I’m writing from my hotel room in Billings, Montana. We will get to Glacier National Park this evening where our son Matt is this summer. We were there five years ago and just after we had returned from that trip, Matt called me with a story.
He and two friends had gone off the day before to climb Mt. Wilbur, which took all day. It was near dusk, and they still had a few miles left to the hotel where they worked. “It had taken us too long,” Matt said. “You don’t want to be out there after dark.”
As they walked, a valley opened to their left and they saw a grizzly sow with her two cubs about 50 yards away. They made some noise, which you are supposed to do. The worst thing is to startle one, especially a mama and her young’uns. We had not seen a grizzly on our trip, save the stuffed sow, displayed in the lobby of the St. Mary Lodge. We did see some black bear, but they aren’t the same as their humpbacked cousin.
Bear joke: “How do you tell the difference between a grizzly and a black bear? It’s a black bear if it climbs up the tree after you. If it’s a grizzly, it pushes the tree down.”
After hearing Matt and the guys, the bears moved into the brush, out of site. They hiked on a bit longer until they came upon a National Park Service employee, who was trying his fishing luck in one of the lakes. After a short visit, they moved on, ready to be off the trail, it had been a long day. Ten minutes later they heard a scream. “It was a woman,” Matt said, “and it was the worst scream I’ve ever heard.”
It came from behind them, and they ran back to try and help. They rounded a corner and came upon a woman, who was lying on the ground. There was blood covering her leg and both hands.
“I was attacked by a bear,” she told them.
The guys began wrapping her wounded leg and her hands, and she said had been picking huckleberries and never knew the bear was near, until it was biting down on her leg. She said she spun around and put up her hands in front of her, reflexively and defensively, which caused both her hands to be mauled. Finally, she told them she yelled as loud as she could. The bear made one last false charge before turning back to find its cubs.
As it turned out, the woman was also a NPS employee, and the fisherman they had run into earlier was her boyfriend. The guys decided that one of them would go back and try to find him while one would run ahead for help. Matt stayed with the woman and began helping her walk back toward Many Glacier Hotel.
They had not gone far when she voiced concern about leaving Matt’s friend behind and said she wanted to go back to him. She was probably thinking that sometimes grizzly’s have been known to attack, then leave, but then return. Matt agreed they should go back, or at least said he did.
A month before our trip, in early July, a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Forest Service was killed by a grizzly, not far from the entrance to West Glacier. And a few weeks ago a woman my age was pulled from her tent and killed by a bear.
Soon, Matt and the injured woman came upon Matt’s friend, who had found the boyfriend, and the four headed back towards the hotel. It wasn’t long until they came upon their other friend, with two park rangers, both with their guns in their hand.
The woman was taken to the hospital in Browning and later to Kalispell, where she was treated the next few days, her injuries, thankfully, non-life threatening.