|Trailhead sign in Glaicer NP.|
After eight months, I’m certainly no expert. Learning the best practices for hiking in grizzly country was straitforward: make noise, be constantly alert, take care with food, keep food and food smells away from camp, carry bear spray. But the mental aspects required significant adjustment.
I found little information about solo hiking around grizzlies. Signs and guidebooks simply say don’t do it. The vast majority of locals say don’t do it. "Why?" I kept asking. "Is it really that much more dangerous than going with a partner?"
I am not making any recommendations. Its best to follow the official advice. Or avoid Montana.
But here is my story of the ten steps that I took to hike here, alone:
1. Study reports of grizzly attacks. Realize that the risk of death is low, but maulings happen more frequently. Statistically, drownings and falls present a more serious danger. Try (and fail) to identify patterns in the attacks. Did the victims make obvious errors? Which areas have problem bears and the highest bear concentrations? Listen to some people say that the Bob is safer because bears are more wild, while others say Glacier because it’s heavily monitored and bears are sort-of habituated. Realize that bears are unpredictable, that they could be anywhere. Even experienced hikers taking all the precautions have been attacked.
2. Practice skills for hiking in grizzly country;
- How to make noise especially around blind corners.
- How to distinguish black bears and grizzlies, and how to respond to each.
- How to carry bear spray on a belt so it says with you when you take off your pack, and doesn’t fall down a cliff and roll into a freezing cold lake.
- How to keep the safety on the bear spray covered so it doesn’t break in your car, and then accidentally fire into a fellow hiker’s face at the trailhead, causing all sorts of pain and leaving you feeling totally mortified and too embarrassed to ever hike with that group again, even though they were probably your best hope to find hiking buddies.
3. Practice wildlife avoidance tactics. Choose popular trails. Wait at empty trailheads for other hikers to arrive. Avoid trails with grizzly signs. Avoid hiking at dawn and dusk. Inquire about bear activity at the backcountry ranger office. Question everyone you pass about what wildlife they’ve seen. Hike 10 miles to a campsite where you have a permit, only to hear about a grizzly in the area when you arrive, and hike the 10 miles out again so you don’t have to camp there alone.
|Do I really want to camp here?|
What does that even mean? You have to find out on your own.
5. See grizzlies up close with other people. Walk by a grizzly that you could reach out and touch with your hiking pole. Camp in a place where a grizzly walks past the tents. Feel what it is like to know your place on the food chain.
Notice that there is a risk to hiking with other people because you are less cautious, less aware. Discover that hiking with other people doesn't feel that safe either. Especially when other people run from bears, or do other stupid things.
|Two women running from the grizzly bear towards us on the Highline Trail.|
|Roadside grizzly at Logan Pass, Glacier Nationa Park. This makes me uncomfortable for a number of reasons. People think they are at a zoo.|
|Solo trip to Lincoln Lake.|
Learn that there is a measurable risk to staying home, to NOT hiking solo.
8. Feel the fear. Have a solo bear encounter. Feel the clarity of mind when you know danger is that close and make those smart decisions. Have everything go well- the bear stands up on two feet to get a good look at you, then you realize it's only a black bear as it runs off.
|Completely realistic likeness of the solo black bear encounter in Glaicer.|
|Trout Lake-- site of one of the 1967 grizzly attacks that changed attitudes towards bears and led to our modern managment system.|
|Solo trip to Dawson Pass, near Two Medicine.|
I hope this will give you some idea of what they mean when they tell you not to hike solo in grizzly country.
If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact me. My email address is listed on my "about me" page.
For more information:
Night of the Grizzlies -watch the documentary or read the book
Good article on food protection by Andrew Skurka
Glacier National Park's bear advice and video
Bear biology and research