It was late afternoon on our fourth day when Ferg grabbed my arm. He thought he had just caught sight of a bear darting off the trail ahead. We stopped on the rocky slope, clogged with shoulder high alder, and yelled loudly. Nothing. We waited. Suddenly a medium size grizzly emerged from the bushes one hundred meters (330 ft) ahead, and began to approach us. Ferg and I roared out in unison, waving our ski poles high over our heads and clanging them together, but this had no effect. The bear continued to approach, slowly swaying from side to side, sniffing at the air. I groped to find the bear spray clipped to the back of my pack and passed it to Chris, then dug frantically through my backpack lid to retrieve the bear bangers. Ferg yelled deafeningly, and this sent the bear into the bushes, but the retreat was only momentary. Seconds later he emerged again. As I fumbled about trying to attach a cartridge to the on the end of the launcher, the bear continued to approach, faster than before. By the time I finally got the charge loaded, the tawny griz was less than thirty meters (100 feet) away, a distance it could cover in seconds. The banger left a trail of smoke behind as it launched forwards, exploding with a resounding crash directly over the bear’s head. Rearing up onto its hind legs, the young grizzly crashed into the brush, disappearing. We could hear him thundering downhill for several seconds before the sound of snapping branches faded. Then the valley fell eerily silent.
We waited, but could see no sign of the bear returning. Moving cautiously ahead at first, and then faster, we were happy to put distance behind us. Having collectively spent many years in bear country, Ferg and I tend not to be spooked easily, but something about this encounter struck us. The bear seemed unusually bold. We had been yelling at the top of our lungs before the encounter, and the wind had been to our backs. The bear had likely been aware for some time that we were approaching. Perhaps it was an inquisitive young male who had just left his mother. Whatever the case, the encounter made us starkly aware of our constant exposure. Instead of returning the pepper spray to my backpack, Ferg wore it fastened to his waist belt, and I kept the bear banger loaded, clipped to the chest harness that held my camera.
That evening we spent longer than usual mulling over where to set camp and where to stash our food. I found myself constantly scanning the river’s banks for movement. When the squawks of a tiny merlin erupted amongst a thicket of high pines downstream, I wondered what was disturbing it. During the night,