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 !!!