The Bear Truth: Grizzly Bears In Alaska


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.”




Talkeetna horseriding

Looking über cool and calm and not at all afraid of all the grizzly bears that are probably waiting to pounce on me and my horse…


A Short History


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.


Polar bear roaming the tundra near Hudson Bay in the Canadian Arctic

Polar bear roaming the tundra near Hudson Bay in the Canadian Arctic



The Big Three: Snakes and Spiders and Sharks


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?



The not-at-all-deadly but very hairy Huntsman spider. Melbourne, Australia.



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.


Um, no.


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.


denali grizzly

Grizzly bear in Denali National Park, Alaska.


Embracing the Fear


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.


denali grizzly

Grizzly bear mother and her cub in Denali National Park, Alaska.


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:




A Change of Heart


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.


Hiking Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park

Hiking Cathedral Mountain in Denali National Park


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!





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Comments (10)
  • Avatar

    Kim Aug 20 2012 - 9:53 pm Reply

    You are much braver than I! I’ve also been stalked by a black bear which lead to my complete phobia of bears. I’ve never been to Alaska but spent this summer backpacking around grizzly country. I surprised my in that I could do it and enjoy it but the fear never completely went away. Beautiful pictures too!
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      Quiet Wanderings Sep 26 2012 - 4:54 pm Reply

      I don’t think the fear ever really goes. It’s always there niggling in the back of your mind. I am so impressed you backpacked through grizzly country though! I think you guys would love Alaska, Kim!

  • Avatar

    Trish Aug 20 2012 - 10:01 pm Reply

    Your dad seems awesome!

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    Bram Sep 3 2012 - 10:18 pm Reply

    I’ve always been fascinated by bears and honestly I can’t wait to actually see one in the wild. Sharks are the things that really freak me out. It’s a little irrational, but I can’t help it!

  • Avatar

    Krista Sep 10 2012 - 10:19 am Reply

    I discovered you on Facebook earlier this week and am visiting your blog for the first time. I love it. :-) Your photos of Alaska are so gorgeous. I grew up in Northern Canada and now live in Queensland. :-) I didn’t grow up afraid of bears because they’d wander through my grandparents property and along the highway so I was used to them. UNTIL I went to visit my aunt and uncle in British Columbia a couple of years ago and THIS happened: Now I’m scared of bears too. :-) I’m learning to not be afraid of snakes here in Oz, but don’t always manage it. :-)
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      Quiet Wanderings Sep 26 2012 - 4:49 pm Reply

      Wow, I can’t imagine what a culture shock it must be to go from living in Northern Canada to Queensland!! No bears there 😉 But yes, lots of snakes in Oz which can be daunting at times.
      Great post and I am very familiar with that ‘pulse racing’ moment you mention, especially when it comes to bears! Thanks so much for following QW, Krista

  • Avatar

    Foto clipping Feb 24 2014 - 12:50 pm Reply

    Daring and scary as hell…You are really very brave.
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    Foto clipping Mar 15 2014 - 12:35 pm Reply

    Wonderful photos…captured so beautifully.
    Foto clipping recently posted..FotonishMy Profile

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    Trish May 26 2014 - 11:54 pm Reply

    I’m happy to read that someone else feels the same way I do (or at least you did.) I am frozen in fear with bears. My Dad actually used to do traveling lectures about bears in the US (random I know!) and is currently working on a book about them. I’ll send you one when he finished. We did a back country hike in Denali and I was so scared it was almost debilitating.

    I do really enjoy this short clip of the polite bear waving.

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