West Glacier, a Close Encounter of the Bear Kind

There was a bear up ahead, but a couple of Montana hikers kept going to a beach, so I tagged along with my bear spray drawn, safety off, ready to fire, until far enough, I announced, “I’m going back.” In the lead now, I walked, looking ahead, left and right, and over my shoulders while yelling, “Hey Bear!” the way Alaskans do. Suddenly, a bear stood up behind me, off to the left, in the brush. I had walked by him, unaware despite looking where he was hiding. He must have cut around us, cutting us off from the herd of people below. I had been approaching him from behind, when he ducked into the brush, waiting for me to pass by, perhaps judging my intention, wondering: was I stalking him? It was a perfect ambush, but he turned away into the brush and I kept walking. No time to react, not even to be afraid, I don’t think I slowed my pace, like two hikers passing each other with a nod. He moved silently through the dense brush, not making another sound. There were mule deer down below. He must have been headed down to get one. Time enough later to think about our meeting, but now I was headed away from him.

It’s always tempting to be a know-it-all, but some Frenchman decided to lecture me on the use of bear spray. I asked him where he had learned so much, he said, “when I bought the bear spray.” I said, “That’s good, I learned in Alaska.” I’ve carried bear spray a few times since then, but never had the opportunity (need) to use. The thing is that if a bear attacks, it will happen fast. When I took a class on firearm safety, they had us engage in a contest. They picked the oldest, fattest man gave him a fake knife, set him up 20 feet away. We all had an fake pistol, that we were to draw and “shoot” him before he “stabbed” us. We were all “killed.” A bear is much faster than a fat old man and if a bear crashes into you, the shock will send you sailing, probably knocking you senseless.

It happened at Avalanche Lake to which I added Cedar Trail, about 6.3 miles and change, couple hundred feet of elevation, easy but crowded, at times a line of people going up. The parking lot was full. The campground had been opened for use as parking. So much was still snowed in, there are few places to go, and people bunch up in the same locations. Although I have enjoyed the National Parks – they are special places, my best hikes have been elsewhere.


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