Martin: Being hunted by a bear in Yellowstone
September 8, 2017
Have you ever been hunted by a bear?
No? Then take a trip to Yellowstone and, if you're foolish enough (like me) to go meandering around trails at night, you may just have the encounter of your lifetime.
It's been a few years since Nate and I left our week-long trip to the largest national park in the country, but the story is still fresh on my mind.
Two days into our adventure at Yellowstone National Park, we set up camp at Norris Campground, the second campsite we occupied during the trip.
The tent was erected, the campfire wood readied alongside the fire pit and we had time to spare before it was time for a campfire dinner. With this extra time, we decided to head just a mile down the road to the Norris Geyser Basin, home to Steamboat Geyser, one of the largest geysers in the park that only erupts like every 50 years or so.
The sun dropped behind the mountains so quickly that we were left stumbling around, unprepared, in the darkness. It was an unanticipated adventure and quite possibly a foolish venture at that time of day.
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We begin touring the basin, walking on boardwalks with a few couples walking passed us, saying hello and, unbeknownst to us at the time, heading back to their vehicles because it was about to get dark. We underestimated the length of trails to tour the basin and, as the sun hid behind Yellowstone's peaks, we ended up on an unlit trail that maneuvered through a small forest.
I tried not to panic.
Earlier that afternoon, we had finished a long, steep hike up to Monument Geyser, nestled atop one of the smaller mountains. At that time we were prepared with a backpack of supplies, water, proper clothing and sturdy shoes. Now at Norris, standing alone on that dark, sandy trail in the forest, we were caught unprepared. We were sufficient bear food, advertised out in the open.
We made noise along the trail. My shaky voice keeping a random conversation up with Nate to distract any potential bear threats.
"Hi, I'm Bryce, how are you?" I repeated aloud.
They tell you to make noise when walking trails to alert bears of your presence. Not possessing bear spray, we did all we could. Nate even picked up a large rock, calling it his bear rock.
I laughed, imagining him pelting a huge grizzly with the small stone. Good luck, Nate, I pictured myself saying.
As we approached a bend in the trail, the trees getting closer together and everything becoming harder to see, we heard it. It wasn't faint by any means. It was as clear as day – a bear growling immediately ahead of us.
We didn't follow procedure. We ran.
We ran about a half-mile back the way we came and down another trail, up to a map of the area. We were near the entrance! My heart beat faster with every step. I called out to the heavens, "Somebody help us!"
As fast as our legs would carry us, we ran back to the parking lot. I could see the blue SUV ahead of me, but I didn't stop to take a breath. I kept running. I heard an "Oh, my God" behind me, but didn't turn around.
Now standing next to the car, I fumbled with the keys and managed to press the unlock button, but only once. Nate was left outside. I fumbled again, trying to unlock his door.
It was unlocked, he jumped in the car and we sped off.
When we reached the main road, I finally took a breath and that's when Nate told me he had heard the loud bear growl again in our vicinity as we were running to the car. He no longer had his bear rock. I could do nothing but laugh.
That was one of the four bears we met with on the trip. And only one of the many adventures we shared.
Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, the Beartooth Highway – it's all so beautiful and wildly surpassed my expectations on the trip.
I can't wait to go back. But next time, I won't make the mistake of getting myself hunted by a bear.
Bryce Martin is editor of Sky-Hi News.