Friday, July 17, 2009

My (Fortunate, Humbling) Grizzly Encounter On An Early Morning Training Hike Friday

UPDATE: Went back up the trail Saturday with bear spray, though not so far back into the wilderness. Good to go back after yesterday's a scare. Ran into this man on horseback. We mercifully didn't talk politics, finance, healthcare or the bailout, just traded a few grizzly tales as we went in very, very, very opposite directions. Still we both love our secret valley.
I SAY FORTUNATE FOR TWO REASONS: First it goes without saying, grizzlies are the most awesome, spectacular, large and feared creatures in North America---with the exception of their first cousins up north. But never mind, they're at the top of every food chain regardless of race, color, creed, gender, politics or ecosystem. Anyone who dares forget this, does so to his or her detriment.

Second, because I mercifully live to tell the story of my early morning sprint/hike where I came face-to-face with a full-grown red/brown grizzly in the wild. Just him and me---okay, he and I to be grammatically precise. As fate would have it, it was the first (and last!) hike I've done this summer since arriving without taking my industrial strength bear spray. Very unwise on my part.

I won't belabor my story since I'm tired and have time constraints, but will tell you what I did that brought the best possible outcome. Still in the end it's always, always by the Grace of God that we live to tell such tales. I take nothing for granted in this wild, vast wilderness country called the Bridger-Teton.

One reason I come here in summers is to get into high-altitude shape. (It's not just fishing!)Even six weeks of strong aerobic exercise here expands my lung capacity for the rest of my year in low-altitude. So most mornings, even when I've got another hike or fishing trip scheduled, I do a rigorous hill climb. I like to find the biggest hill/mountain trail that involves a minimum amount of driving. This summer I found a new trail that meets the criteria and have pounded the dirt up and down almost everyday. I love it for the workout in a short period of time.

This morning, after a long drive back from Ennis yesterday, I hit the trail hard. When I parked my car and got myself together, I decided I'd leave all my excess weight---my pack, industrial strength bear spray, even water---behind so I could move up the trail faster. Wanted to travel light and lithe. Up I went, loving the panting I was putting myself through.

Got to the top in record time and decided to do more to push the limit of my endurance further. So I took on a new, unknown trail back further into the woods, up another ridge, back then down. I was in new territory for sure and felt totally energized and grateful to feel so pumped.

At some point I decided not to back track, but rather take another horse trail back in the general direction from which I came. The trail curved, then dropped down into a shady, cool valley. As I rocketed downhill on the path, I looked ahead and suddenly saw a bear ahead of me at the bottom. First his unmistakable reddish brown hump, then his full body.

I stopped dead in my tracks about fifty feet away from it. I've seen enough grizzlies and black bears in the wild over the years, to know immediately this was a big grizzly.

Suddenly, here we were, I without a gun, pepper spray, horse or companion--virtually defenseless, so to speak. In a situation like this, there's nothing to do but stop. Wait.....Pray.

Lord, have mercy on me.

The bear turned to look at me, then stood up on his hind legs to get a better view.

I stopped frozen in my tracks, not daring to move for fear my running away might trigger a chase reaction in him---a bear's natural response to a fleeing animal.

I stood my ground there and held my breath.

For several (5-10) seconds, the grizzly looked at me, obviously trying to decide what I was. As he looked, I raised both arms high over my head to appear taller. Then I started chanting at the top of my lungs at him, HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY! HEY!

He watched, twitched and fell back down on all fours. He was about to make his move. I held my breath, not knowing which direction he would run---towards me or away. I glanced around for a tree to climb. Dear God help me, I muttered. Help me find a tree!

Then. Then. Then... that big grizzly did exactly what he should have done.

He behaved like any mature, self-respecting wild animal should do in the wilderness---where hunters come in fall/winter to shoot deer, elk, bear with big, powerful guns. He saw me and got scared. Then he turned away and began to lumber off in the opposite direction.

My sigh of relief was palpable for miles.

Slowly at first, as if hesitating, the bear merely started to saunter away. But the minute I saw he was retreating and I was having an impact on him, I stepped up my yelling and began clapping my hands loudly. Hearing the additional racket, the grizzly started to run. I took several steps forward on the trail in his direction, making such noise that he picked up his speed to a full gallop----these beasts can cantor incredibly fast. It's awesome to watch, as long as the grizzly's running away-- not towards-- you.

Within half minute, I watched the grizzly speed-run up a high hill and disappear. I continued making noises, then found a large stick and lugged it with me as I started off in another direction, cross country. I eventually hiked back over two ridges, down a ravine and back up to my original trail, watching my back, every. step. of. the. way.

On a humorous note, as I back tracked, I continued to make noises so that anything in my path knew I was there and could run. At one point high on a ridge, I spooked a female deer below that came exploding out of some cover when she heard me. She panicked and ran wildly to and fro until she got her bearings. I'm sure she had no idea what in heaven's name was coming over that ridge making those wild and crazy sounds she'd never heard before. Come to think of it, I was making noises I'd never heard before (The sound of, Get me outta here and fast!)!

Needless to say I was and am extremely grateful for this happy outcome and gave thanks along the way back. It's the last time I'll ever push my luck and do a workout without my heavy-duty pepper spray canister--no matter how much it weighs. Not that a spray could or would always save you in a grizzly encounter, but it could help. Nevertheless, I'm humbled by such an event and will avoid the extension of this trail until I'm on horseback or with a larger group of people.

Have had a long, busy week and need to rest. Will be near much faster wireless starting Sunday when I move closer to town. Till then, have a great weekend! God bless.


gcotharn said...

Adrenaline! It's nice to be alive.

MLD said...

Just catching up on your blog and was on the edge of my chair reading the entry of the grizzly bear encounter. I knew since I was reading it there would be a happy ending, but it gave me yet another reason to give thanks today. Thanks be to God you kept your head and did the right things.

w said...

Wow, that is amazing, and I’m sure it was very exciting indeed. It obviously is good to be knowledgeable about what to do in these situations, and I am glad your experience paid off. Please take good care of yourself out there!

Webutante said...

I'm going to be even more careful.

Please note: When bears are wild and treated like the human carnovores they can be, then they fear man and run. When they get humanized and start eating human food, then they lose their fear of humans and that's when they start to become aggressive and attack humans.

Could there be a lesson here in the way we treat our predatory foreign enemies? And are you listening Mr. O?

There was no way I was about to apologize to that grizzly today. In fact I made as much of a racket as I could.

Mystic Indigo said...

Yikes! So glad you had a happy ending...I had a bear encounter once in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska...kayaking and decided to go ashore to eat lunch, did a little hike around a bend and smelled her before I saw her. Big Sow. I was with a guy and we clasped hands and I started singing "Oh I had a little chicken who wouldn't lay an egg, so I poured hot water up and down it's legs" over and over. Strange what comes out of your mouth when you are scared to death, but she false charged us, threw a little dirt our way, then spun 180 degrees and took off. Time literally stands still in those situations, doesn't it? A clarity comes over you that I would love to recreate without the adrenaline rush. Anyway...part of the rush of being outdoors is being reminded you are not the top of the food chain anymore...a good thing to remember. Really glad you are ok, and happy to know that you continue to reflect and apply all of your experiences...very cool!

Webutante said...

Wow, Stacie that's quite a story also. I've had enough excitment for one summer and don't intend to push my luck in this way again.

Thank you for sharing your wonderful story here. You're having an amazing life yourself!

mRed said...

That was some seriously cool thinking, especially when the last thing you felt was cool, calm and collected. Most excellent. Of course, I believe you had a little help. As my mother told me, "The good Lord helps those who help themselves."

Webutante said...

True, mRed, a lot of help. It didn't hurt that that I'd already worn myself down a bit exercising and was relaxed. But in the end, it was all by the Grace of God that I walked (ran!) away from this encounter.

sherry said...

oh. my. goodness.

I'm so thankful it turned out well. This experience was a heart pumping exercise all its own!

jAne at tickleberry farm

Webutante said...

Isn't it true, jAne, that life can change on a dime....not just in the wilderness, but everywhere life takes us. There so much we need to be thankful for and not take for granted.