Western Findings No.4

I believe that one finds safety in numbers. Thus, we joined a large, guided group for a long hike. I must have been a bit naïve because the two guides were very young women, not rangers, and only one had bear spray. They were very informative though and had been working inside the park for a number of summers. Their instruction had been to make enough noise to make your whereabouts known to the bears. The bears shy away and don’t normally hang around a well trodden hiking path either. This makes sense to me. We had a game of ‘telephone’, since we were practically single file along the path. The game was a technique to continue noise or speak loudly as we hiked. I learned to identify some of Montana’s wildflowers as a result.
This long hike occurred after two glorious boat rides on lakes, Swiftcurrent and Josephine. The destination was Grinnell Lake to see more glaciers. We arrived at the end of the trail and met an impasse, a huge snow bank. Yes, snow was still on the ground in some areas of the park, 4th of July!
My husband, I and one guide (without bear spray) decided to turn around and head back to Lake Josephine, ahead of the group. I can’t remember how my husband or the 19 year old woman was behaving, but I was acting like a paranoid fool, constantly looking here and there, talking loudly without reason, faking coughs while I was slipping on the partially flooded, muddy way. My thoughts were focused on one rhetorical question, “what if we met a bear?”
Still on our feet and anxious to board the boat, we met a frightened father with his older children. They had been dropped off, alone on the beach. Since they weren’t part of our large hiking group and all alone, we were puzzled. They recounted a horrific story of being chased by grizzly bears while they were hiking across the lake. I had justification for paranoia. A smaller boat had picked them up and dropped them at our beach to board the cruiser. The real story surfaced at the hotel. Other hikers unknowingly scared the grizzlies away. The bears were moving fast and ran headlong into this father and his family who were approaching from the opposite direction. We also met another family who had a bear encounter. The young mother (as a young adult) had worked and hiked in Glacier, many a summer, over a decade ago. The very same day of our hike and the bear incident, a grizzly crossed her path while she was carrying her baby strapped to her stomach. She abruptly turned around to protect the baby and froze (this is not recommended). Luckily, the bear continued to move away. She was shocked and thankful. All the years that she had spent in the park, she had never seen a bear.

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