Tuesday, August 17, 2010

My summer vacay, part 1: BEARS!

When I mentioned to my auntie Ellen that PK and I were headed to Glacier National Park before going to what turned out to be a fabulous five-day wedding (vacay, part 2, coming soon), she wrote back in ALL CAPS that GRIZZLIES had been EATING and MAULING people in Montana just LAST MONTH and to WATCH OUT!

I paid scant attention, as my auntie is more cautious than most people, and besides, I hadn't seen the news accounts of the bear attacks and for some reason, I brushed the information aside as I packed my hiking shoes. Then we got to the park and around every corner we were confronted by GREAT BIG BEAR WARNINGS.The photo above is the cover of a brochure distributed at all the entries to Glacier NP. You probably can't see on this reproduction, but this bear has BLOOD around its ferocious human-devouring mouth! And this is just the beginning. The national parks have a major fear campaign going on, and I must admit, it worked on me. 

We went first to the Many Glaciers area on the east side of the park to pursue hikes recommended by Glacier-Park-frequenting friends. However, about half the trails, including the major ones, were closed due to BEAR DANGER. This danger, we were told, was because not only had bears been seen on or near the closed trails during recent park ranger sweeps, but bears had actually charged people. We were congregated in a ranger station with numerous other would-be hikers when we got this news,  and I asked: Which area would we be least likely to encounter bears?  The ranger, accustomed to clueless tourists and their stupid questions, responded, "All the trails have been closed due to bears at some time this year. There's no guarantee." In other words, around any corner of any trail, we could run into the very bear depicted on the brochure—a vicious tourist-charging blood-stained bear just itching to crush neck bones.

We discovered that this warning was at all trailheads.
We considered our options and bought some bear spray, which, incidentally, costs $47 + tax a pop. We would not have time to attend a Bear Spray Clinic, which is encouraged by another brochure with an even more ferocious bear on its cover. The sales clerk who sold the spray admitted she hadn't invested, as she was uncertain that, if confronted by an attacking bear, she would possess the presence of mind to deploy the spray without compromising her own position. Given seconds to respond, could she factor wind velocity and direction to avoid spraying herself and prevent turning into pitiful bear bait writhing on the trail? She thought not.
I had the same concern, but PK didn't share it. He thought that a bear attack would be slow in coming and he could figure out how to take the safety from the spray can and shoot the bear in the snout. Self confidence is a good quality in a man, and I think he could figure it out. But I don't believe bears are leisurely in their approach to charging. It didn't seem like a good time to argue, however, and PK carried the bear spray.

Our first hike was unsatisfactory. We headed toward a destination six miles away as we reviewed what we had just learned about bears. They like trails. They hang out by water and prefer heavy vegetation. This trail was along a lake and cut through major brush. Armed with our bear spray, we followed the directive to SHOUT OUT! frequently, and MAKE A LOT OF NOISE!  We felt really stupid doing this. We turned around after a couple miles. The next day, we had much better luck. And we came close to seeing a sow bear and her two cubs. A photo album and more about our almost-saw-a-bear-and weren't-very-scared experience follows.