Sunday, August 9, 2009

Was it Grisly?

I didn’t hike today, despite thoughts earlier this week of going to Rip Rap Hollow. It wasn’t because of 98 degree F. temperatures this afternoon. No, it was because I woke up at 4AM to devote Sunday morning to my fellow man – actually, my fellow woman. I was part of the all-male support crew at the all-female Pink Power Triathlon! It was a lot of fun!

But despite not hiking, I thought I would write another post about the bear essentials. Last time, I blogged about black bears. I got a couple of comments about grizzly bears, and thought I would write a short post, with a few photos, about this amazing species.

I’ve seen grizzlies three times, all in 2005, and none while hiking. The first time was the day before the Midnight Sun Marathon in June, and I took a little airplane into absolute wilderness like I have never seen before – maybe 100 or more miles from the nearest road. Then, the plane dropped us all off at a camp by a lake, and we went for a bear watching trip in a boat. We saw a young grizzly (Alaskan Brown Bear) catch a salmon, and then leave with his lunch. It was amazing. I also saw a black bear with two cubs, a river otter, and about a half dozen bald eagles. It was an incredible memory the day before another incredible memory, my first marathon!
A few months later, while staying at a camp in Glacier National Park, we watched mother grizzly with a pair of large cubs foraging high on the steep side of a mountain. It was steep and high enough that you could see mountain goats nearby, looking like little patches of snow. The only way we could see the grizzlies was because people on the porch of the restaurant had set up 30 power spotting scopes. It was amazing to watch these animals going about their lives 1,000 or so meters away.

In our hikes over the two weeks in Glacier, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone, we trekked through great bear country – quite nervously at times. This tree in the Tetons had the bark ripped off by a bear at about face height.
If they can do that to a tree, imagine what they could do to one’s face! We are 94 pound weakling by comparison. On about 10 hikes in all kinds of terrain, we never ran into a grizzly. A father and daughter had been very badly hurt by a grizzly in Glacier just days before we got there, which made the fear factor just a bit higher. I saw moose, elk, bison, mountain goats, deer, pronghorn, and black bears on the hikes, but no grizzlies. Part of me – a very small part – was disappointed, but most of me realized that blundering into a grizzly bear in the back country – and even seeing one from 100 yards or so away – is risky.

The last grizzly I saw in 2005, and in my life to date, was along Yellowstone Lake. We were in a car, and noticed a big group of cars pulled over. People in Yellowstone get so jaded by great bison and elk sighting that this had to be something more special. And indeed it was – a good size male grizzly sunning himself by the lake. He eventually went into the lake for a cooling dip, and then walked away down the beach, showing no interest in the many spectators gathered a short distance away.

For respectful, aware, and cautious hikers, I think the danger from grizzly bears is overrated. There is a risk, but more often than not, if you respect them and make sure that you don’t surprise them, then you are going to be OK. Of course, there is always that oddball case of purely being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and if you want to scare yourself to death, read “The Mark of the Grizzly”. Just don’t do like I did and read it the night before hiking in grizzly country!

Even in an encounter totally without incident, I guarantee that you will get an adrenaline rush if you see this magnificent animal.


  1. It would be awesome to see a grizzly but at a safe distance!!
    I still would be scared though.
    Thanks for sharing the pictures.
    Also thanks for the kind words.

  2. What an amazing animal! Very powerful!

  3. Thanks Anne and HappyOne. It is pretty amazing to see one. I think on a trail it would be kind of scary. I hope to go to Alaska next year for an adventure and will probably run into a bear or two (from a distance), so had better be prepared.