We were no more than 10 minutes from home visiting a bird sanctuary with our homeschool nature journal group. It was a damp, dreary, autumn day and only 4 mothers with their children had shown up. Even though close to home, it was my first time in the Sowerwine.
The group followed the trail past an animal carcass, through a grassy field, and a fermenting grove of what we think were buffalo berries. On down the trail, we spotted some black bear scat that looked pretty fresh. It was early fall and the bears hadn’t all hibernated.
Just weeks earlier, a black bear had visited our neighborhood, evidently looking for fruit trees to forage. So, fresh bear scat in the Sowerwine didn’t seem unusual. Being comfortable carrying bear spray, I agreed to carry it for the rest of the hike.
The group came to the end of the hike where we milled around a bit. At some point, a mother and her children had turned around. Suddenly, we heard a scream. BEAR! Having the bear spray and feeling responsible, I shouted “Everybody stay together, make noise”. We turned around and headed towards the scream only to discover that a mother was yelling about her kid stepping in bear poop! So much for my courageous attempt at saving victims from a close encounter.
Feeling embarrassed about overreacting, I felt validated by a recent article in our newspaper. The article was about survivors of a grizzly mauling returning to the scene of the attack. I remembered the incident quite well.
Three years ago, Jenna Otter and her father Johann Otter were attacked on the Grinnell Glacier Trail. They had set out early and about an hour into the hike Jenna, 18, rounded a blind curve. She saw a grizzly walking towards her and two cubs in the distance. She said the bears eyes popped wide as if it was just as surprised as she was. Jenna tried to run, but tripped. The next thing she knew, the bear was attacking her dad. She fumbled with the safety clip on the bear spray. She looked up and saw the bear coming toward her. She stumbled again and again, then scrambled into some brush. Her father struggled with the bear and then everything went quiet. The grizzly panted, she heard it approaching and tried to remain still, but when it leaned over her she grabbed it around its neck thinking she would hold it off. It lunged, took her head in its jaws tearing her chin and puncturing her neck. As a result of the mauling, her father Johann, 44, had received five fractured vertebrae, three broken ribs, a torn eye socket, as well as his scalp having been ripped off. Now, recovered from their injuries, they returned to the trail as one who gets in a car wreck gets behind the wheel again.
On the day that the Otters were being attacked in Many Glacier three years ago, my family and I were hiking on the Scenic Point Trail in the Two Medicine area. The trail offers hikers an array of scenery; a palette of colors reminiscent of the Grand Canyon, barren trees ravaged by fierce winds, and impressive views of the Great Plains. It also is the scene of a 1998 fatal grizzly attack of a 26-year-old man. He was last seen hiking and his partially consumed remains were found 3 days later.
So, although bear attacks are rare and generally by a female protecting her cubs, I prefer to be prudent. We’ve been fortunate enough to have safely observed bears from a distance and also have been a little too close for comfort.
If a bear was in the Sowerwine that day, I’m sure the yelling chased him away.