It was a pristine afternoon in Grand Teton National Park — the sun was no longer high and there was a gentle breeze in our faces — perfect for a stroll to Phelps Lake. Except we never made it the lake. Read on to find out how Sarah almost got eaten by a bear.
Hiking the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, I had become desensitized to frequently seeing signs like “Beware of bears!” and “Bears in the area!” I have encountered numerous black bears in the high country, all of which barrelled off in the opposite direction the moment they see you. Not the Teton bears.
Sarah and I set out for Phelps Lake, quickly made it to the overlook, then began down the mountainside to the cool waters below. Steep was an understatement for these switchbacks — think double black diamond ski run with berry-filled shrubbery instead of snow.
The first switchback was easy, other than having to step over three enormous piles of bear scat. No biggie though — bears are softies, right? Wrong.
Sarah and I got about halfway through the second switchback when the brush on both sides of the trail suddenly started thrashing. Mind you, the slope side had berry brush higher than our heads. Jarring, yes, but it did not stop us. It sped up our pace to the third switchback. We’ll call this third one Bear Alley.
We ventured down Bear Alley, highly alert, bear spray in hand, and slightly nervous. Now there was more commotion in front of us, but this was different — breaking branches, shaking shrubbery and GUTTURAL GROWLING in OUR direction! This bear was obviously telling us to stay away if we didn’t want to become dinner.
Sarah and I slowly backed away and got the heck out of Bear Alley! Once at a safe vantage point, we spied mama bear and her two cubs through our binoculars. It was no wonder she growled at us — she was protecting her small cubs. All in all, we think there were about five bears in the area.
When Sarah and I explore our vast public lands — like Grand Teton National Park — we are just visitors to areas that an abundance of wildlife call their home. We must respect wildlife by giving them space to be wild, and when respect isn’t enough for the bears — there’s always bear spray. Luckily we found some on our hike to Sandy Lake.
Have you had any close calls with wildlife? Let us know in the comments.
Planning a trip to the Tetons?
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