October 05, 2009
Posted by Gordon Smith

This past summer, I went on a three-day backpacking trip to Yellowstone Backcountry with my three sons. For Yellowstone aficionados, we were on the Hellroaring Creek Trail. As we set out, we were all excited to see some wildlife, but I was not at all interested in seeing a bear. I have seen bears in the wild, and they scare me.

On our second day, a group of hikers on the other side of Hellroaring Creek motioned to us. They were yelling "Bear!" while pointing in the direction we were headed and making claw motions with their hands. The creek made verbal communication spotty, but they managed to communicate that the bear was near a bridge that we were planning to cross.

Hmm. What to do with this information? We were heading to a reserved campsite, and we needed to cross that bridge at some point. Do bears move a lot? Do they move quickly (when they are not trying to eat you)? How would we know when the bear was gone?

We decided to take a break and ponder our next move. Within about 15 minutes, more hikers came from the direction of the bridge, and we asked if they had seen the bear. They hadn't, and they seemed a little  disappointed that they missed it. They had just crossed the bridge, so we decided to proceed with our hike. In retrospect, that doesn't seem too bright, but how do you avoid bears in the middle of the wilderness anyway? I figured we could have a bear in any direction, so why not go in the direction where hikers had just passed? (We later heard that the rangers had evacuated campers from this part of Yellowstone the day before because of a bear kill. Gulp!)

As we approached the bridge, I was scanning both sides of the trail ... and making plenty of noise. Just before we reached the bridge, I spotted the bear about 20 yards to my left. As soon as I said, "there's a bear!" my sons wanted in on the action.

"Get across that bridge!" I urged.

Ok, I realize that bears can cross bridges, too, but I liked the idea of having a creek in between us. When we got to the other side, we found five or six employees of the Forest Service having a picnic.

"Did you see the bear?" we asked.

"What bear?"

They couldn't believe that they were having a picnic right across the creek from a black bear. Fortunately for us, the bear was sitting next to a deer carcass, so he (she?) had no interest in getting to know us better.

The battery in my son's camera had died early in our trip, but one of the Forest Service employees had a camera and agreed to send me some pictures. (Thanks, Sam!) They arrived today:


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