Saturday, August 1, 2015

My first grizzly

Two panicking women come RUNNING down the trail towards us yelling, "GRIZZLY!"  Sure enough, behind them was the bear, making his was down the Highline Trail behind them.

My first time seeing a grizzly bear, and it was off to a bad start.

I'm sure you all know that RUNNING from grizzlies is pretty much the worst thing you can do.  Getting the women to calm down and stop running was critical.

Fortunately, I was out doing a mountain goat survey with an experienced Glacier National Park Citizen Science volunteer.  She is a mountaineer and extremely knowledgeable about Glacier wildlife. 

We got everyone together, and started backing down the trail, talking in calm voices.  But the bear just kept coming down the trail towards us. 
I did not get a photo in the moment, but my drawing is totally accurate.
For those of you that know the Highline, we were about three miles from Logan Pass, on our way to Haystack Butte to do a mountain goat survey.  The trail is narrow and we were on a steep slope.  But we backed to where there was a place we could scramble up the scree to make way for the grizzly. 

The volunteer I was with kept everyone behind her and her bear spray outstretched while we tried to keep everyone calm.  She is one brave, awesome women!

There was a long moment where time stopped when the grizzly got close to us.  Was he going to charge us?  Where the panicking women going to start running again?  We were all relieved when the grizzly just kept moving on down the trail.   I never ever want to get that close to a grizzly again. 

The coolest thing was that the Citizen Scientist I was with was a special VIP volunteer and had a radio so she phoned the rangers to alert them to the bear. The rangers asked us if we would follow the bear to keep people away from our side and monitor where the bear went, while they sent a ranger up the trail from the other direction.  So, we abandoned our goat survey, and turned around to follow the bear at what we hoped was a safe distance.
On the Highline Trail with one awesome volunteer.
As we made our way after the bear (staying in radio contact with the ranger), we passed what seemed like a hundred people coming up the trail, and got their reports.  The bear was sticking to the trail.  Occasionally he’d get off to pass people, but mostly folks did what we did and scrambled aside for him.  What was alarming was how many of the people didn’t have bear spray.  Worse, a few were total idiots, not respecting the bear, and acting like they were in a zoo. 

Finally, we met up with the ranger.  The ranger told us that when the grizzly saw him coming up the trail, the sight of his gun made the bear finally run off the trail down the slope.   Rangers use special non-lethal bullets to haze habituated bears.  Apparently, this grizzly knew the drill.
This great park ranger took time to show us the special rubber bullets he uses and to educate everyone about grizzlies.  I really appreciate his hard work!
Overall, it was an eye-opening experience for me.  I was really glad I was with such a knowledgeable person who kept a level-head.  I think that the biggest risk was from being around other hikers that behaved so irresponsibly.  The grizzly was just wanting to travel on the trail.  It was sad that he was habituated.  But it was obvious that this was a product of the irresponsible behavior of the other visitors, and the fact that this area is so crowded. 
Afterwards, we went to Hidden Lake to do a mountain goat survey there.  We saw a bunch of mountain goats, but all I got was a photo of flowers.

For more information:

High Country Citizen Science Program at Glacier
Glacier National Park's info on bears


  1. Love your drawing! Especially of the mountain goats watching the show.

  2. Based on your drawing I think you encountered a Jurassic Cave Bear about 15 feet tall. And I thought they were extinct.

    1. The ranger said it was a three year old male grizzly. But what does he know he'd only been studying them for 21 years. It definitely looked 15 feet tall to me and the claws were at least 12 inches long, so yeah I'd have guessed at least a Pleistocene cave bear, Jurassic might have been exaggerating a tad.

  3. I did the Highline Trail two summers ago, and totally know where you are talking about! I am not entirely surprised people did not have bear spray. Especially in National Parks. gotta love 'em. They make great snack food for the wildlife!

    1. the Highline sure is memorable! Sometimes I get annoyed by their lack of understanding, but it's also cool that so many people are getting out and hiking. At least they are not just sitting in their cars!

  4. Glad you and everybody are OK - just sounds crazy coming down the narrow trail.
    And just a note to thank you for the posts. I always read them though rarely reply.

    1. Thanks so much for reading, Paul! Glad to hear from you.

  5. Wow, I missed this post! Insane! I would be freaking out but I'm glad you were with some knowledable folks!

    1. Me too! Met some great people through the citizen science program.

  6. As usual I am late to the party, but I finally read your post today. Great adventure. Love the eye witness drawing, but don't quit your day job and take up freelance drawing just yet. :^) Just sayin'.