This is a story from many years ago, about the day I was followed by four bears – a close-call
bear encounter kind of story.
I was on a solstice hike up Kelvin Mountain with Allison Morham and Jane Vincent. Jane and I see each other regularly, but I only run into Allison every few years. When we do see each other, we laugh, because we think of the story I’m about to tell, about a mother griz and three grown cubs.
Jane’s birthday was a few weeks ago. Allison was at the birthday gathering and we talked about the memory of the bears. Allison mentioned that the three of us might remember the event quite differently.The essence of my story is that Allison saved my life. But, as it turns out, maybe not in the way I remember it. I clearly remember hearing her shout ‘stop!’, which made me face the bears and retreat slowly in a safe manner. If it hadn’t been for this, I would have run for my life, the thing you are never supposed to do.
Here is Allison’s version of the story (with my comments in italics):
The way I remember that day was that as we crested a grassy bank, we noticed movement in the distance. It appeared there was a bear lumbering around, with what we thought were two little cubs. I remember seeing one bear, but my eyesight was never very good.
After some discussion about what to do, we decided to give the bears a wide berth, taking a much longer route around the Pond Creek side to the peak of the mountain. This added several hours to our hike. I actually remember this as a small detour. I suppose this is a small detail, but it shows we all see things differently. We reached the peak by about three in the afternoon. We both remember it as being a gorgeous day and so clear we were able to see the St Elias Range.
After an hour or so, we decided it was time to head down. Discussion ensued as to which route would be better to avoid the bears. One of us wanted to go back the route we had come in, one wanted to head into the forest right away and one wanted to go directly back along the route we had originally planned on. We decided to go the middle route, the original one. Yes, this is how I remember it too.
As we got closer to where we thought we had seen the bears, we were quiet and watchful. The terrain was mostly alpine tundra with a lot of dips and bumps. For some reason, we looked to the right and there were the bears; not a mother with small cubs, but four bears, all large!
They were fairly close. I thought they were very far off, and did not realize their largeness at that point.
At first, the bears didn’t see or smell us. We quickly moved across the terrain away from the bears, towards the grassy slope we had come up. We found a large boulder, which we stopped behind to have some water and eat something. The bears had not seen us at all. We watched them for a few minutes as they wrestled and played. I don’t remember this, otherwise I would have been more alert, right? We decided that we’d pushed our luck enough and started down the grassy slope. Jane and I were in front of Jozien. Jane had my dog, Tess, on a leash between us and there was a long patch of snow to the left of us.
When we were about halfway down the slope, Jozien was about 100 feet or so behind us. I remember hearing the thundering of hooves – the sound horses make when they are galloping. I looked back in time to see the four bears crest the slope above. One bear went on running and slid down the snow patch on our left. I’m sure it had a look of glee on its face. The other two took off in the other direction. The last bear, I assume the mother, began to charge.
Jane grabbed her bear spray right away and put her arms in the air, saying, “Whoa.”
I immediately put my arms up too and began to say, “Whoa bear, whoa bear.” Meanwhile, Jozien continued to come towards us and I don’t know if she understood that the bear was moving towards her. Indeed I did not.
I yelled, “Jozien come!!” And as I wrote above, I remember her shouting, ‘Stop’, otherwise I would have ran.
Tess was on the leash and she had her eyes on the bear and Jozien continued towards us. I walked backwards for a long ways.
I have a memory of this huge furry bear and thin Jozien haha merging as the bear charged towards her. There was a feeling of total fear and paralysis in anticipation of what might happen.
Suddenly, we were alone. The bear veered off to the side.
The walk back to the vehicle was noisy and quick to say the least. I kept singing, thinking the tune I carry keeps bears away
No matter how we got there, needless to say, we were very happy to have made it to the car at the foot of the mountain safely.