Respecting the bear in Jasper National Park: my first grizzly bear sighting

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If last week was kind to animals week, this post is appropriately timed although I believe in always being kind to animals every day. Mutts Comic strip, May 4, 2016 by Patrick McDonnell. (From: Mutts Comics)

My partner and I are by no means experienced hikers in bear country. A few years ago, we lived in New Zealand where, well, bears don’t exist. In fact, the biggest danger while hiking there is the ever-changing maritime or alpine weather. I’m from the east, where suburban sprawl has all but pushed out the black bear and seeing one is extremely rare.

Needless to say, Canada is quite a change for us in that regard. I have really only been hiking in bear country in these recent years, but we educated ourselves on what to do to prevent encounters and what to do if you do see one. In the last year and a half on Vancouver Island, I’ve seen four black bear – two from a vehicle and two while outside working. Each was from a distance. The parks recommend staying 100 yards from bear. Obviously its always a good idea to give any wild animal space.

Black bear on Vancouver Island from a great distance. See the small, black spec on the far shoreline? This was my first black bear sighting on the island and my only documented one, shot in the days before I had a camera with higher zoom. It was actually a mum with a cub nearby.

Despite all the education and these experiences, I still get nervous when going out in bear country and going to the Rockies is like stepping into their backyard. I admit, it scares me. We prepare ourselves, we make noise, we watch for signs of bear activity in the area and that’s all you can really do aside from never leaving your house.

It was still a crisp morning when we started the trail, having arrived earlier than many others. I was hoping to see some birds and maybe a beaver, both of which were a good possibility where we were heading. I never expected what we did see only 15 minutes down the trail… a grizzly bear.

My first grizzly bear sighting, easily distinguished from black bear by its hump on the shoulders

I think my heart might have stopped for a minute as I exclaimed for my partner to stop and pointed out the bear in the distance. She looked absolutely huge in the distance on the opposite hill. Once I got over the surprise, I took a photo and we watched in awe for a few minutes. My partner said I was surprisingly calm, but I think everything I’ve read may have helped. Its not a bad idea to educate yourself about something you fear.

Grizzly bear, notice her collar

It was the ideal sighting because we were far away (hundreds of meters), we did not take the bear by surprise, and she was easily visible in the wide open area on the opposite slope from our position. When we yelled and made some noise, she didn’t appear to notice, she was merely grazing on vegetation. However, she was standing very near to where we could see the trail lead and I’m not going to push my luck. So, we decided to respect the bear and turn back. We hadn’t come far and we could return later once she’d moved on.

This is a zoomed out view of where the grizzly was from our position. She was on the other side of the boardwalk just next to the bare tree on the left of the middle. I took this photo when we returned later.

After reporting our sighting to Parks Canada, we were informed she is a “people tolerant” bear and others we encountered on the trail decided to go onward anyway. Because she had a GPS tracking collar and unique ID, they were able to locate her and knew which bear she was. As it turns out, when we returned to the trailhead later on, no one else reported seeing the bear, even a woman who had been behind us by about 5-10 minutes and was really hoping to. So she must have been just moving through, but you never know where a bear might be headed and it doesn’t seem smart to me to knowingly head toward one.

We finished the rest of the hike the second time sans bear sighting. It was our last day and we considered our ideal grizzly bear sighting quite the highlight of an amazing trip! It was certainly very memorable. Seeing something I’d been dreading and fearing turned out to be an amazing experience, seeing this most wild of wild animals, the very symbol of the wilderness.

Kettle hole at Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper NP, Alberta. Kettle holes are formed during glacial retreat when blocks of ice get left behind. These blocks of ice later melt and form kettle holes.
Valley of the Five Lakes, Jasper NP, Alberta

5 thoughts on “Respecting the bear in Jasper National Park: my first grizzly bear sighting

  1. How exciting and even better that you were at such a good distance away! We don’t have Grizzlies here in Ontario, just black bears, but while hiking it’s still our greatest fear. Why is the bear wearing a collar?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep I said it was the perfect sighting and I never need to see one again! I guess we were very lucky.
      Oh I knew I was forgetting something, I meant to mention that in my post! They have started putting GPS tracking collars on some grizzly bear to track their movement and get a handle on the population and habitat use. That’s how they knew which bear it was when we called up Parks to report her, they were able to go to our area and see what bear number she was and that she was people tolerant. Cool, huh? There’s a story on it in the local Jasper Paper the FitzHugh here: http://www.fitzhugh.ca/three-year-grizzly-bear-study-underway-in-jasper/

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