Grizzly Bear Encounter August 31, 2010 on Iceberg Lake Trail in Glacier Natl Park

Four of us were hiking to Iceberg Lake in Glacier National Park on August 31, 2010, a short distance from the Ptarmigan Lake trail junction, and encountered a grizzly sow and three cubs that approached along the trail from the other direction and passed right by us only a few feet from where we were standing.

As I had the bear spray, I was in the lead. As I came around a bend I saw two or three others standing just to the left of the trail. I asked what was going on and was told that a grizzly and three cubs were approaching in single file down the trail.

My eyes shifted to the trail where I saw the sow and cubs coming in our direction, perhaps thirty feet away. I immediately began to back up to tell the others in our party to get off the trail.

Though the bears seemed to be lumbering along, it was clear that they were coming toward us faster than I was able to retreat in an orderly fashion. As the trail was less than three feet wide with little easily accessible area on either side, my wife was able to get only about two feet off the trail in an open area on the upside, but at trail level and plainly visible from head to foot.

Two of us stood aside a small tree slightly to the downside, also only a foot or two off the trail, but as it consisted only of a long trunk barely six inches in diameter that was just off the trail we also remained plainly visible from the trail.

My friend’s wife stood in the open just off the trail a few feet further along.

I took the bear spray from the holder, removed the trigger guard, and kept it aimed toward the bears.

They approached along the trail in a rather nonchalant fashion, first passing by where my wife was standing, leaning away from the trail.

The sow appeared only to peer a bit in her direction without stopping. The sow, with cubs behind her, continued past where the two of us were standing, at most three or four feet away, without looking our way.

Then, after passing us, the sow quickly darted to the left, up off the trail through thick bushes, with two cubs following, and in all respects disappeared.

There was no opening in the bushes, no hesitation, and the sow and two cubs were gone in an instant.

Had the sow come our way instead, I question whether I would have been able to get off a shot of bear spray even though it was primed and ready with my finger on the button, or whether it would have been of any benefit.

For whatever reason, the third cub froze on the trail in front of the people up the trail from us. Fearing that the sow might return to look for the cub, a guy in that group sprayed the ground in front of the cub, prompting the cub after a few seconds to follow after the mother bear.

Though not aimed at us, we can all attest to the fact that bear spray does in fact burn the eyes and that breathing the stuff has its effects as well.

It was clear to us that the sow had little fear of humans, which was of concern to the Rangers who closed the trail for at least three days.

From our standpoint, we weren’t really scared, perhaps because the short time frame didn’t allow for it, perhaps because of our awareness that the bears had to have just passed three or four others along the trail without incident, and perhaps because of some feeling of comfort from the fact that the incident was taking place solely on the trail which seemed like our turf to be governed by our understanding of civility.

Had we retreated with effort (and sufficient time) truly off the trail it would have felt like we would have been setting ourselves up for a possible bear encounter on their turf where they set the rules of engagement.

The reality is that given the size, strength, speed, etc. differentials, anyone who hikes in Glacier National Park should realize that he or she is in bear country, whether on or off the trail.

Click here to post comments.

Join in and write your own page! It’s easy to do. How? Just click here!

Simply click here to return to Have you seen a grizzly bear while hiking? Share your story! It’s easy to do. Just click here.

Like this article?

Like This Site?

Speak Your Mind