Monday, September 21, 2009

Back from the Land of Bears

I'm back from a week spent at Glacier National Park. Its natural wonders and scenic beauty really are indescribable, so I won't attempt it. The views around every corner are so awe-inspiring that even my tiny digital camera and my non-existent photography skills couldn't help but produce some decent shots. This is the Many Glacier Hotel, where we stayed three of our nights.

This is Grinnell Lake, created by run-off from Grinnell Glacier - at 6 miles from the trail head, it's the most accessible of all Glacier National Park's rapidly disappearing glaciers. They will all be gone by 2020 or 2030, so visit the park now.

As we prepared for our trip by reading travel books and searching online, we kept running into mention of grizzly bears. Although I had read many horrifying accounts of bear attacks (especially this one), I managed to not dwell on this too closely until the day before our first hike (to Grinnell Glacier, as it happens). The trail map that we acquired from the front desk warned very strenuously that Glacier is chock-full of bears and that, while most hikers do not encounter bears at all, running across one would be a Bad Thing, especially if it decided you were a threat. After suggesting that folks should hike in groups, the pamphlet went on, "Let bears know you are coming by making noise. Bears will often move away if they hear people coming. Bells may not be as effective as many people believe. The human voice works better. Call out, sing, or talk loudly and often." Then follow several suggestions for surviving an encounter with a bear that "may help." The last is to fall to the ground in a fetal position "to reduce the trauma of an attack."

Well, yikes! My husband and I were now very slightly freaked out and remained so throughout our entire Glacier visit. While this didn't prevent us from hiking up to 15 miles a day, it did add a frisson of terror to the proceedings. While other hikers resorted to those ineffective bells (of the tinkling sleigh bell or clanking cowbell varieties), Dan and I chattered at the top of our lungs, and when we couldn't think of anything to say, we sang such appropriate songs as "The Bear Went Over the Mountain" or chanted "We're Going on a Bear Hunt" over and over and over. I kept thinking about Blueberries for Sal, which took on a decidedly sinister aspect as I tromped along a trail surrounded by masses of ripe huckleberry bushes (like blueberries, a favorite food of bears). I did not want to meet a mama bear, a baby bear, or any bear at all.

And luckily, we didn't - although a bear did cross the road right in front of our car. The closest we came to encountering a bear up close and personal was this pile of what I assume is bear poop, full of partially digested berries. And that is close enough.


  1. I had a similar problem this summer in Alaska, especially Denali. And I saw bears! Every ranger would start out with a whole spiel on what to do when encountering a bear (or, evidently even worse, a moose). On the ranger hikes they had us practice shouting and waving our arms at bears. And they told us what to do if things got worse. I did do one smallish hike alone in Denali from the dog sleds back to the visitors center and was edgy the whole time. Glad to know you had that same reaction and I wasn't a total wimp.

  2. Most of the bears I saw were far off when I was in a bus in Denali, but one was in a river just below a road where I was with a bike group. That bear was too close for my taste and fast --- swam to the other side of the river and then back very very very fast.

  3. Yikes! Yes, they are apparently so fast that even bicyclists can't outbike them - so they yodel and yell as they go around corners, because bears frequent the roads as well as the trails (the only bear I saw was on a road).
    I don't think it's possible to be a wimp where a huge bear is concerned...we're just sensible!!

  4. Wow - I was at Glacier for a family reunion 20 years ago (now that I count it out...yikes!), and I can't believe the change in the glaciers since then. What a tragedy. On the plus side, glad you escaped the bears!