Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How I Found the Grizzly

       My wife and I were driving into the northeast entrance of Glacier National Park, near Baab, for an early morning hike. We saw two vehicles pulled off in a wide spot in the road, a scenic overlook.

People were scanning the shoreline of Lake Sherburne with their binoculars. Being Birders, we automatically stopped to see what they were seeing.

"What are you looking for?" asked Father Nature.

"A few Griz were spotted in this area last night," said the man next to his pick-up.

"Any action this morning?"

"My buddy here thinks he heard some twigs and branches snapping way down this slope, but above the lake." These were Montana residents, so I valued their opinion.

Lake Sherburne was about 200 yards out, and 150 feet below our spot. The slope was full of Aspens, 12 - 18 feet tall, growing close together. The lower shrub layer was dense with vegetation. I decided to spend some time here; maybe we'll spot a Grizzly Bear this morning.

Ten minutes later, the guy with the keen sense of hearing said he was now smelling bear. I walked to the edge of this fairly steep slope and looked downhill. It was so clogged with vegetation from ground level to eight feet up, that I could see only about 30 feet in.

I learned what I could from these Montanans, thanked them, then left them to begin my own search. I knew better than to enter the dense underbrush when the bear might be down there. For ten minutes I kept walking up and down the edge of the pavement looking for better visibility through the scrub.

While Mary stayed near our own pick-up, I ventured about 80 yards back up the road.

 I waited alone, listening intently. After ten minutes of seeking, scanning, straining to see anything big and brown, I heard the sound of something large moving through thick brush. I judged the sound to be about 50 to 60 feet away, downhill.

I peered through leaves, intensely alert. Then I saw branches moving. A patch of leaves thrashing on this calm morning. Then a vague, partial outline of a large, dark object... moving.

Look carefully at the 2 o'clock position; see the berries they were eating?

Since I was far from my truck at this point, I had made a previous escape plan with the fellow with the good nose. I would sprint and jump into his SUV, only 30 yards away, if things got dangerous.

A few minutes later I definitely got a glimpse of the top of the bear's head.

It's about thirty feet away now. Between the leaves, can you see the white of its eye?

I probably should have left the scene at this point. Using hand signals, I indicated to the others my confirmed sighting. I discovered later that they were discussing my situation as confirmed crazy. I agree now, but I was passionate about capturing a Grizzly photo.

Although the shrubs and saplings were thick, and although I was well above the bear's location, I also knew the potential speed and strength of this powerful creature. I was knowingly putting myself at risk, in hopes of getting at least one photograph.

Suddenly, up popped the massive head of a Grizzly Bear !

OH MY GOSH ! Too close. I better get out of here.

Branches obscuring my view through the lens. Tough to focus on the moving bear through the layers of leaves while walking backwards quickly.

He's staring right at me. Am I breakfast? Lunch and dinner for the family? I was able to grab a few partial shots before I scrambled away. As I backpedaled, I kept watching for the bear to emerge. I retreated toward the safety of the other vehicles.

Seconds later, two Grizzly Bears emerged; right where I was standing.

This one is returning to the down slope to look for the rest of the family.

Notice the characteristic hump above the shoulders, and the dish-faced profile.

Length (head & body) : 6 - 7 feet (180-213 cm).

Height at shoulder: 3 - 3½ (91-107 cm).

Weight: 325 - 850 pounds (146-382 kg).


Claws on front feet are curved, about 4 inches long (102 mm).

You can see a few of the 42 teeth contained in its skull.

From a safer distance we watched as three Grizzly Bears ambled across the road and up the rocky slope to disappear into more dense brush to continue their browsing and feeding.

I got some shots. 

                             I was there.

                                                Intensely alive.


                                                                                                            Grateful to God for this opportunity.

Grizzly Bear   (Ursus horribilis)

(Click on photos to enlarge)

Photo Location:  Glacier National Park,  (Glacier)  Montana  (Montana)