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.