On the trail: On grizzly alert
September 15, 2010
GLACIER NATIONAL PARK, Mont. – A friend of mine used to ask me repeatedly if I ever worry about running into a bear when I hike alone in the Colorado mountains. My answer was always the same: No. I’ve never seen a bear in the mountains – only in downtown Aspen.
In truth, the presence of black bears in the surrounding mountains has never caused me much trepidation, even on one hike this year when I was fairly sure something big was concealed in the dense underbrush. I’ve always figured they’re even less interested in an encounter with me than I am with them.
The same probably holds true in grizzly country, but a recent week spent hiking in Glacier National Park had me more than a little on edge just the same. The park apparently holds the largest concentration of grizzly bears anywhere in the lower 48 states, and rangers are quick to remind hikers to stay alert. Bear spray is recommended, and I’ll admit to actually carrying a can in my hand, finger on the safety release, for my first hike in the park, as if I might fend off a mad grizzly with aerosol spray. I had a holster to keep the can close at hand, on my belt, but after hearing that people rarely get the can out of the holster in the time it takes a bear to charge, I took no chances.
Carrying the can didn’t make me feel any more foolish than shouting our presence on a regular basis – another ranger recommendation. We were instructed to shout out when the trail went around a corner, over a rise, near a stream (difficult for bears to hear us approach), in dense underbrush and anywhere else where we might surprise one. In other words, I thought, everywhere but the parking lots at Glacier.
By the end of the week, I was breathing easier and leaving the spray in the holster, though we kept up the shouting. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t see one of the bears at all when we finally caught a glimpse of a grizzly sow and two cubs from a comfortable distance, out the window of our vehicle. The sow was huge.
The hiking in Glacier is amazing, but a little unsettling. I’m ready for a complacent outing in my home mountains this weekend.