Arriving in Jasper signaled the end of our exploration but it was not quite the end of all excitement. We had not booked accommodation and had little idea of where we wanted to stay. Luckily we had Google to help us and we drove around and finally found Bear Hill Lodge, where we stayed for the night, before making our way all the way back to Banff the next day.
In the afternoon, before settling down, we did a little exploring of nearby park roads and lakes where we saw deer grazing. I noticed that at the one lake there was a sign up about bears. I thought about what I had read up about them while I was still in South Africa because we had thought that we might travel in the USA and hike in the mountains. I read about black bears and grizzly bears. What I learnt was that grizzly bears are scarier and:
- you should not disturb or surprise a bear,
- they can out run you,
- they can climb trees,
- they can disembowel you with their long sharp claws that can swipe swiftly and with strength.
- It is better to go hiking in groups because the bigger the bear’s opponent looks the less likely that they will attack.
- Also don’t keep fruit on you because they will be interested in what you have.
So being my apprehensive-self I was not keen to go wondering into the woods around the lakes on our own. Derek on the other hand being his carefree confident-self told me that I was being a scare monger, but soon, as we were hungry we decided to go back and find a place to eat.
Jasper is a quaint town and quite delightful to explore, which is what we did. Before going for dinner we ended up at a village park where we watched elk or caribou (I am not sure which) roaming freely. We are not very familiar with these animals but we had quite a good respect for them and didn’t go too close. It is a pity that it was dusk already so we didn’t get very good photos of them. We were quite amazed that there were parks people busy herding them on with sticks that had strips cut from plastic bags attached to the one end. The swishing noise seems to be a gentle and effective way to move them on and soon after we found ourselves at a lovely restaurant enjoying a delicious meal.
The next day we met a bear: true story.
The next morning, as we prepared to leave, Derek announced “I have a migraine coming on.” “Have you taken pain killers,” I asked him. “Yes I have but I think going for a walk will ease my muscles. I think we should go back to that Lake.” I was quietly going over the facts: He was designated driver from an insurance point of view so I couldn’t offer to drive, I was aware that walking would very well ease his muscles and I was aware that there was a sign about bears but I reluctantly agreed.
Walking around the lake.
We parked the car at the lake and I nervously greeted the “bear signboard.” It was a dismal grey day so I had put my fold up umbrella in my jacket pocket “in case of rain.” Derek tried to dispel my fears by pointing out the golf course further along saying “they would not make a golf course if bears were a problem.” I was somewhat reassured. I tried to relax and enjoy the walk so I began to look around at the beauty even although the mountain looked grey and it was so dull. Just then a sunbeam broke through the clouds hitting the ground at a slant in a grassy opening beside us in the forest. I said “look at the…” then I swore as I suddenly saw the bear at the bottom of the sunbeam ….“@*@* a bear!”
Derek, not use to me swearing, was a little perturbed but when he registered I had spotted a bear he was very game to go closer to photograph it. I found myself involuntarily reversing, feeling quite divided in my loyalties. Derek pointed out that there was a fence between us but I had seen the cattle (animal) grid which I was sure the bear could walk across. “No” said Derek confidently, “it can’t get a cross that.” Well we have photos to prove him wrong.
What went through my mind at this point was that “they” say that if you look bigger you are less likely to be attacked. Whether this is true or not, I pulled out my umbrella and opened it up in from of me. (If you have read my trip through Southern Africa you will be familiar with my use of my umbrella for unusual things at Popa Falls: The ups and downs.) So I held it in front of me in an attempt at making myself bigger, all the while urging Derek to turn back. I felt like a mother busy fussing over her son. He did turn back after taking a number of photos while the bear looked at us as he crossed our path at one point. As we walked back I asked “what would you have done if the bear chased you?” He retorted “I would climb a tree;” I laughed at him “do you know that bears can climb trees faster than you?” I have a photo of me crazily holding my umbrella in front of me but it is blurred.
On the way back we met a lady walking her dogs. When she heard about our story and saw the photos she said “that’s a grizzly: I am walking back with you.” Soon we had a whole crowd of people walking back with us. I have mentioned Alisen Dopf’s post on Shoulder Season Shuffle: in it she talks about “hangry” bears in the spring and autumn months. If I had read her post before this trip I probably would have been even more scared.
That was the excitement of our trip traveling back to Banff. I kept going over the situation and marveling at what just happened. I most certainly would not have put up my hand to volunteer to be so close to a bear but having lived to tell the tail, in retrospect, it is pretty cool. Let’s say I am grateful nothing untoward happened. Banff was great, our flight back to London and South Africa was great but nothing could top our experience of meeting up with a bear.
People ask if I had some form of epiphany or message, which I also wondered about, but other than learning that I was more knowledgeable and less naive about bears than Derek I think my take-home message is: don’t go ignorantly into that dark forest lest you find you are not ready to face your fears. (You can take that figuratively or literally.)
Well, thank you for coming along on our Icefiled trip. I hope you have just enough to entice you to explore Highway 93 is a north-south highway in Alberta, Canada one day when traveling is safe again.
This is the last of our travels in Canada. Maybe next time (in the future) I will tell you about our trip in Spain.