We’ve been living in the Pacific North West for four years prior to travelling, and the most dangerous thing I’ve come across was a lone coyote on a morning stroll. In fact, the most prevalent lifeform we see in the wild are rabbits and squirrels, so unless they’re monty python fans, it’s not an issue.
However, once you’re out of the friendly bossom of the PNW, we’ve realized things can get a little more interesting, and it’s truly important to be prepared for anything.
There’s a reason so many national parks tell you to take bear spray
We’ve not taken bear spray with us on any hikes till we went on the road. When we arrived at Grand Teton, we decided it would be sensible to grab some bear spray and get trained by a ranger how to use it.
In short, wait till the bear is about 30 feet away, and spray slightly down in 2-3 very short bursts so you have plenty left in the can in case it goes wrong. A can holds 7 seconds of spray, so there should be plenty left. Make sure you’re aware of which way the wind is blowing because if its blowing into you, as one ranger said, “you’re going to be a well seasoned snack”.
The best prevention is to be loud on the trail (we now have an iPhone blaring out some music although S is usually plenty), keep aware and if you see a bear (or wolf) keep a distance of around 9 city buses between you.
Apparently there were a lot of new mumma bears about and they are super protective of their babies, but we didn’t see any. We did see a beaver, marmot and a pine martin, but again, nothing to be afraid of.
Yellowstone is where yogi bear lived right? (Jellystone?)
So when we got to Yellowstone, and we followed all the advice of rangers on where was safe from bears, we still took the spray on hikes, even in major tourist sites like mammoth springs. At the springs, we saw an elk in the car park (keep at least 2 bus lengths from America’s number one killer) and Monique even asked me if I thought we needed to take spray (we did take it).
After exploring the springs (a bit of a disappointment to be honest compared to other geysers and springs), we went for a short little hike on an established trail next to mammoth springs towards beaver lake. About a mile into the climb, S started saying his legs were tired and E was in a pissy mood from teeth so we decided to head down again having had a nice forest hike.
As a side note, the hike is beautiful for the bit we hiked, and I’d loved to have finished the loop as it looked incredible.
Honey, there’s a bear on the springs up there…
As we got to the bottom of the hike next to mammoth springs, Monique told me to grab the camera as she’d seen a bear on the springs. I turned and saw a rather large grizzly taking a mooch across the falls above us about 500 meters away. Fine, but it dropped out of site and I missed the shot.
And then it came back into view, at the top of the cliff we were walking below, and she was intent on marching straight at us. In fact, as we slowly backed away, she marched right through to the area we were walking down, where we’d walked thirty seconds before. If we’d of walked a little slower, she’d of been right on top of us with no warning!
Two rangers quickly hoved into view, apparently a grizzly marching through the springs isn’t that common but they come in looking for food early in the season. One ranger took a shotgun and fired a few warning shots to move the bear on. I must confess we were both a little shaken by the experience of nearly coming into close contact with a bear, they’re immense animals, and you don’t realise how isolated you can be on a trail till you see one up close.
So moral of the story is, always take your bear spray, even when you’re surrounded by people, and if you forget it, surround yourself with people who look tastier than you at all times.
Top trail tips for wildlife
One – Take a bell and strap it to your bag. If a bear hears you coming, it’ll scarper before you surprise it, and if you do see it, it’ll be expecting you and probably ignore you.
Two – Leave at least nine bus lengths distance between you and bears or wolves, and two between you and wildlife. Buy a zoom lens if you want a close up so you don’t upset a mumma looking after her cubs.
Three – Talk or clap as you walk along to supplement your bell ringing. Ie take a friend or two (the parks recommend going in groups of three at least).
Four – If you do surprise a bear, don’t run, make yourself big and back away calmly and slowly. You don’t want to look like prey, so stand up and spread your arms wide.
Five – Keep bear spray (here’s the link to the one we have) on your belt so it’s accessible. You don’t want to be the person who had bear spray with them, but got attacked because it was in your backpack. You can get a little holster thing that goes on your belt too. Link here
Six – Don’t corner animals or chase them. Animals no matter how placid can be incredibly dangerous when cornered. Just remember that a bison can run at over 35 mph and weigh over 1,000 lbs. Imagine getting hit by a small car.
Seven – Pack it in and out. Don’t leave food in the open unless you’re eating. Food smells delicious from miles away to a bear, and you don’t want to attract attention.