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:
- 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.