I froze, and came to a halt, as the bear looked up at me and grunt­ed. As I stood there, it took a cou­ple steps toward me, prob­a­bly com­ing for its cub in the bush­es.

This ter­ri­fy­ing predica­ment all start­ed when I made a deci­sion last sum­mer.  I decid­ed to take my hik­ing skills to the next lev­el with a Cana­di­an back­pack­ing trip. I’d seen gor­geous pic­tures of Water­ton Lakes Nation­al Park on a friend’s Face­book feed, so I made that my des­ti­na­tion. My friend wasn’t able to get the time off work to go back­pack­ing with me, so he gave me his hik­ing buddy’s phone num­ber. Con­ve­nient­ly, his friend worked in Water­ton and loves going back­pack­ing, so we made arrange­ments to hike togeth­er.

Lit­tle did I know, on my 13-hour dri­ve up to Cana­da, this bud­dy would can­cel because he couldn’t get work off. I faced a dilem­ma.  Should I dis­re­gard what I was told in Scouts nev­er to do (hike alone) or just do it because I was already in Cana­da? I felt young and invin­ci­ble, so I decid­ed to go for it and hike it myself. The trip was 40 Kilo­me­ters, two nights in the wilder­ness, in bear ter­ri­to­ry. I had no bear spray or hik­ing bud­dy with me to make noise to ward off bears. I knew that Water­ton was bear coun­try, but I chose to ignore the dan­gers of hik­ing alone.

Every­thing went fine the first two days and nights, and I thought I had sur­vived any chance of bear attack. It wasn’t until the final day of my hike that I came face to face with dan­ger. I was hik­ing along, deep in thought, when I heard rustling in the bush­es to my right. So fixed on fig­ur­ing out if it was a deer or bear, I didn’t see what was up ahead. Not more than 20 yards away, a big mom­ma black bear stood in the mid­dle of the trail. I froze, and came to a halt, as the bear looked up at me and grunt­ed. It took a cou­ple steps toward me, prob­a­bly com­ing for its cub in the bush­es.

My train­ing from Boy Scouts kicked in, and I didn’t run away, but rather slow­ly I took a cou­ple steps back­wards. While doing so, I real­ized the bear wasn’t charg­ing at me. Mirac­u­lous­ly, I was able to keep tak­ing small steps back­wards until I was out of sight of the bear. I start­ed mak­ing as much noise as I could and sang ran­dom 80’s songs that came into my head. When I final­ly regained the courage, I con­tin­ued walk­ing slow­ly and passed where the bear had been. A cou­ple hun­dred yards lat­er, I came across anoth­er hik­er who was day hik­ing and was ready to turn around once he heard of the bear sight­ing. Thank­ful­ly, I encoun­tered a will­ing hik­ing bud­dy. He end­ed up walk­ing the rest of the way back to the trail­head with me, and all end­ed safe­ly for both of us. 

Thank­ful­ly, I sur­vived the ordeal, and my Cana­di­an back­pack­ing trip is a very fond mem­o­ry. That day I learned sev­er­al lessons,  remind­ing me of what Scout­ing had taught me all along:

  1. Always hike with a bud­dy: Many bear encoun­ters can be avoid­ed by hik­ing with a friend and mak­ing enough noise by talk­ing while hik­ing. Hik­ing with a bud­dy will pre­vent many dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions, like get­ting hurt and not hav­ing some­one to send for help. 

2. Car­ry Bear Spray when you are in areas that are heav­i­ly pop­u­lat­ed by bears. It is more effec­tive than a firearm if a bear charges at you and can be effec­tive at dis­tances up to 30 feet. 

3. Always have a plan of who you are hik­ing with and what trails you will be tak­ing. Leave your writ­ten plan with an emer­gency con­tact like the local Ranger sta­tion or a par­ent. 

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Tyler North
Is an Eagle Scout, an avid backpacker, and hunter. He's a Hispanic outreach specialist in his local council.

3 comments

  1. R L P says:

    Isn’t that a Griz­zly in the pic­ture, while the sto­ry men­tions a Black Bear?

    Our Black Bear encounter was on a canoe­ing trip in the Min­neso­ta-Cana­da Bound­ary Waters. Yes, it helps to have 10 peo­ple bang­ing pots and canoes to scare a bear, drawn by plen­ti­ful food, away from din­ner.

    1. Tyler North
      Tyler North ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      You are right, the bear in my encounter was a black bear. I just loved the pic­ture of the hik­er and the bear though, and yes it’s a griz­zly. Fun­ny you men­tion it, because after I told my mom that I had a run-in with a bear, she imme­di­ate­ly asked “well, did you get pic­tures!?” Too bad I couldn’t get a self­ie.

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