The first mistake Bob made that day was separating from Marvin and me. The second mistake he made was running when he saw the grizzly come out of the timber below us. Big mistake.
A group of us had gone camping at Spray Lakes in the eastern Rockies. No campgrounds, just a one track trail alongside the lake.
If you met another vehicle on that trail, there was no room to pass.
We had no fancy camping gear or tents. We slept in the open. Some of us had sleeping bags. We were all good friends in our twenties. My late wife, Mary, was there.
From camp we noticed a bear with cubs foraging on the mountainside above us. Miles said they were black bears, but with binoculars I was able to say, ‘No, they are grizzlies’.
We decided we were going to climb the mountainside for a closer look. But not too close.
Up we went. I climbed a tree to try to locate the bears so we wouldn’t get too close. My friends told me that when I was up the tree, a wolverine came out of the bush, paused, looked at them, and trotted up a trail.
Most of the group got tired of the climb and returned to camp, except for Marvin, Bob, and me.
We paused as I used the binoculars to try to locate the bears. That’s when Bob left to investigate some colour he saw in the rocks above.
From where I was, I could see the grizzly club on a pinnacle of rock on the slope above us, but my view didn’t show when the mother grizzly came out of the timber below, just several hundred metres to the north.
We were nearly above the timber line when Bob burst back upon us, running, panicked and babbling about the bear. We quickly moved to the only trees around. I stood beside a tree as Bob and Marvin started scrambling into other trees. I still didn’t believe that bear was coming. I was wrong.
She crested a ridge so close to us that I thought I did would not make it up the tree before she was on us.
She ran directly at us, effortlessly it seemed, across a steep scree slope, big shoulder muscles pumping, a large blonde crescent prominent across her chest as she bore down on us.
Then she was there. Huffing and roaring, angry, swinging her head from side to side, wild, horrible eyes flashing.
We were not high in those trees, and they were not large, and the mountain slope was steep.
Had she decided to, that bear could have reached Bob or me if she had stood on her back legs. What a relief that she never did.
She growled at us for what seemed a very long time before she took one cub and went up the slope to retrieve the other.
We came down from the trees and watched her. Once she had both cubs in tow, she headed our way again.
Now we found the largest trees we could in that copse of trees and climbed them – Marvin and me up one tree, Bob up another.
That grizzly came back in as ill a humour as she had left. Again she raged and roared below and around us.
Marvin, perched on branches below me, moved from time to time from discomfort. As he moved, he accidentally popped twigs.
Each time he did, the grizzly roared her displeasure, head swinging from side to side, her wild, evil eyes gleaming.
I whispered down to Marvin to sit still. Bob chimed in at times, telling the bear to leave. What a waste of breath that was.
After an interminable time, the bears left. Now we had another problem: they went down the slope and were between us and camp.
We came to ground again and made our way south across the slope, putting distance between us and the bears before starting our descent.
We were scared. We tried to move quietly but we accidentally dislodged rocks from time to time and feared the noise would alert the bear and she would return and catch us in the open. It would be game over.
We moved from tree clump to tree clump until we thought we had enough separation between us and the bears.
Then we started down and finally returned to camp. Our friends had no idea what had happened, but they knew something was wrong. They said our faces were white.
I have no doubt they spoke the truth. We were grateful to be alive and unhurt.
But I would be lying if I said it hadn’t been an ordeal.
I also would be lying if I said I never gave Bob a hard time over the intervening years about the bad choices he made that day which got us into such trouble with that grizzly.
Ken Anderson is a lawyer with a practice in Terrace, B.C.