Seeing a Grizzly Bear in Jackson Hole's Paintbrush Canyon

During August 2010, I was in Jackson Hole supporting a relay for life American Cancer Society Fund raising event. Since I was going to be in Jackson Hole, I decided to check out some hikes well in advance.

I found a 20 mile loop going up Paintbrush Canyon over Paintbrush divide and returning down Cascade Canyon.

An ambitious hike to be sure but well worth it.

Now, I am from central NJ; we don’t have bears here (except for the rare black bear that may wander nearby).

I read all the advice and decide to hike with bear spray. A smart investment.

I had trained for several weeks to prepare myself for this hike. Round Valley has some great hills to hike up and down so when I train, I train with my ipod.

Fortunately on my hike in Jackson Hole I thought the better of it and chose not to wear head phones. A very smart move on my part.

Another not so smart move on my part was to hike this one alone. I couldn’t find anyone to doing something this ambitious.

So I start my hike around 7am. I’m about 4-5 miles into the hike with a goal of reaching the summit by noon-1pm.

As I’m hiking I hear noises in the woods so I every so often would bang my hiking poles together so as to not startle any forest creatures.

Well, as I am hiking up a section that curls around to the left I hear a snort and an animal breaking through some brush. About 10 to 15 yards away and above me on the slope of the mountain is a small grizzly.

I immediately stopped, looked down and went submissive. My heart is racing and the amount of details that went through my mind were amazing. After a few moments I looked up to see what the bear was doing.

He lifted his nose and started to sniff and then was starting to push through the bush towards me. I took 2 steps ever so slowly backwards.

As I did this, I reached to my side pouch and retrieved my bear spray and removed the locking mechanism.

I waited a few more moments to see what he was going to do. It was a small bear; so my next thoughts were what to do if it’s mother was around.

If the bear approached me and I sprayed it, would the bear start wailing? Would it’s mother come to the rescue and kick my butt for spraying her cub?

Well, the bear thought is was too much trouble to push through the bush once it knew I was not a threat. It went back to foraging and I slowly walked back the way I came until I was out of sight.

I waited and it slowly drifted off into the woods away from the trail. I attempted to take a picture but my camera was making noises and I did not want it to come back.

I was going to reach for my video camera but another lesson I followed was to never take off your backpack. So I thought the better of it, left my back pack on and continued on the trail.

A mile or 2 up the trail, a few young college kids caught up to me. I had asked if they saw they bear back on the trail. And much to their disappointment, they did not. They had asked if I really saw a bear, which I replied absolutely.

I asked if they wanted to see the next bear, and they excitedly said yes. I smiled and replied, “Okay, you take the lead”.

It was nerve racking, adrenaline pumping experience but I am glad to say that following the expert advice, I managed to get through it. An upfront, personal experience and lived to tell about it.

Be smart, understand what you may encounter and be prepared.

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