A Bear Story

By Jack Wendleton

Grizzly Bear
Grizzly Bear by Frank Zurey
Hon. Mention, Fauna, 2009 Contest

If you have a career in the National Park Service, and work in Yellowstone or Glacier national parks, you have heard your share of ‘Bear Stories.’  Some years ago, I worked on a design project in Glacier National Park. As I left home, flying to West Glacier, my wife Pat said, “Don’t get eaten by a bear.” I chuckled.

We were designing a new water system for Sperry Chalet which was constructed by Great Northern Railway in 1913.The Sperry trail begins at Lake McDonald Lodge, is 6.7 miles long with a climb of 3,300 feet. The chalet provides a bed and meals, which allows for a backcountry experience without the need to carry a backpack.

There were four in our party going to the chalet that day. We took horses as we had to transport survey equipment. At mid-afternoon, we sent the survey gear back on the concessionaires’ horses, and planned to hike out after we completed our work. Since it was July, with long daylight, we began our three hour hike to Lake McDonald in early evening. The four of us started together, my sidekick and I leading the way and our two comrades walking at a slower pace. The evening light was waning. We were in dense timber when we heard something in the underbrush. We stopped and peered into the dark woods. I said, “What was that noise?” My sidekick said,” I don’t know, but it is bigger than a ground squirrel.” We saw nothing. Before continuing, I looked up the trail and saw our two comrades several hundred yards back.

Grizzly Triplets
Triplets by Frank Zurey
2nd place, Pub. Image, 2013 Contest

Sometime later, our two friends caught up with us, out of breath. They said, “Why didn’t you tell us there was a grizzly bear in the woods?” They had seen us stop and look into the woods. When they approached that area, a grizzly sow emerged on the trail. One of the guys started to run. The other, who lived in the park, grabbed him and threw him to the ground. He told him to curl up and put his hands behind his neck to provide bodily protection. A grizzly in the wild can outrun a person. In a short sprint, they are known to outrun a horse. The sow came down on them, stopping to sniff their necks and snorted. Satisfied that these two creatures were not a threat, she called her cub out of the woods. Then she and her cub ambled on up the trail. After the bears had gone 100 yards or so, the guys got back on the trail. At which point the mother turned and charged down on them again. They assumed the “protective position”, while momma bear repeated the sniffing and snorting routine. Again, satisfied that they were not a threat, she continued back up the trail. The guys waited a much longer period of time before getting to their feet, and headed down the trail at a very fast pace until they caught up with us. Returning home, and after telling Pat my “bear story,” I told her, “I will pay more attention when you tell me, ‘don’t get eaten by a bear’.”

If you want to learn more about grizzly bears in Glacier National Park, read The Night of the Grizzlies, by Jack Olsen (not RMOWP’s Jack Olson). Published in 1969, it details the events when two women were attacked and killed in two separate grizzly attacks on the same night (August 13, 1967) in Glacier National Park. These were the first recorded deaths of humans in Glacier by grizzly bears. Unfortunately, those have not been the last. Several years after those incidents, during my first trip to Glacier, I read The Night of the Grizzlies at night in the motel. It gave me a real healthy respect for grizzly bears.

That is my bear story.