It was early in July 1987 that I went hiking in Glacier National Park. I was well aware that day that I was breaking important rules for hiking in the Glacier backcountry: Namely, never hike alone and carry a noisemaker to warn grizzly bears of an outsider approaching.
I would live dangerously this day! After all, I had camped out and made several long backcountry hikes there without ever seeing a grizzly.
My plan was to hike from the Many Glacier Hotel area and go over Swiftcurrent Pass on the Continental Divide.
The Swiftcurrent trail has some extended lengths of close-in trees and brush in the lower elevations. After hiking about 3 miles, I came out into a small clearing about 25 feet across. As I was stepping through this opening, I suddenly heard the clear sound of a wooden stick being broken. The sound was loud and “heavy” and close to me on my left side.
I immediately knew that it had to be some heavyweight that broke the stick. I snapped a look to the left, and there was a large brown grizzly about 15 feet away, stepping on its hind feet and parting brush past its upper body with its front feet. It looked to be about 6 feet tall and was moving in a direction angled away from me. I was now about in the middle of the clearing and made a snap decision to sprint forward on the trail, which was sort of in the opposite direction of the bear’s movement. Plus I didn’t really want to go back to where I had come from.
It was a high-speed dash for about 50 yards.
I had noted that the bear had not yet turned its head to see me when I took off on the mad dash up the trail. I had declined the option to stop and have a “discussion” with Mr. Griz about whose territory that this was.
As it turned out, I was quickly out of sight of the bear as the trail closed into thick brush and trees. I never saw the bear again. Quite soon after this encounter, the brush and trees began thinning out in the higher elevations, allowing hikers to see things at a safe distance away from the trail — no surprise encounters!
Indeed, I felt relieved!
Donald Tobkin lives in Detroit Lakes, Minn.