Why You Should Never Hike Alone Through Grizzly Bear Country

In 1967, two young women were killed in Glacier National Park on the same night by two separate Grizzly Bears. This incident is chronicled in Jack Olsons book “NIGHT OF THE GRIZZLY”.

In 1969, I came to Glacier National Park to work as a seasonal Ranger-Naturalist and at that time, the subject of Grizzly Bears was very much on everyone’s mind. Although, I was never involved with the incidents that are told about in the book, I did come to know and work with many of the people who are in the book and to hear their stories of that terrible night.

As a Ranger-Naturalist, my job was to guide groups of tourists on hikes into the wilderness on trips that varied in duration all the way from two hours at St.Mary Falls to all day hikes over Siyeh Pass and overnight hikes to Granite Park Chalet. All the time, passing through Grizzly Bear country. In those days, there was no such thing as Bear Repellent and it was illegal for anyone to carry a firearm in the park so, the responsibility for the people in a group rested with the Ranger and we were told that if we saw a bear, not to run and if necessary, to climb a tree if the bear advanced toward you.

If the bear attacked you, it was recommend to lie motionless, facedown with your hands covering your head.

Hopefully, the bear would not kill you.

Additionally, it was recommended to make noise on the trail so as to alert the bear to your presence and not startle him. As a precaution, I always wore what can only be described as a cowbell on my pack and it would methodically clank out a noise as I hiked along.

It must have worked because for all of the many people I took into the wilderness, I never did have a bear encounter while on duty.

Toward the end of the summer, I had become pretty confident in my hikes into the wilderness and one day, I had a day off and I wanted to see Red Eagle Lake that lies south of St. Mary about seven miles. Early in the morning, I drove the three miles to the trail head and hiked the four miles into the the Red Eagle lake and indeed it was spectacular scenery. I spent the day there alone in gods creation just taking pictures, fishing and hanging out.

By afternoon, it was time to get back and I began hiking the trail out that I had come in on. I moved along at a fast clip not making any noise as I had left the old cowbell at home.

I remember coming around a grove of trees along the trail and suddenly, there he was.

Not thirty feet away in front of me was an adult Grizzly bear!

He saw me at the same time I saw him and immediately stood up on his hind legs.

I was totally frozen in my tracks and we both stood there looking into each others faces and I can still vividly see his dark eyes boring into me and the color and texture of his fur. Neither one of us would move or make a single sound.

I did keep my cool and simply stood my ground but I must say inside, I was absolutely terrified and I can remember the totally ice cold perspiration that ran down my brow. It was a feeling that I have had only one other time in my life and frankly, I knew I was about to die alone in the Montana wilderness.

I had violated every safety rule I had been taught. I hadn’t even told anyone where I was going to be and I wouldn’t be missed until the next day when I didn’t show up for work and even then, how would they know where to look for me? I had hiked rapidly without making a sound in Grizzly country and now, I was going to pay for my mistakes.

It seemed like an eternity as we stood there and stared at each other but finally, I made an involuntary movement of my hand and the the bear was down on all fours and running in the opposite direction!

I realized it was time to leave and I made no hesitation in getting out of there. When I finally reached my car I thought it was the prettiest sight I had ever seen.

But on the way home, I realized I had survived one of the most exciting experiences of my life!

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  1. Glad you survived the encounter! I guess some bears are not interested in maiming a human and will just retreat when they see any kind of movement. You were lucky to meet such a bear- if you were going to meet ANY bear at all.

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