Grizzly Bear Encounter: Rogers Pass, British Columbia (July 9th, 2015)
Having just climbed the Southeast Ridge of Mt Uto, my partner and I were descending lazily in the extreme heat of the afternoon when an off-duty ‘visitor safety’ specialist named Lydia blew past us. Despite a grizzly bear advisory on the trail, she left her climbing partners in the dust (maybe they were slowpokes?) and scampered down the trail solo, sans bear spray, until she surprised a large female grizzly feeding on roots slapdab in the middle of the path. Understandably not wanting to get into a ‘right-of-way’ dispute with the large bruin, she backtracked up the talus slope, and waited for us.
Arriving on the scene, I promptly whipped out my pepper spray and a large machete, ready for battle should the bear decide we looked like fish n’chips. But alas! The ranger informed me that I could ‘go to prison’ for defending myself against a bear attack with any kind of sharp object. Apparently in Glacier National Park self-defense is illegal; just let the animals eat you. What about rocks? Could I bash the bruin on the head with a pointy rock if it got the better of me? She didn’t know. Then I reached for my GoPro as she recoiled in horror; ‘no knives or GoPros!’ I guess cameras are illegal too.
With the bear refusing to budge, she radioed for help at the ranger station, and they told us to wait until we formed a group of five or more, and then descend, but only if the grizz graciously ceded us the right-of-way. Otherwise, get comfortable. After some consideration, I was OK with waiting – you pick the devil you dance with, and I had no burning desire to tango with this monstrous bruin. As we waited for another party to catch up, the ranger drolled on about how useless my knives would be in a rumble with a bear. ‘They don’t even pierce the hide,’ she chided. Uh huh. Having spent twenty years exploring the backcountry, I’ve been charged twice by grizzly and encountered countless bears. Lydia had worked in Rogers Pass for a year and never laid eyes on a brown bear before; she talked about this stuff like she read it in a pamphlet. Pissed off, I told the ranger that if the grizz got feisty with her, I’d make sure to keep the knife in its sheath; she was on her own. Sorry Lydia, but prison sucks.
The ban on filming brown bear with GoPros confuses me, but not as much as the law against defending onself with all means available in the event of a predatory animal attack. Her argument was that a knife would be useless against a bear. Maybe, maybe not. Wild Bill Hickok reportedly killed a grizzly with a hunting knife. In more recent times, during the summer of 2014 a Minnesota man killed a 525lb black bear armed only with a small knife, stabbing the attacking bruin more than twenty times. The bear was so huge it took ten men to drag its carcass back to camp. A year before that, in 2013, Fraser Graham killed angry grizzly with a hunting knife as it severely mauled him. Back in 1999, Alaska hunter Gene Moe was charged and knocked down by a grizzly while he skinned a deer. Having left his rifle a hundred meters away, he had only a small blade to fend off the savage attack. He cut its throat and survived – the bear was not so lucky. In all three cases, carrying a knife saved the lives of these men. In none of the cases, did the knife fail to pierce the hide, as Lydia Marmont would have us believe.
Is a bear gonna fuck you up if it’s in a hurtin’ kind of mood? Hell yes. But would you rather fight a grizzly with bare knuckles or with an 24 inch razor-sharp Cold Steel machete called ‘CHAOS’?
PS: Some bear safety tips:
PPS: As a vegan, I am opposed to hunting bears or hurting animals in general. However, as a living creature, I am also opposed to being eaten by a predator. Self-defense is not a crime.