Parks Canada has launched a bear-awareness campaign, called Year of the Great Bear. So although we hadn’t yet experienced a live bear, we were not surprised to experience bears in the media — to hear that bear activity had caused several campgrounds and hiking trails to be closed during our visit. (The best way to deal with a wild bear, apparently, is not to encounter it in the first place.)
We’d been in Canada for a few days, hiking around Kananaskis Country and Banff National Park. And although we hadn’t seen any bears, we had seen quite a bit of other wildlife — goats, elk, deer, ground squirrels, and to our misfortune a large number of a different type of animal — they have two legs, an upright stance, tend to carry a variety of photographic devices on straps, are often covered with synthetic fabrics, nylon packs, hats, sunglasses, etc., and travel via enormous metal boxes that spew great clouds of noxious black smoke, even when idling in parking lots.
Actually the tourists weren’t as thick as we’d feared, even in Banff, which is somewhat known for being overcrowded. But then we arrived at Lake Louise, a gorgeous blue-green lake sitting between the Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise (hotel) and Victoria Glacier, and surrounded by mountains. The parking lot and the bit of lakeshore adjacent reminded me of nothing so much as Waikiki, with overweight tourists standing shoulder-to-shoulder, posing for cameras, squawking, and irritating the hell out of me. We immediately located the nearest trailhead and set out.
100 yards up the trail we saw a paper sign tacked to a tree: “Recent bear activity in vicinity! Proceed with caution!” It had rained recently, but not as recently as this paper sign had been hung… and we stopped to think. Proceed at risk of disturbing a bear family, or return to the zoo of uncaged beasts in the parking lot? It took only a moment to decide; I’ll take the risk of seeing a bear over the certainty of a mob of tourists any day.
The sign was a blessing. We didn’t see any bears, but we didn’t see any more tourists either. Near the end of the trail, we saw a few hikers coming in the other direction, but still the contrast between the hotel grounds (Waikiki on the lakeshore) and the trail was striking. In total, we saw only about four other hikers in two hours’ time.
Yes, it’s ironic that many folks go on vacation to wilderness areas in order to get away from people, and succeed only in meeting up with hundreds or thousands of others who are also trying to get away from people. Fortunately many tourists don’t hike, and of those that do, even fewer are willing to take strenuous hikes. Getting away from people is only as hard as challenging yourself to take the more difficult, or longer trail. It’s well worth the effort. But, ahhh, you may want to bring some pepper spray. And for sure don’t read any of these accounts of bear maulings before you go!