Tuesday, January 3, 2012


I have a confession to make. I am afraid of bears. One of the many things that attract visitors to Yellowstone is to see bears in their natural habitat. I certainly love seeing the road-side bears from the safety of my car, or standing with hundreds of other visitors who spot a bear in the distance (safety in numbers, right?) but encountering one on a trail miles from the road with just your family, even armed with a can of bear spray, is quite something else. This fear has severely limited my hiking experience in the park. There are so many great off-the-beaten path hikes I would love to do, but my fear of a bear encounter holds me back. My husband wants to go backpacking in Yellowstone, aka staying overnight in a remote campground. No way!

Last summer, we (my husband, two teenage sons, and I) were on an early morning hike near Canyon, on the Ribbon Lake Trail. Due to the severe winter weather that year, many trails were still covered with snow, and the trail crews hadn't had the chance to come through and clear this particular trail. It led through a dense forest, with many downed trees to scramble over. We must have been about two miles into the trail, when my mind went into panic mode. We probably saw one or two other hikers, but there were plenty of bear tracks everywhere.
I refused to continue on, and insisted we turn around. Seeing a lake in the middle of the forest was just not that important to me at the time. Reluctantly, my husband turned us around. My kids had great fun mocking me, and my fear, for the remainder of our stay.
Two weeks later, I read a news account that a hiker had been killed by a grizzly in Yellowstone along the Wapiti Lake Trail. It was the first bear-caused fatality in the park in over 25 years. The attack occurred just a few miles south of the Ribbon Lake Trail  that I chickened out on, less than a week after we were there.

Excerpt from Yellowstone Heart Song:

A foul, sour odor filled the air, and she curled her nose in protest. She knew immediately what it meant. Her eyes darted around frantically as her legs went rubbery from the jolt of adrenaline that flooded her system. She spotted the carcass of a partially eaten elk half-buried in dirt, confirming her worst fears.
“Oh, crap!” Her feet remained rooted to the ground even as her brain told her to get the hell out of the area. When she finally willed her legs to move, a huge grizzly came charging at her from the woods. The beast let out a loud roar, baring huge yellow teeth as drool hung in long strands down its mouth. The breeze carried the stench of rotten flesh that emanated from the predator’s jaws, and Aimee backed up quicker. Hopefully the bear was just bluffing, and it would realize she wasn’t any threat to its food. Her heart pounded violently and her whole body shook.
Stay calm. Don’t turn and run or you’re dead. She had to force herself to heed her own words while every survival instinct in her body screamed at her to run away as fast as possible. She’d gladly give her right arm at the moment for a can of bear spray.
The bruin stopped its charge. It scratched at the ground with enormous paws, moving its head from side to side. Its large nose twitched back and forth, sniffing the air. The bear huffed several times, and then let out another earsplitting roar.
 Realizing the grizzly geared up for another attack, her eyes widened. She stumbled backwards, nearly tripping on a rock. Just as she envisioned huge claws ripping her apart, the ground suddenly dropped out from under her feet. Her arms flailed wildly and she groped for any kind of hold on a rock or protruding tree root. Her throat tightened, and her jaw clenched. Her efforts prevented a complete free fall, but the downward momentum proved too great to get a solid grip on any object. Her ribs jutted against unyielding rocks, knocking the air from her lungs. Roots and small trees cut into her arms and hands.  When would she stop falling? It felt like an eternity, like she’d been sinking all her life. Her limbs became numb to the sensation of slamming against hard rocks. She stopped hearing the debris falling along with her. Her momentum increased, and her stomach rose to her throat. The sensation of floating through the air, then a sudden hard impact.


  1. Hello there! You don't know me...but I just found your blog by looking up Yellowstone stories! This is fascinating! Funny, the same time in 2011 you and your family would have been hiking the Ribbon Lake Trail, my husband and I were as well. We too saw grizzly tracks. In fact, they were so fresh, one set of tracks was literally filling up with water. We discussed turning around. I had a bad feeling (mental or intuitive, whose to say?!) My husband wanted to keep going. Seconds later, we walked around a corner and heard a bear huff. We never saw the bear....but turned around quickly. (Ok, my husband turned around, I freaked out a little mental and turned around, but kept my senses enough to NOT run). Anyway, I wanted to share that because you nailed adrenaline perfectly. I'm not sure if it was the same bear that killed the hiker later in the week---because we didn't see cub tracks, but still it was hair raising to be that close and not see it! However, I am happy to say that this year (2013) I finally "allowed" my husband and I to go back and complete the hike. It is absolutely gorgeous.

    Because of your blog, I'm going to go read one of your books. We are obsessed with Yellowstone and the Tetons and I'm excited to have found you!

    1. Hi Kellie,
      Thank you for your post. Ironically, during the time you posted this, I was in Yellowstone, and therefore have not had the chance to post a reply until now. We completed the Ribbon Lake Trail this year. I felt much safer in a larger group, and we saw no bear activity on this trail this time. It was a great hike.
      Thanks for posting, and I hope you enjoy the story!