it depends on who you talk to, but its old and no one know the people that drew them. Later cultures dedicated their art to petroglyphs, which I just don't like). It is located in a remote area, adjacent to Canyonlands, but on the side of the infamous Maze. The long drive, the heat, the dirt road that becomes impassable when wet, are part of the obstacles. Finally, the stars aligned and I decided that my yearly Thanksgiving hiking trip to Utah would be it.
Oh, the Infinity G50 ................. the "good" thing traveling on holidays is that some car companies run out of cars and you can get upgraded, or downgraded. I asked for a Chevy Impala, which I was planning to treat like shit and drive it on the 65 miles in and out dirt road to the canyon trailhead. Well, I got an Infinity G50 car, fully loaded. I was about to find out about how cool was the suspension of these nice cars.
My original plan was to hit 3 sites in one day, including the Great Gallery. I put the coordinates of a hidden site that I found out in the internet on my iphone google maps since I know that the cell service would die where I was going. But I was lazy and I didnt create a GPS track to get to it, so when I got to the place I could not find the actual start of the trail to the site. Ok, so I was disappointed, but I still had 2 more sites to find. I relied on instructions to get to the Great Gallery since the iphone had no cell service, so I went in .................... I had miles and locations of junctions and I thought I arrived at one, but the mileage would refute that, so I stayed on the road that I was on. I then looked at a map with locations that I found on the internet and it was clearly telling me that I was supposed to be driving AWAY from that giant butte I was getting close to and maybe that intersection that I discarded was the right place to take. I backtracked a mile and took the intersection. All looked fine until I came to ANOTHER intersection and this time none of my notes and that (STUPID) map said anything about an intersection with no signs. It was a clear intersection and I decided I had no idea where to go.
The only way to figure this out is to drive out back to the highway and then go back close to I70. I put pedal to metal and drove close to 50pmh on that road. That Infinity G50 suspension is quite good, HA HA HA HA. Ok, drove 20 miles, found cell service, entered the location of the trailhead and this time I knew where I was going ..... close to that butte and not what the stupid map said. 30 miles on a good dirt road, doing 40 mph easily, at one point I saw a cloud of dirt coming my way and decided to slow down for the approaching car ................... good thing since the SUV driver was having fun and when he saw me (when its a male I say he, when its a female I say she), he slipped all over the road before recovering at the time we came next to each other (I rejected the insurance from the rental company and I guess the repair bill would be ugly ........ Oh wait, driving on dirt roads voids the rental contract, HA HA HA).
Good google maps took me the 30 miles and I arrived at 10 am at the trailhead. The short daylight meant that the third location was out of the questions, so this better be good.
There are FOUR panels. The first is the High Gallery and its high on the rock, so there is no vandalism at it. Its the second best, small figures, standard Barrier Canyon stuff. Opposite it, almost, is the Horseshoe Gallery, also nice and I took lots of pics of the panel and of each individual pictograph. Next is the Alcove Gallery, named like that since its under an Alcove that has had rock falling down. There is a nice shaman picture that is barely seen due to the rock debris. This panel was tagged by 1920s cowboys and it is seriously fading. All three panels are fading and I was afraid the same would happen once I got to the Great Gallery.
Well, spoiler alert !!!!!!!!!!!!!! "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God" ... the Great Gallery figure are GIGANTIC in comparison with the rest of the art in the canyon. They are well defined and THERE IS COLOR. There was care to the images painted, this was a deliberate special place. I could clearly see green in one of the shaman images. I cant share pictures yet since I take pictures in RAW format, so I need to process them and I am still processing the ones from the day before in Chesler park, and (2) I took A LOT OF PICS, so that will take time.
But, trust me, nowhere else you will find those large figures on a panel like the Great Gallery. I took my lunch, macadamia chocolate cookies and spend a good time just looking at them before I started taking detailed pictures. It is a spiritual experience to me.
Next summer ................... DENALI !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I havent taken a vacation in years when all of a sudden I decided that I needed a vacation. Flying to a city like New York, being alone, didnt appeal to me. I wanted to do something that a single person would actually do, normally.
I decided to go to the Grand Canyon and hike, ill prepared as I was. The plan was to spend two days there, hike down the South Kaibob trail up to half way down, use the Tonto trail to connect and go up the Bright Angel trail. I dont remember what was the plan for the second day ..... that second hike would not take place :O
I wore very heavy hiking boot, at the last minute I took a single hiking stick, a heavy backpack, and ................ I didn't cut any of my toenails, which were very long.
All was perfect, I took the first hikers bus to the South Kaibob trailhead; going down canyon was great and fast and I was in close proximity to other people that I assumed would do the same route as me ...... why ? because ALL I READ WAS NEVER HIKE DOWN TO THE RIVER AND BACK, YOU WILL DIE !!!
I arrived at the Tonto trail intersection and I left people pass me to make sure the correct turn was being taken; everyone took the same path, including an old lady with a heavily bandaged knee (no way she was going down to the river). At this point, you know where this story is going.
At one point, a caravan of donkeys was coming up. At least I knew which side to stay on (never corner the animals by taking the outside). After the donkeys, I turned a corner and .................. i saw the fucking Colorado River and then the bridge to the campground. I had hiked down to the fucking river. I was not tired (ha ha ha ha, I managed to over exercise my knees going so fast without realizing it).
I spent 30 minutes resting and decided to leave before everyone else, hoping that they would eventually pass me, except that old lady with the heavily bandaged knee (spoiler: HA HA HA HA).
No map and no GPS, I had no clue how many miles I had to go to the Indian Gardens rest area, so I could count miles and pace myself.
People started passing me and when I got to the Indian Gardens rest area, I was totally spent. At least, I could replenish my water. I stayed there one hour and everyone passed me, except you-know-who (WOO HOO).
The moment I left Indian Gardens, I was a dead duck. I managed to constantly and painfully bump my long toenails against the hard front of my boots, I was getting blisters on the hand that used the hiking pole and I just had no energy left. Looking at the top of the canyon, I started to think "this is not going to happen".
The last 3 miles became a death march and ....................... you, you guessed it, the old lady with the heavily bandaged knee went past me (that woman deserves a medal). I would walk 5 minutes, FIVE MINUTES, and I would have to stop 5 minutes to catch my breath.
I then learned a lesson, walk like an old dude. Literally, take a small step instead of long steps. I think we have stronger and more used muscles when we walk in short steps (like in real life). A hike that started at 7:30am was ending around 6pm, with the sun starting to come down. Yes, it was getting dark and getting cold and I was already thinking that I would have to spend the night on the trail (that is how incredibly tired I was).
Well, I survived, went to the hotel and the next day I could not bend my legs at all (I just went to the Grand Canyon and took the tourist bus to go to all the stops), there was not going to be a second day of hiking.
Remember my toenails ? All black, with blisters all over the place. It took me days to recover my legs and not walk like a stiff. When you ask yourself, have you ever reached your physical limit ? Yes, I have.
So, this was such a HORRIBLE experience that I decided that hiking was going to be my passion from then on ............. sorry, I decline to see a psychiatrist to explain this behavior. I love the mental challenge (yes, I was physically tired, but mentally destroyed at that hike, but that is all I had left .... my mental energy to get out of the canyon ..... where people have died doing the stupid hike I did). I love the views. I love walking into nice people (a lot nicer that regular people) that will help and share stories.
A couple of years later I returned and on one hike I gave away my hiking poles to a little girl that was absolutely exhausted at the Bright Angel trail. Top ten proud moment for me.
This is a hike that will always remember for good and bad reasons. I will discuss mostly the bad reasons: I thought I was going to die.
I became aware of Buckskin Gulch while googling for challenging day hikes. I came upon an article in the Backpacker website listing Buckskin Gulch as the longest slot canyon in America and the “most dangerous hike in America”. To someone like me, that perked my eyes (remind me to blog about my first and almost last hike of my life). The Backpacker article mentioned that although no one has ever died in there, if you got caught in a rushing waters situation, you will die. You have seen plenty of news of horrible deaths in slot canyons in Utah when the waters rush after a thunderstorm. That is why you should NEVER hike a slot canyon if there is a REMOTE chance of rain. Well, Buckskin Gulch is unique in the sense that the canyon walls are high, sometimes 200 feet high, its long and there is only one area where you can escape the slot canyon ….. the canyon is about 20 miles long. If you are not close to the escape area and the waters rise, you are dead. Check out some of the pictures on my website and notice how high the logs get stuck in the canyon walls. The canyon is narrow in many places.
Ok, back to my story. I wasn’t going to hike the whole thing (you need a shuttle to take you from one trailhead to the other), so my plan was to enter at the Wirepass trail, and get all the way to the Middle trail (the escape area) and turn back. On the way to the Middle Trail is the Cespool, a low elevation area that gets flooded all the time. I didn’t not look forward to that, but ‘luck’ had it that during my visit there was a gigantic heat wave in the West that elevated temperatures to 120 degree Fahrenheit (uh oh).
Please let me deviate from my story of potential woe and tell a story of actual woe. The trailhead for Buckskin Gulch is shared with the trail to the famous Wave. That hike is via permit and even though is a short hike, people has gotten lost and died of heat exhaustion. On the day of my hike (120 degrees) I ran into an old couple at the trailhead parking lot; they were not going to the canyon, they were hiking to the Wave …………… the next day at the airport I read the news of an old couple that got lost on the Wave hike and both died of heat exhaustion. I believe it was the couple I saw.
Ok, Buckskin Gulch is all I wanted, you start at the wirepass canyon, which intercepts Buckskin Gulch after a couple of miles (that way you save 5 miles for the boring actual start of the Buckskin Gulch canyon official entrance). You take a right at the Buckskin intersection and there you go (clue ……. this is an important fact of the story). The colors don’t match colors of other slot canyons, but the fact that you can touch both walls with your hands and see 100 yards up the walls makes you so happy. On top of that, the cesspool was totally dry (120 degrees) and I made it easily getting to the Middle Trail, where I stopped and ate lunch.
The only thing that tired me was the sand, it was like walking on desert sand. The rushing waters after a flood keeps bringing sand and rocks to the bottom of the canyon, so it is not a proper trail that you walk firm on, the sand tires you.
Remember the fact that you enter Buckskin Gulch via wirepass ? Well, after 6 hours of hiking I forgot that essential fact and I passed the intersection on my way back. Without a GPS (this would be the last hike I ever did without a GPS ………. because I get easily distracted), I started to realize that I should have hit the intersection already, but the canyon looked familiar. Sure, miles and miles of canyon tends to look familiar after hours of hiking it. I kept hiking and getting tired (120 degrees) until I saw an area similar to the intersection (after I passed it one mile ago and decided that I missed it) ……………. There was a large mound of sand that I scaled (even though I didn’t remember doing that on the way in), ran into a dead end and had to scale back (120 degrees …. getting tired and stupider). I decided to keep backtracking until ………………. I finally found the intersection, after shooting past it by 3 miles (yes, I added 6 miles to an already long hike in 120 degree weather). The canyon walls at this point are not protecting me from the heat, just the sun, and the sand is adding insult to injury.
I was dead tired when I got to the intersection (I ran into a mom and her daughter exploring the area at that point). I had decided for this hike to add Gatorade to my water. When Gatorade gets warm ……….. it takes horrible, so I refused to keep drinking it. In Wirepass the sand was deep and each step was a mess. And that is when it hit me ………. I started getting a tingling sensation on the tips of the fingers of BOTH of my hands, a ‘sure’ sign of a heart attack in my already tired and stupid brain. It would last one minute, go away and then come back (so that would freak the shit out of me). I was really afraid that I was going to get a heart attack and die. Wirepass’ last mile is on a wash, no canyon and full 120 degree sun. That was the longest mile of my life; stopping to rest at whatever shade I could find and then slog on that heavy sand.
So, I made it to the car and didn’t die, but I learned lots of lessons (that I had to re-learn on a another horrible June hike few miles down the road in South Coyote buttes 3 years later):
i was of the first people at Logan Pass, I always want to start my hikes early. On this hike, I was afraid to be so early and have the odds to run into a bear increase, so once I was ready to start hiking I stayed in my car and waited for groups of people to go in front of me. Two groups fit the profile, a couple and another group of three guys. Once I left the car, the group of three stopped just before the start of the trail and I had no choice but to pass them. It was now me behind the couple. Within half a mile, even with some effort to slow down, I passed them. Now I was in front (later in the day I would run into the real first group on the trail, about 4 miles ahead at this point). I have decided to clip my bear spray onto my backpack with one of those faux climbing gear clips. I would have to reach back or, the intended idea, drop the backpack and unclip the canister ….. thinking that I would have plenty of time if I ran into a bear, which in my mind would be seeing a bear at a distance. Well ……………….
About 2 miles into the trail, maybe less, I was approaching a corner and at this point I was relying on the noise that the couple behind me was making. They were like 50 yards behind me at this point. I can’t definitely say who saw the bear first, because to this day I think I heard the couple behind me yell “bear” before I saw the bear. What I did see was a bear (who the earlier group told me was a grizzly) walking towards me, using the trail. I saw a light colored region of hair on his chest on the shape of a V, like a V neck sweater. I immediately reached for unclip the bear spray canister and ……………. I couldn’t unclip it. The bear was coming towards me at a brisk pace, not menacing at all, and I didn’t want to take my eyes off him, so I didn’t have time to drop the backpack and attempt to unclip the canister. Mind you, all of this took in total of 10-20 seconds, which went in slow motion, giving me the time to think in slow motion too.
At this point the group of three was reaching the couple, which were still yelling “bear”, which I never did. At this point, the bear insisting that it had the right of way on the trail, I gave up on reaching for the bear canister and started to say “hey! Hey!” to the bear, to no effect. At a distance of 20 yards (that is how close it got), I raised my hands all the way up and made myself big, you would think I was Gandalf stopping that demon at the end of the first Lord of the Rings movie. I think I may have taken a step forward and yelled “stop” at him. I can’t be sure, the adrenaline was fully flowing at this point. The bear NEVER stopped his pace moving forward, so what gave ? Well, at 15 yards with me raising my arms and standing my ground, the bear moved to the high ground off the trail. At this point, it would be important to explain that part of the trail is carved on the slope of the mountain and I would say that it is like a 30 degree incline ………… therefore I could not leave the trail or give the bear right of way. Enough of an incline that if you walked off the trail you would definitely would start rolling and eventually break your leg against a tree on the down slope. Back to business, the bear walked up the trail, like 20 feet from me. At this point I turned to the couple and told them that the bear left the trail and pointed to them where he was. Well, once the obstacle (me) was bypassed, the bear came back to the trail and the adventure started for the couple and the three guys. I heard “bear hey hey bear” and I started back on the trail to see what happened.
Well, the bear saw that many people and left the trail for good.
Remember the first people that I mentioned were on the trail for a couple of miles ahead of me ? I reached them eventually and they asked if I saw the grizzly eating berries (that is how I know it was definitely a grizzly). This bear was using the trail for at least 2 miles. Past the encounter I saw his footprints all over the trail, but never occurred to me to take pictures.
Now, for the perspective of the group behind me. At one point, when the trail slips to Granite Park Chalet and up the Grinnel Glacier Viewpoint, I was resting before going up the trail to the viewpoint. The group of three guys reached me and the first thing that one of them told me is to ask me if I was ok. It didn’t dawn on me why they would ask, but then I did the math …………. The bear was about 15-20 yards from me at the closest point before he left the trail, but the trailing group was like 50 yards away from me. From their perspective, those 15-20 yards were something like 5 yards. I would assume at one point they would have thought that the bear was literally on top of me (which in my mind he was) and would look very scary from their point of view.
Yes, now I have my bear canister clipped to the side of my pants. I don’t need to unclip it to actually deploy it. And I hike more confident that I will not act in a panic when I see a bear. It’s all in well when you plan what you will do and how you will not panic and not run, but when the actual event takes place, will you ? Well, I did, I was calm (at some point annoyed that the bear was not leaving the trail) and did what I think was the proper thing to do, stand my ground in an area where I definitely had NO other way to leave the trail. Ok, except my stupid effort that failed to unclip the bear spray. I wonder if I unclipped it in time, would I have used it ? Well, the peaceful way that the bear and me parted company, I was happy I didn’t have to.