Bear of a Bear

I’ve been a little behind on my posts here, mainly just because I haven’t done anything.  I’m back home in south Alabama visiting my family for Christmas.  Next week I head to Utah for some winter ascents in the Wasatch Range.  Until then, here’s another story of a close call I had two years ago, September 2009.

I was a sophomore in college, you know, that time of your college career when you think you’re the coolest thing since flavored condoms.  Those are cool right? OK, now that I’ve gotten my dry humored introductory joke out of the way, I’ll get to the almost dying part.

My dad, aka the Colonel, has spent his entire fatherhood telling me that school comes before everything else in life, and that my education was my job until college graduation.  However, things change when he needs a hunting partner.  September was the start of the archery elk hunting season in Colorado, and my dad had offered to buy my $550 bull tag if I came along.  My dad’s friend and my brother were in attendance as well.

My dad and I hiking to where the rim is.

As the week went on it was apparent that my name was synonymous with bear encounters.  In the nine days we were there we had eight bear encounters, six which involved me and one where I feared for my life, and the cleanliness of my underwear.

A black bear I encountered at one of the wallows early in the week.

My dad and I had been sitting over a wallow (mudhole) for the last three hours of inactivity.  We had promised to meet up with the others on the other side of the “rim” at 1 pm for lunch, so we began to make our way to the oakbrush.  The oakbrush of Colorado has got to be one of the most frightening places to be in bear country.  The brush stands between 12 and 16 feet tall.  The foliage usually grows at the upper parts of the branches where it can gather the most sunlight.  A small network of trails weaves its way through the understory of the brush.  At the best, you can see about 15 feet in front of you and movement is hindered by low branches and tight spaces.

My dad and I had found a more prominent trail around the rim about 20 feet below the ridge.  The two of us were nonchalant in our trek as we moseyed along.  Suddenly something caught my dad’s eye on the trail ahead of us.  He put his hand on my chest to stop me, “There’s an elk bedded down on the trail up there.”

We peeked out from the brush along the trail again but it definitely wasn’t an elk.  A large black bear had taken up nap time in the middle of our only trail around the ridge.  We watched as it came to and looked around, its eyes landing on us but then moving on in oblivion.  We whispered nervously about a plan to continue on around the bear.  The only other trail we could use was hundreds of feet below us and would delay us half an hour of walking.

This is the actual bear, snapped just moments before she charged us.

My dad decided on scaring the bear off of the trail so we could continue on, against my whiney wishes.  I nocked an arrow, and clipped my release in to ready myself for the fight of my life with a nod to my dad.

“YOU GET OUTTA HERE BEAR!!!!” shouted my dad.

The bear didn’t waste any time NOT getting outta here.  It wheeled around and charged down the trail in our direction.  My life didn’t flash in front of my eyes, my mind didn’t reel, I didn’t even have time to comprehend the situation let alone draw my bow back.  Every muscle in my body quivered in fear, my voice strained as I tried to sound masculine to the bear’s ears. “GET OUTTA HERE!” I continued to shout with my dad.  Every instinct that passed the synapses in my brain screamed to run.

The bear came to a halt 15 feet in front of us.  A chill ran up my spine as the bear slammed the ground with its paws.  The vibration from the blows reverberated through the soil and up my legs.  The bear huffed loudly and clacked its teeth in warning.  The sound reminded me of clapping two rocks together.  It shook its head violently back and forth, continuing to beat the ground and clack its teeth.  The sound of my dad’s bellows for it to leave could barely be heard over the sound of my heartbeat.

Finally, the bear folded and moved downhill off of the trail.  My dad and I sank in relief.  We hugged out our fear and turned to move down the trail.  Just as we started to move again a furry blur caught my eye in a tree above where the bear had just laid minutes before.

“CUB!” my dad shouted.

“GET BACK, GET BACK!” he yelled as we retreated back down the trail.

We could hear something crashing through the brush below us as the mom came running to her cub’s rescue.  My dad and I knew we had just walked into a death trap.  We didn’t waste anytime heading straight downhill, arrows nocked, knife sheaths unlatched.  I glanced over my shoulder to see an empty trail, but we descended the entire slope as fast as we could before we paused for a breath.

“I think I need to check my underwear.” I said with a chuckle as I collapsed into an aftermath of adrenaline at the bottom.  My dad and I laughed about it then.

That night the four of us sat in silence around the fire as we contemplated how lucky we had been.  The game warden came by our camp later that night and we described the bear to him.  He said he knew the bear to be the biggest in the area, over 500lbs.