Way before my time hiking with grizzly bears, I was always an introvert. I remember being in high school, watching my sister leave for the beach with her friends, while I opted to go to the surfing beach alone because a few hours catching waves was far more appealing.
Fast forward about 10 years later, I met my husband and remember thinking, “I just encountered one of the most social men I have ever known, and I cannot keep up.” For years it would be a struggle for me, but it did force me to open up. So with each group hike and each camping trip, I grew less cautious and more comfortable. And that leads me to a recent story of how hiking with grizzly bears, during our trip to Glacier National Park & Banff, finally fully opened my eyes to social encounters.
Welcome to Grizzly Country
As we pulled into Glacier National Park, I was immediately intimidated by the mountains. But I would soon learn there was another foe at hand – hiking with grizzly bears. For reference, I live in a town that is littered with black blear. In fact, they are literally on my front lawn. But grizzly bears are different.
The only thought that came to my mind with each sighting was, “There is no way I’m hiking here, like no way.” I kept it to myself throughout dinner, breakfast, and during our chat with the local who asked if we were just going out alone.
The Hike That Changed It All
That’s when we had the talk. “Are we really doing this, Tom?” finally spewed from my lips. “This is 12 miles hiking among grizzly bears”. And after a few moments of concern, a few minutes of reassurance, we headed to the trail head.
Just as we were about to head up, I heard voices. A group of three girls in ponchos exited their car and headed towards the trail. “Tom stop!”, I said as he ignored the noise, “We need to wait for them, they need to hike with us to help us create more noise. When hiking with grizzly bears, more noise keeps them at bay.”
Now this was monumental as it was the first time I had ever actually requested a group hike. Tom agreed, pretty reluctantly.
So I stopped them and asked if they would be OK joining us. “Do you have bear spray”, they asked? “We do”, I said. “Then let’s do this!”, they shouted. This would be the start of one very life changing hike for me.
Hiking with Grizzly Bears – Party of 5
The entire hike was non-stop chatter. On the way up we got to know the basics. We learned what each other did for a living, how our trips were going, and how each group met each other.
There is also something about having a conversation at an extremely loud volume (as you do when you are hiking with grizzly bears) that makes you laugh inside. That and the mid-sentence “hey Bear!” shouts and claps, followed by continuing our sentence without hesitation that is extremely awkward. But in bear country, it just feels right.
I’d like to say by the time we got to the top we sat down and enjoyed lunch and a beer together, but with the cold, torrential rain, this was out of the question. However, on the way back, we ended up getting much closer with one another.
I learned so much about the girl I was walking behind. About her travels all over the world, her experiences as a teacher, her recent break up, and how that felt for her. We shared similar experiences and challenged each other on life goals and wants.
It even occurred to me along the way that I know more about this girl than I know about some of my friends. That’s what 12 miles of talking will do to you – because when do you ever really have an all-day one-on-one chat with a fringe friend?
The concept of hiking with grizzly bears is real, but I also realized we had hiked almost the whole way down without worrying about grizzly bears or awkward silences. Which are both terrifying for me.
By the time we reached the end, we had made 3 brand new friends. We said goodbye, got each others social handles, and went on our way. It didn’t end there. To this day we still keep in touch, follow each others lives on social, and plan to meet up with each other. Vermont 2018?
Hiking with Grizzly Bears – A New Mindset
Even more than making a few new friends, that hike taught me the power of opening up, so much so, that we ended up proactively meeting multiple new people on the rest of our trip that we still keep in touch with today. The prospect of hiking with grizzly bears made that happen, who knew.
From an oil man named Wayne who we shared a beer with on top of Wilcox Pass, to our Polish friend Kat from Vancouver who accompanied us on our steep trek down an unmaintained trail to Peyto Lake.
She did not have bear spray, so I think she was happier to have us that we were to have her. Although I did proudly teach her an excellent “hey bear” by the end of the hike.
All of these hikes taught me a big lesson. I could sit inside my bubble and enjoy the trek alone, or push past a little uncomfort and enrich my journey.
If you ask me now, I’ll always take the latter.
And just in case you were wondering, we did see many grizzly bears. But all from a very safe range – including this guy…
Maybe it was luck, or maybe it was our choice to hike with friends. We’ll never know!
For more pictures from our trip visit Forest & Rock.