- Photo Essays
It’s common knowledge that there are grizzly bears in Alaska. So on a horse-riding trip in the Talkeetna mountains in Alaska it made sense to ask our guide whether there was any chance of encountering a grizzly.
“Oh they usually tend to stay away from the horses”
The only word I heard in that sentence was “usually”.
And then this glorious piece of advice:
“If you happen upon a bear, climb a tree – if the bear climbs up after you, it’s a black bear.
If the bear pulls the tree out of the ground, shakes it until you fall out, then eats you…it’s a grizzly.”
Bears and I have an interesting history:
One of my nicknames is ‘Bear’ (‘grizzly bear’ or ‘little bear’, depending on the quality of my behaviour) ;
I was stalked by a black bear whilst hiking in British Columbia;
I have photographed polar bears in the Arctic;
My friends have decided my American Indian name would be ‘Runs With Bears’ (Sounds awesome, who am I to argue?);
My trip to the USA last year included (accidentally) visiting the only three areas in the States where grizzly bears roam in the wild;
and….oh yes, I almost forgot…
I am terrified of them!!
Or at least, I was.
Apparently Australia has one of the largest concentrations of deadly creatures.
Of the top ten deadliest snakes in the world…we have the lot!
I grew up in a world where sharks, and deadly snakes and spiders were a fact of life. I remember watching my Dad blow a venomous tiger snake to smithereens with a shotgun because it had set up shop in the sandbox where we played as kids.
As an adult I myself had to kill a Dugite snake (also highly venomous) with a spade because it had taken up residence right by my front door.
There have been 5 fatal shark attacks in less than a year (these numbers are way out of the ordinary) in my home state of Western Australia.
Do I even need to mention crocodiles?
However, ask any Australian if they live in a state of fear of these creatures and I guarantee most will say no. I imagine it is the same with the grizzly bears in Alaska: it’s all about a healthy balance of respect and caution.
So you would think that growing up in Australia would render one fearless.
We have a lot of crazy-scary critters, but we do not have bears! (and no, koalas don’t count.)
So considering the better part of my trip to the USA last year was to be spent hiking in national parks, my fear of bears posed a slight conundrum.
I saw my first ever grizzly bear in Alaska in the wilds of Denali National Park and I swear my heart stopped. Literally.
(Should it be embarrassing to admit that I was in the safety of a bus at the time?)
The following day I watched a mother and her cub feeding on berries and something shifted in me. (No, it wasn’t my heart stopping this time)
I was completely fascinated and a small amount of that fear melted away.
I had scoffed at the old “they are more scared you, than you are of them” routine. And I knew that the Golden Rule of never running away from a charging bear went against every inch of my survival instinct.
I intended to hike in Denali National Park and other parts of the Alaskan wilderness so what the heck would I do if I came face to face with a grizzly bear?
I like to think I would be as brave as this guy:
By the end of the three weeks in the bear-choked wilderness of Alaska, I had made a complete turnaround.
I saw how the Alaskans lived with the presence of the grizzlies and realized it was exactly the same way I lived with the presence of Australia’s dangerous animals: respect and caution.
(Oh, and keeping a decent firearm handy…just in case.)
But not fear.
Many hikes in the Alaskan wilds later, I felt much more at ease with the presence of grizzles. Not completely of course, but a vast improvement on how I started out.
Mind you, if I was the person holding the camera in the video below, I think I would certainly faint.
Although part of me would LOVE to see a grizzly in the wild this close, I’d feel much safer with a tiger snake at my door step over this any day!