Grizzly Vibrations

Grizzly Vibrations:
By Peter Austen

Grizzly Vibrations. I had just come down from the summit of a mountain in BC close to Jasper National Park after a solo mountaineering ascent and was at around 7500 feet. I was walking on almost level subalpine meadows when some fresh bear scats made me feel uneasy. This was a favorite hunting ground for grizzly and they dig for marmots in these high areas. I found some freshly dug burrows and my adrenalin started to gush. I remembered that awful book "Night of the Grizzles"- the sensationalistic account of some grizzlies in Glacier National Park in the U.S.A. They had fed on garbage too long and became too accustomed to people. They supposedly went berserk and ate 2 hikers in sleeping bags- like human hot dogs.

However, rationality prevailed and I thought of what I knew about grizzlies and what I should do if surprised by one: climb a tree or roll up in the fetal position. The actual chance of being attacked is very slim unless they have cubs or are surprised by you in the bush.

Lower down I entered fairly dense pine stands and the light was considerably reduced. There were bears and bear vibrations everywhere. Every tree had a bear behind it waiting to rush out and bite my bum. I knew something was going to happen. I could feel it. And it did. A rustling from ahead made me tense up and stop. My ice axe was poised to strike. A squirrel. Big deal. But then a bear cub wandered out from behind a rotten log and then another. I knew the mother must be nearby and I willed myself into a mushroom. However, when I looked back and saw Mama bear peering in my direction and sniffing I knew my magical abilities were very poor. I saw the hump on her back and the face scooped like a dish. My mouth dried up. It's funny how potent fear makes you dehydrated. I stopped thinking and just remembered all the dreams I had as a child such as when a bear or dinosaur comes for you and your feet are encased in concrete overshoes. The wind was blowing strongly up the valley, bringing the bear strong whiffs of my sweat. I had been moving very fast up and down this mountain.The bear was getting agitated. Grizzlies can't see too well and I thought I had a chance if I kept my cool. Perhaps if I imitated a bear cub she wouldn't bother. But then I might be stuck with the family for a year or two and living in a cave or tree base didn't appeal.

She reared up for a better sniff, sat down on her haunches, then dropped to all fours and came like the latest 250 mph German rail way. My overshoes fell away and I went straight for the nearest tree, throwing off my pack as I went. I did 20 feet in about five seconds and the next ten feet in two when I heard the bear hit the tree. I looked down and saw the snarling, gaping and foaming mouth pointing up at me. Drool dripped from her teeth. I gulped, ran out of adrenalin and tried to regain my composure as I didn't want my shaking hands to slip from the branches I was wrapped around. Make no mistake, 600 pounds of angry bear trying to get at you does not endear you to the species generally. But fair enough-you are in their territory. This was a new experience. I had had many close to the edge climbing adventures but nothing had prepared me for this.

The tree was only six inches thick where I was and as I climbed higher it started to bend over ominously. I swear I saw that bear smile. I managed to grab another tree close by and straddled the two. The bear shook the tree and almost addled my brains. I hung on for grim death. Bears are incredibly strong.

Looking down I saw the bear rip open my pack sack and scatter the contents. Over the next 2 hours I hung in there with my head spinning and my legs cramping up. Every 2 minutes the bear would try to climb the tree and send a chill up my spine. The sun was filtering softly through the trees and the afternoon was wearing on. I got drowsy, slid off and broke a branch with my foot. The bear immediately snarled and pawed the air. Good grief, I thought I had better be more careful. The mother bear was distracted by the cubs and called them when they got too far away in the forest. She went out of sight several times and I had the fleeting thought of climbing down and running for it. I would never outrun a bear on gently sloping ground, even in the forest. Bears can reach thirty miles per hour in the right kind of mood with the wind behind them. She was quiet now, rolling around by the tree, occasionally digging for squirrels in the forest floor, and casting hungry glances in my direction. Ingratiating smiles from me had no effect. She was still loaded for human. She wandered off into the forest. After another hour of no action, I was reaching the second stage of Zen Buddhism. Well, hang in there, I thought, it has to end sometime, doesn't it? It became quiet and the light was fading. I knew the trail head was an hour away if I moved fast. There was no sign of the bear and after waiting half an hour I was certain she had taken her leave. I climbed down, tentatively peering through the branches every few feet. It was joy to be moving again and feeling my limbs lose their stiffness. I reached the ground and tiptoed gingerly through the forest, half expecting the furry express at any second. A rustle gave me a sudden adrenalin rush, of which substance I had precious little left; it was a family of spruce grouse. I pictured a giant mama grouse with six inch claws on the end of her wings, and gaping beak, chasing me all the way to Jasper. "Hallucinations eh? Get a grip on your mind," I thought. "You've been out in the woods too long. Snap out of it." I hightailed it and breathlessly reached my wife waiting at our truck.
"That must have been quite an adventure to do that high peak on your own," she said. "Yes, but the mountain played a very small part." .

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Grizzly Vibrations