We had a Grizzly Bear Encounter.
Yup. We met a Grizzly bear just above us on the trail about 100ft away.
We had just been passed by 5 mountain bikers so we were alert for sounds ahead in case we needed to jump out of the way to let more bikers pass.
Patrick, my husband, spotted it first.
“Bear,” he sort of gasped.
Everything from this moment on happened so very quickly but the replays in my mind are keenly aware of all the little details so it feels like slow motion in my head.
It was huge. Its head looked like a lion’s mane and I take it he or she was not too happy to see us and looked that way. Its hackles were up.
Pardon my language but I replied, “that’s a fucking grizzly!”
The realization of that and the close proximately to us was, well, terrifying!
And then it moved, well it charged at least that’s what I’m calling it. Later when I reported the incident to Parks Canada, the kind officer asked me if I thought the bear had charged us or bluff charged us. I apologize for not having an intimate knowledge of Grizzly bear behaviour so I’m going with – it charged.
My fight or flight instinct kicked into high gear and I started to run.
The sound of that animal crashing down towards us blanked out any rational or reasonable thoughts.
Thankfully, my inner voice and Patrick’s chimed in before I could get too far, “don’t run.”
Right, I remembered, don’t give it a reason to chase us.
I looked back for the last time, to see the bear still. Watching us.
We walked with purpose, our hearts pounding.
The crazy thing was that we were not on some high mountain trail. We had already been on several remote hikes on this road trip through BC and Alberta, where the likelihood of coming across a bear would have been much higher. We were about 1km from Jasper village. The Yellowhead Hwy and the train tracks were 1 km away. We were on the Red Squirrel trail, for crying out loud! It is a flat path that meanders around some tiny lakes and follows the Athabasca river for a bit. This trail system leads up to the Jasper Lodge, the golf course and several campgrounds. This was our evening stroll to stretch out our road trip tired legs. We were 1 km away from the souvenir shops with I ‘heart’ Jasper t-shirts, maple flavoured fudge and soap stone bear carvings.
I could hear the highway and was trying to gage the distance to possible safety, “should we cut through and book it for the road?” I whispered to Patrick. He disagreed, “let’s stay on the trail.”
Patrick had walked backwards at first with his arms spread out wide and watched the bear move down on to the trail.
He said that it stood on the trail and watched us. He wasn’t sure what it was going to do. As we gained some distance, he kept glancing back to be sure that we weren’t being followed.
We reached the road and the railway tracks at the top of the trail and the first people we saw were a family of four. They were biking into Jasper from their campground for some ice cream. We warned them and the Dad asked, and I hope he was just making light of the situation, “if I got any photos?” I wasn’t sure if he was joking and the possibility of his naivety hastened my steps towards a phone call to report the sighting to Parks Canada.
I think I was in a bit of shock when we reached our hotel room. The ‘what ifs” started to creep in and the questions like, “if we are not safe on the Red Squirrel trail, where are we safe?”
Feeling fear start to take a hold of me, I reached out to a wise friend. I wanted to hear her thoughts on Grizzly bear totems. I needed to gain my power back and not let fear turn me into a little puddle of adrenaline-induced sweat.
Her reply gave us good things to contemplate over bear ale at the Jasper Brewing Company. The Grizzly bear symbolizes an awakening of the unconscious, making choices from a power that is deep within and the bear has a strong link to the moon goddess. We discussed her thoughts and we talked about fear and its role in our lives. How fear is so necessary when you come across a bear on the trail. How fear kept me alert, reminded me to walk not run, and it kept me from collapsing on the trail.
You see, I am terrified of bears. If I’m having a nightmare, chances are there is a bear chasing me in my dreams. The bear has had a grip on me for quite sometime. Why? I’m not sure. The only other ‘bear in the trails’ experience I’ve ever had was just this Spring about 2kms from our house in our neighbourhood trails. We live on the West Coast of BC, so black bears walk through our yards at night and we do our best to share the space with them. In April, we spotted a young bear about 200ft away on the trail. We watched it and started to slowly back away and it took the first opportunity to shy away from us. I’m familiar enough with how to deal with a black bear, give them lots of space and they tend to move away first (except for the Mamas, you’ve got to be on high alert if there are cubs around). But a Grizzly is a whole other scenario. They can be over 800 lbs, their claws can get up to 4” long and they are unpredictable and ever so powerful. Patrick described “our” bear as a bit of a snarly character.
After a shot of tequila at the brewery to commemorate our experience, Patrick slept soundly. I, on the other did not. We had planned to hike again the next day in the Jasper area and in the high country. I was spooked and feeling reluctant but I didn’t want fear to take away what promised to be an amazing experience.
In the morning, I gave myself permission to feel the fear and not fight it. We changed our plans and headed for our next destination, Wells Grey Park in B.C.
We stopped outside of the park and picked up some bear spray and that afternoon we chose a lovely 3 hour hike to see the famous Helmcken falls (4th tallest in Canada). Our journey ended with a rainbow over the falls and we were visited by a friendly frog when we stopped by the river for a rest. Was I scared walking through the forest? Yes, I got unnerved a few times but I’m proud of myself for getting back out on the trail.
And now, 72 hours later, I’m grateful for our Grizzly Bear Encounter (GBE). I’ve been scared before for sure, scared for my children’s safety and health but I’ve never experienced this kind of heart pounding, life or death adrenaline rush.
All the fear I have about putting myself out there, showing art in a show, not being liked, having no one show up, not making the sale, the cut, or being humiliated, vulnerable, open, exposed… all of those fears can now be put into a little box with a lid and maybe even a cute bow. I know that they’ll sneak out from time to time but that charging or bluff charging Grizzly bear has just set a new bar. I needed fear then but I don’t need it now.
No story would be complete without further mention of its hero.
Patrick always has my back. When I have some new idea or dream up some new adventure or project, he’s there. He’s my Macgyver, my BFF and my brave man who literally walked backwards between me and that bear. I’ll go any where with you, my love.
Thank you for letting me share this story.
I think when we bring fear out into the light, it starts to loose its power.
And if you see me sporting an I ‘Heart” Grizzly Bears t-shirt at my next art show, give me a nod and a smile, because you’ll know that I’m just reminding myself of my inner strength and the sweetness of life post the GBE.
Some of our roadtrip photos including a black bear that crossed the Yellowhead Hwy, reaching the top of Mtn Tod, a rainbow as Helmcken Falls, wildflowers at Sunpeaks and a friendly frog!
Marlene paints primarily in oils and enjoys the challenge of abstract expressionism. She is honour to have her artwork in private collections across Canada and in the United States. Marlene offers workshops and retreats creating an art and yoga experience for participants. She is the creator of two adult colouring books called Outside Your Lines. Marlene lives on the Sunshine Coast of B.C.