Saturday, August 9, 2014

Quick, you're alone, you're hiking outside of Juneau Alaska, you round a bend on the trail and nearly walk into a full sized grizzly bear.  What do you do?

Now a prepared Ed wouldn't be hiking alone.  A prepared Ed would know that it does no good to run away.  A prepared Ed would not let the bear sense any fear.

Of course, I was none of those and I did like any stupid person in that particular situation, I nearly peed my pants, turned around and ran the other way!

I was in Juneau and rather than getting drunk in some dive bar like those I was with, I chose the higher road.  Literally.  I wanted to do a little hiking while I was there.  I wanted to get a feel for the area.  I just never expected to walk into a bear.

Looking down on the city of Juneau, Alaska
I also wasn't very observant.  There was clearly a large sign posted to the trail head bulletin board warning of a wounded bear in the area.  I never saw it.  They hadn't closed the trail but it was a bit off season and well, this was Alaska, they're just a bit more accustomed to such realities and probably have more sense than to hike up alone and inadequately prepared.

Yes, there was a sign on my trail but it wasn't as obvious as this one. Wished it were!
Still, it was a wonderful trail and it wasn't raining.  Juneau gets a lot of rain!  And snow.  Well, not a lot of snow but let's just say that I can count the number of good trail days Juneau has in Spanish and I really don't even speak Spanish.

Most people that visit Juneau are on a cruise.  They really don't have the time window to be able to get out and hike.  They make the trek over to Mendenhall Glacier and wander about town for the most part.  It's not like you can drive to Juneau. There are only about 45 miles of road around and they are locked in by the mountains on one side and the sea on the other.  You either have to fly there or boat in.

My first visit to Mendenhall was under less than ideal hiking conditions
Mendenhall Glacier is spectacular and I was fortunate to see it when it was easy to walk right up to the ice.  So much of it has melted and receded back now.  Glaciers are disappearing everywhere rapidly; go see them while you still can!

Standing at the base of the glacier
But beyond that a nice hike was definitely on my itinerary.  Coming from Oregon I am accustomed to the rain forest trees and vegetation of the area although in Alaska it is just so much more extreme.  There are no beaches coming out of the water; much of the land goes nearly straight up and the trees line the way.

But back to my unfortunate bear encounter.  I'd walked right by the bear warning sign, done a fair bit of hiking and was rounding a rock buttress.  So was the grizzly.  I came upon him and we both stopped with a distance of probably 10 feet between us.  I mentally thought, "Holy crap," turned and ran for the trees back down the trail.

Fortunately for me, the bear must have also thought, "Holy Crap!" for he took off the side of trail.  I had turned around to see if he was chasing me only to realize he had run off the trail.  The trail went down to a small stream or something and then rose back up this incredibly steep hillside.  The bear was charging up that hillside like a freight train!  I'd never seen anything like it; even on TV.  It was only then that it sunk in how ridiculous my notion of running away from the bear was.  If that bear wanted to catch me, he'd have already done so and have been gnawing on my legs like they were out of a KFC chicken box.  I cannot outrun a freight train at full speed.

After a few moments of watching him go and then shaking off my adrenalin, I decided that perhaps hiking by myself in such an environment wasn't a good thing and headed back.  I wish I had an actual photo of the bear but it's hard to operate the camera when you are pissing your pants.  It was only when I got back to the trail head that I noticed the wounded bear sign.  I was lucky that wasn't the bear.  At least, I don't think so.

And I'd like to tell you that was my one and only bear encounter.  I'd like to tell you that but I can't. I have one more ridiculous tale to share but I'll save that for a later post.


  1. On our second Alaskan cruise, we signed up for a hiking excursion in Juneau. We didn't see any bears but saw a lot of scat so we knew they were around. It was about 5 miles, the weather was great, and it was a nice way to burn off a few cruise ship calories. We did ice climbing on the glacier on our first cruise.

    I love your tales. You get into some crazy situations.

    It's sad about the glaciers. I'm glad I went to Glacier National Park when I did.

  2. reforminggeek - Ice climbing huh? I've only done that once even though I rock climbed for 25 years. Somehow rock seems more stable than ice to me...