Before I set off on a writing frenzy, filling you all in on what little adventures we undertook, I’d like to set the scene a little for my bear phobia. Now, all and any Canadians out there reading this will probably be laughing to themselves at my paranoia, but let me put it into perspective.
I grew up with sheep and cows. They are nothing to be afraid of (unless one tries to stand on you in the middle of nowhere in Norway!). You yell and holler and they skitter off. Worst thing you might come across in the back country in NZ is… hmmm, kea? They might steal parts of your tent. Wild pigs? Never saw one ever. Nope, there just isn’t anything to be afraid of. Maybe other humans?
Now here in the back country of BC, there are constantly reminders about the wildlife e.g., “Nakusp and Arrow Lakes are home to deer, elk, caribou, cougar, wolves, grizzly and black bear…”. A lot of the hiking pamphlets we picked up in information sites had these “cute” little bear paw prints at the start of each heading (reassuring). There were constantly signs around to remind you not to feed the wildlife (and what did we constantly see? Idiots feeding chipmunks, birds etc… bring in the little animals, and what do you think is doing to follow?). Rules posted about where to camp, how to camp, where to cook when you camp, where to store your food and garbage etc. The girl in Rosslands information centre happily told us how a mother grizzly (a sow) and her cubs had been sighted recently a couple of times up on one of the trails – oh really? That’s the trail you are planning on doing? Oh, you’ll be fine, I’m sure you won’t see any bears. Rules about what to do if you encounter a bear. “Speak quietly to let the bear know you are a human, don’t make eye contact and back away slowly, keeping the bear in sight. Never run. Bears may false charge you…” Make sure you can tell the difference between a black and grizzly bear because they behave differently e.g., black bears climb trees, grizzlys don’t. Black bears have claws about 1 inch long. Grizzly claws are about 4 inches long (WTF??!). This was also the first time that while out hiking, rather than being mocked by other hikers for carrying bear spray and a bear bell, I was visually scanned from head to foot and then “Oh, you’ve got bear spray, you’ll be fine then. But you do know to spray it right in it’s eyes when it’s about arms length away right?” Also, “look out for signs of bear on the tracks – scat, carcasses or circling crows, tree marks etc; and remember to make noise to let bears know you are in the area.” And so many people wanted to share their experiences of bear encounters with us! Admittedly, they did make good stories.
We weren’t entirely sure what tree marks would look like. Then we drove up to Kokanee Glacier Park. This area is a significant grizzly bear habitat. On the way up, we saw big swathes of missing tree bark that had been just ripped off the trees. We assumed that was grizzly tree marking. But it was old marking, as the trees were healing. What we also saw, which made us both raise our eye brows, was what looked like Freddy Krueger’s calling card. I really should have taken a photograph, but luckily a quick google search spits up something along the same lines as what we saw. If M had stood up straight and put his arm above his head, that would indicate about the height of the claw marks we saw.
Now, stick me, a tasty warm-blooded mammal who probably smells of food, out in the wild, feet facing down some path with trees and bush and overgrowth crowding in all sides (can you just imagine a bear head popping up as you go by?), and I admit there may have been a few nerves tagging along for the ride. I thought my nerves would dissipate the more time we spent out there, and with each little trek that we didn’t encounter a bear. That wasn’t actually the case. I was a bit surprised at myself. I felt like a gambler – with each hike we did that we didn’t see a bear, the odds of encountering a bear the next time increased (in my head at least). Every blind corner in the path had me holding my breathe to see if there was a bear around the corner. I seriously became obsessed. I sang (badly) whatever songs I could vaguely remember (which were not many when you are trying to think of something to sing to make noise), I toot tooted like a train, a jingled the bear bell (I’m sure it had a mute button that was directly correlated to my nervousness – and no I didn’t have the magnetic silencer on, trust me, I checked and checked again), I clapped my hands so often they started to tingle. M and I also talked a lot. Usually, I’m fairly quiet when I hike, just taking in my surroundings. Part of being out in nature is enjoying the serenity and peace and stillness. Well not this time. We joked that it should be a method for couples therapy – you are forced to talk, and you don’t care about what as long as you make enough noise for old grizzly bum bear to hear you coming.
I read, on our last day as we headed back to Vancouver, that the total number of wild grizzly in the area (I can’t remember exactly where we were at that point) was only about 25, in a huge area. And I already knew grizzly numbers are not doing so well. Now you’re probably not going to believe me, but I enjoyed our weeks break. Despite the bears, or rather my fear of bears, I love being out in nature. I admit I would like to get over this fear because even I thought I was being ridiculous. Perhaps I just need some non-confrontational encounters so I can learn better what to do and how to react (DON’T RUN).