SPOKANE, Wash. — Following guidelines for camping in grizzly country can prevent trouble for everyone, including the bears.
A Spokane man experienced a good case in point last summer while backpacking in Glacier National Park.
Doug Kelley and two companions had hiked into the backcountry to the high, scenic 50 Mountain Campsite and pitched their tent.
“We put our three sleeping bags and pads in the tent and that’s all,” Kelley said. “We had everything else with us a hundred yards away at the designated cooking site.”
They were getting ready to cook dinner on their camp stove when they saw a grizzly bear come out of the trees. It was walking toward the men before it veered right and down into the brush toward the creek.
“We assumed it was headed to the heavily wooded area on the other side of the stream,” Kelley said. “But we were wrong.”
The bear circled back up the slope and re-emerged from the timber at the tent.
Perhaps the bear had found food in a tent before, maybe this one smelled of food from the past, or maybe the griz was just curious.
“But it had no fear of us,” Kelley said.
The bear ripped an opening in the side of the tent and was dragging out Kelley’s sleeping bag.
“We all had our bear spray, so we stood up and slowly walked shoulder to shoulder toward the grizzly,” Kelley said. The hikers knew that people in tight groups are less likely to have a grizzly encounter than people alone or in pairs. Park officials recommend that hikers stay in groups on all of the Glacier trails and make noise in grizzly country.
“The bear had my sleeping bag in its mouth and we all had the safety tabs off of our bear spray,” he said.
“We were yelling at the bear and it finally dropped the bag. It looked back at the tent before slowly sauntering off as if to tell us that we didn’t scare him and we had no effect in his decision.”
The men followed guidelines by cooking and hanging all of their food away from the tent. The bear did not reappear.
They reported the bear and later heard that a ranger had later gone into the area and “conditioned” the bear by stinging its butt with a rubber bullet.
“We heard they did have a chance to encourage the bear to be less adventurous,” Kelley said.
Glacier Park officials said they closed the 50 Mountain for a period after that incident until they were confident the bear was out of the area.
If the bear had snooped in the tent and found food, the scenario could have been much different, said Denise Germann, park spokeswoman.
The grizzly may not have been content to leave the backpackers alone. It likely would have been a threat to the next campers in the area.
And the projectile the responding ranger would have to shoot would be made of lead.