Before I launch into the story, there is one small caveat I would like to make: I am writing this post about the bears not because they dominated our experiences, nor do I want people to think that going out in the woods is a dangerous thing…..instead I just think it makes a good story. So, while reading this know that a person is more likely to be mamed and killed by a cow, or meet a tragic end in a car than have a truely negative bear encounter in the wilderness. If you really need an excuse not to go in the woods, it should be for something practical like the bugs or maybe getting dirty…but not because the bruins are in town. (I am off my soap box now).
Ursus Horribilis is the genius and species for a grizzly bear. Seems like a fitting name…..after all they are large, powerful and hungry and can do serious damage to property and in rare cases humans. Grizzly bears in Alaska are large mostly because they have lots to eat. Alberta Grizzly’s are large because they have lots of room to roam to find appropriate groceries. Barren land Grizzly’s…well they are HUGE and neither Matt nor I can figure out why. There isn’t much for trees, berries, grubs and they really only have 2 months to fatten up for a really cold winter. So, I think it is safe to assume that Barren Land Grizzly’s are hungry = treat them with respect.
Our first bear we saw on the Horton was a cute brown one we saw on shore as we paddled down the river. I saw it looking at us in the forest (there weren’t a lot of trees to camoflauge it) and so I grabbed my camera to take photos. Matt and I got very quiet and just floated by so I could get the exposure and composition just right (mistake # 1- it’s a bear in the wilderness doorknob…go to the zoo if you want to take pictures!). This bear was somewhat curious and came down to the shore for a closer look. Then he fake charged the shore -I put my camera away. Matt began paddling quite quickly with some splashes involved while I got the bear bangers out (mistake # 2 – splashing looks like an animal in distress). We paddled quickly towards the other shore and talked to the bear (yo bear) but it didn’t seem to disuade him from following along downstream with us for about 1km or so. This is not normal Alberta bear behaviour…he should be running away from us not stalking us!
We grabbed the fox 40 whistle thinking loud sounds usually scare bears away… Matt blew the whistle and the bear leaped into the water and started swimming after us (mistake # 3 – whistles sound like animals in distress). It was like we said: “come for dinner we’ll even pay.” Matt and I paddled quickly enough that the boat shot down river fast enough to water ski behind it. Fortunately the bad bear got to the other shore and lost interest in us. The bear pictures you see in this post are this bear, you will notice he keeps getting closer to the shore. I wasn’t brave enough to take photos of any of the other bears!
Like any good outdoors people, Matt and I used the rest of the afternoon to debrief our mistakes. We should have used the bear bangers and stood up in the canoe (we look bigger and not worth messing with). I think the bear came after us because he thought we sounded (and maybe looked) like a caribou in distress. From this point on we always knew where the bear bangers were and we carefully packed the whistles at the bottom of the bags.
Bear 2 was much better behaved. We saw him, he saw us. He came to the shore, I stood up in the boat, Matt beat on the gunnwals, and the bear retreated back from whence he came. No need to shoot the bear banger..he was a very good bear and deserved a medal.
By the time we reached the edge of tree line we had seen less and less sign of bears. I think I even said..there is no way there could be many bears now…what could they possibly eat. (mistake #4 – never taunt fate).
While we were enjoying a delicious meal of pasta sitting beside the fire with a lovely robust red wine, you could imagine my surprise when Matt said: “Heather, there is a bear RIGHT THERE”. Yes, yogi was curious, and thought he should come walking right into our campsite to see what the heck we were and what the smells were all about. He was only about 20 feet away from where we were sitting. The bear bangers were in the tent. The bear was between us and the tent. We both stood up, I grabbed the chair to put over my head to be even bigger, Matt did his best rock star drummer impression with a pot and a rock, and the bear turned and ran away from us. We carefully walked to the tent and shot off a bear banger. What was amazing was how big he was, and how healthy he looked. I especially enjoyed assessing this as I watched his rump running away from our campsite while finishing my glass of robust red that I hadn’t spilled.
Needless to say these bruins were somewhat cause for concern, but it made the adventure much more colourful. After bear # 3 Matt and I were never more than 10 feet away from each other at all times. Other trip reports have said they saw no bears…maybe Matt and I just smell nice, or maybe we were just more quiet than other groups. Regardless it will be nice being back in the Rockies where I know that the bears have enough to eat!