Grizzly Encounter

by Greg Lessard

Nakina (Controlled Situation), Montana
Nakina (Controlled Situation), Montana

After being “educated” about bears, the question that kept recurring in my mind was “To carry bear mace or not to carry bear mace?” Weighing some of the following facts helped me to decide not to carry bear spray. The mace was outrageously expensive for what little service it provided. Designed specifically for grizzly bears, it comes in a canister that looks like a mini fire extinguisher. Upon reading the instructions, the user is informed that they must stand within seven feet of the bear!!!, hit it in the eyes and nose with the spray, do not to shoot into the wind, and then pray, because the mace only works 50% of the time!
A National Park Service flyer had helpful tips for using bear spray: 1 Point spray nozzle away from you. 2 Bear spray is not repellant! Do not spray yourself or your kids! Needless to say I was not enthused about paying $50 for something that might not work or worse, knock out the user.
For our hike, we took a boat from the Many Glacier Hotel across Swiftcurrent Lake and hiked to a second boat that took us across Lake Josephine. From the far shore of Lake Josephine, we would hike 1 mile to Grinnell Lake.
As we approached the far side of Lake Josephine, Brenda’s anxiety was building. Once the boat docked, the hikers dispersed in many directions leaving us by ourselves to hike to Grinnell Lake.

As we set out I couldn’t help but notice that the forest vegetation of ferns, huckleberries and cowpoke was quite tall and a bear could be around any corner. To add to my anxiety, Brenda had stormed down the trail in an effort to get the hike over faster. I was concerned that she would blunder into an unsuspecting bear, because she was making hardly any noise. Moving quickly and quietly through bear country is one of the most dangerous things you can do. I tried in vain to get her to slow down. At least by talking to her I was warning any bears of our presence.
Coming around a corner, Brenda suddenly stopped short on the trail. She had nearly tripped over an old man who was resting on the side of the trail. He and his brother were hiking with their wives. The old man smiled and we began to make some small talk. We told the couples that we were from Massachusetts and were a little concerned about bears. They laughed at us and told us they were from Babb a nearby town and they had never even seen a bear in all the years they had been hiking. With some discussion, we learned that the old man whom I will call Bill, was in his seventies and recovering from a triple bypass heart surgery. The flat terrain provided him an easy walk to help build up his strength. His wife Linda was carrying bear mace. We asked the two couples if they minded us joining them. They readily agreed and we were on our way.

After 1/4 mile we stopped in a huckleberry patch where Tom (Bill’s brother) and Lynn (Tom’s wife) told us all about the berries and their many uses. After sampling a few berries, we moved further along the trail. Brenda had calmed considerably and the thought of bears had almost disappeared from our minds…almost.

In a very short time we made it to the shore of the lake where we were astounded by the magnificent beauty of the glacial green blue lake surrounded by the towering Rockies complete with a waterfall on the far side. We stood in awe.
After about twenty minutes of exploring, Brenda reminded me that the next boat back to the hotel and civilization would be leaving in forty minutes. She did not want to miss that boat. We asked the two other couples if they wanted to join us, but they declined, wanting to savor the beauty a little longer.
So we headed to the dock to await our boat ride back to civilization. We had a nice hike through a beautiful wilderness and we made it safely to the dock on the shore of Lake Josephine. Brenda was quite relieved.
While absorbing more of the most stunning landscapes imaginable, we heard a deafening roar from across the lake! It was amazingly loud! My first thought was that it sounded like someone revving the engine of a loud Harley Davidson. My second thought was that someone had just become a mid-afternoon meal for a bear.
A minute later Linda raced up to the dock huffing and puffing and trying to say something. After a few tries she finally got out one word “BEAAARRRR!!!!!!!!”
They had been hiking when Lynn spotted a grizzly by the side of the trail. The bear was 40 feet off the trail eating huckleberries. Lynn pointed out the bear and began to take its picture.

Suddenly, another smaller bear came from the side of the mountain towards the larger bear. The larger bear roared and charged the smaller animal.
The little bear ran through the bushes and onto the trail towards the two couples. Linda bravely took out the bear mace, tossed it to her brother in law and ran. Tom looked at the canister in disbelief and hightailed it as well. This left Lynn pointing her camera at two charging bears and Bill wondering if his triple by pass heart was up for outrunning a bear or two. Fortunately for them, the smaller bear ran off the path into the woods. The other bear slowed its chase and simply watched the smaller bear leave the area. Bill and Lynn made their escape safely back to the dock.
On the boat ride back to the hotel Linda admitted that she was too scared to even try to use the mace and she had forgotten how to use it. Furthermore, the mace was over four years old and may have expired. Having discovered these truths I couldn’t help but laugh at how Brenda and I had felt more safe because Linda had been carrying bear spray. For the rest of the boat ride, Linda and Tom tried to figure out how to use the mace. We were all lucky that they didn’t accidentally spray one of us. Despite the fact that we all had been scared, we agreed that this encounter had made for a much more memorable trip!