An encounter with a grizzly and her cubs

akib amin

While Eveliina and I were driving from Ohio to Montana, we were super excited about hiking in Glacier National Park. It was a trip that we’ve been anticipating for months. Our excitement was hampered a bit by all of the news surrounding bear activity in the park. We did not want to just hike on our own and so I started a trip on GAFFL. We found a hiking buddy right away.

Jeff is a local from Great Falls, Montana and loves exploring the outdoors. He also did not want to hike alone. We planned our trip and initially, we wanted to hike the Iceberg Trail. However, the day before the hike, we found out the Iceberg Trail was closed due to intense bear activity. So, we planned and decided to hike to Grinnell Glacier instead. We met Jeff at the trailhead and started hiking together. On our way up, the views were just amazing! After hiking for three hours, we were at the Glacier. It was beautiful. We relaxed a little in the Glacier area and then started coming down looking at the incredible views again. This is where the story starts!

While going up, one thing we noticed was that Grinnell Glacier was a trail with heavy traffic. This put us at ease because we knew bears normally would stay away from traffic. We even saw a few solo hikers. All of a sudden, while on our way down, a moose appeared right in front of us; literally 20 meters from where I was standing. I was shaken up but was still able to take my phone out for a few shots. Slowly we went back and the moose moved away too. That’s when we met Megan, Zach, and Dan. They were hiking the same trail. After encountering the moose we all joked, “Better a moose than a bear”.  Then we started hiking again.

Zach’s group was a little ahead of us. After hiking for about 30 minutes more, we were approaching a turn going down, when we met them again. This time, Zach’s group were backing up slowly. Zach looked at us and made a gesture with his hand telling us to go back. I knew immediately from that look they had seen a bear. Zach came up to me and said, “It’s a grizzly with cubs.” We were horrified.

Seeing a bear is one thing, but a grizzly with three cubs can be one of the worst situations to a hiker. As we moved back, we saw a few more hikers. No one moved forward, rather we all stayed together. We started making a lot of noise to let the bears know about our presence. I saw a woman who was hiking with an infant in her back and I could tell by looking at her how terrified she was!

After 15 minutes or more, three of us went a little forward and the group stayed a few meters behind. We wanted to check if the bears were gone. One hiker gave me her bear spray. As we moved a little, I saw the mother grizzly’s back and a running cub who was a little distance from her. They were shaking the trees. We told the group not to move forward and came back a little.

By this time, the group got a lot larger and even with 15 people, IT WAS SCARY! Even with bear spray and whistles, we felt unprepared we to tackle this and the only thing that gave us strength was being in a group. I don’t know exactly how long we were stuck but slowly we started moving forward. Everyone was recovering from the shock.

Zach later said, “Glacier national park was an amazing experience. The scenery, the fresh air, and the opportunity to view wildlife was the draw to what brought us there. Our group always knew that we had a high chance of encountering a bear, grizzly or black bear. We came prepared with whistles and two cans of bear spray. The gear could only do so much for preparing us for wildlife encounters, especially being inexperienced in bear country. First, when the bull moose came across the trail we realized the bear spray might not do us any good if the moose got aggressive towards us. It was a low-stress situation but we continued down the trail after the moose went back to feeding. Shortly after, the grizzly bear and her three cubs came onto the trail. I believe this is when we realized we are truly in a wilderness area and safety is a primary concern, even though safety should be first all the time. Prior to the trip, we read on how to behave hiking trails around corners in the bear country. We used this information to help initially guide us to maintain composure and we discussed that it is pertinent in the situation to not panic. Honestly, the best source of stability came from being with others on the hike.

Our initial small group helped but support got stronger as time passed because more hikers stacked up behind us. The GAFFL group was the first group to catch up and that’s when we talked about what’s happening with the bears and assessing our own options for getting back to the trailhead. I had the bear spray in hand, I read sources for how to behave, and I had comfort in being in a larger group to get back safely. It was enough support to be the “lookout” or to mark where the bears were on the trail and communicate it back to the group. It didn’t feel like a burden being in front. It was exciting and a ended up being a great way to meet new people that shared a great learning experience.”

After coming down a little we met Andrew from the DC area and he mentioned how he’d never been this scared in his life and how lucky he was to be safe. He saw the bear very close. He was hiking solo. Instead of hiking the rest of the trip on his own, he decided to go back to the trailhead with us.

Later Andrew said, ” I was traveling on business in Montana by myself. I took a day off to go hiking in Glacier National Park, my first time. I embarked on the famous Grinnell Glacier hike with bear spray in hand, making lots of noise along the hike. This is a very crowded trail, I never went more than 10 minutes without seeing a group coming down. Sure enough, during one of those 10-minute stretches, I came across a large grizzly with a few cubs. It surprised me as I came around a blind corner. I had never seen a bear before in the wild. My heart was racing.  I slowly backed away and alerted other hikers that were coming down. On the hike back I met several people, a few from GAFFL and we exchanged stories of the encounter.”

This was a great experience for all of us. Wildlife is beautiful but it has its dangers. We all felt safer in a group. But things could have been totally different in case any of us were solo or the group was smaller. The encounter was all we talked about the rest of the hike.

Eveliina and I had an amazing hike with Jeff. We definitely plan to hike with him again. After the hike, Jeff said, “Had a great experience getting connected on GAFFL with other hikers for an outing in Glacier Park. It was good to be with a couple people for the hike and even better to have those extras when we met up face to face with a Grizzly on the trail!! Safety- and friendship- in numbers!!”

We hiked to Avalanche Lake the next day and left the park a couple of days later. Glacier National Park was a beauty. After traveling to tons of national parks, I can say it’s one of the prettiest of all. The encounter with the grizzly will be in our minds forever but it will never stop us from going back into the wilderness. Because for us, hiking is an addiction.

Happy adventures!

This article was written by Akib Amin

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GAFFL helps travelers and adventurers to find others who are planning to go to the same destinations at the same time and plan trips together in a group. Our mission is to make sure people who do not want to travel or adventure alone can find other like-minded individuals to travel cities, explore outdoors or spend time in a long airport layover.

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