After 2 gruelling hikes on Thursday and Friday, Julie and I decided to do something a little more mellow on Saturday. She has never seen Violet Springs or Sulphur Mountain, so we headed towards Hayden Valley early Saturday a.m. The day was sunny and warm when we hit the Valley. I stopped at the turnout south of Trout Creek to talk with a Ranger about our plans.
Trout Creek was closed due to bear activity, but he said that the postings were old. I informed him of our plans to hike off-trail from the second pull-out above Alum Creek back to Sulphur Mountain, and then proceed West out across the Valley then cut across over to Violet Springs. He said that was fine since there were no closed signed in that area. I also informed him that I had been out in this area many times before as well as the Mary Mountain Trail, and was very comfortable hiking off-trail.
So we headed out towards Sulphur Mountain keeping to the side of the hills on the way since it was still pretty wet in the lower areas. We reached Suphur Mountain and spent time exploring around the thermals. If you’ve never taken the time to see this thermal feature, you should. We proceeded on after about 45 minutes. I had plotted on my map the “route” we would take through the Valley, and then across to Violet Springs. Pretty straight forward with just a jog around a section of trees about 1.5 miles after Sulphur Mountain. Once we arrived at the section of trees, we decided to take a break and get out of the sun. We hiked up the side of the hill to the tree line and stopped to pick out a spot to sit so we could still enjoy the view of the Valley. After discussing it, we picked out a perfect spot. I lead the way, with Julie about 10 yards behind. I had to bend over a bit to get under an overhanging branch, when all hell broke loose.
I heard that distinct “crack” of timber as I straightened back up. I immediately looked to my left, and here comes a Grizzly sow, at full speed 20 yards from me, running through the timber. I immediately started yelling as loud as I could at the bear as I reached for my bear spray. Julie did the same. She was still about 10 yards away from me. As I watched her fast approaching me, her cub came into view behind her. I knew at this point it was going to be a life or death situation. Julie and I have rehearsed this scenario hundreds of times over the course of 20 years of hiking and backpacking in Yellowstone, and now it was time to see if it would pay off.
I dropped my hiking poles and turned to face the sow as she approached me. She was still running at full speed and it was amazing to witness the agility that she possessed as she cleared the fallen timbers. She stopped approximately 7 yards from me. She never made a sound this whole time. We stared at each other and I thought to myself “ok, it’s a bluff charge, now she’ll turn and run away”. That might of happened if not for her cub running up beside her. All this time I’m still yelling at the top of my lungs at her, and aiming my bear spray at her. Once the cub reached her, she bolted straight for me at full speed. I sent a burst of spray at her hoping this would make her run off, but no luck. At this point I had made the decision to stand my ground and take her on. There was nothing left to do. She closed to within 3 yards of me, right where I had laid my hiking poles down, when I adjusted for the wind direction, and then unloaded the whole can of spray on her.
As the cloud of red spray enveloped her, my last thought was “this is going to hurt like hell”. All I could see as I watched her were her eyes and her teeth as she fought with the spray. It seemed like she was still going to be able to reach me, but suddenly she reared up on her hind legs and rolled over on her side then bolted off through he trees with her cub in tow.
I stood there frozen for a minute as I watched her run off, before taking a deep breath. I looked over at Julie who had witnessed the whole episode. She was still screaming. As I ran down to where she was, she was frantic to say the least. I tried to calm her down telling her it was all over and that the bear was gone. We hiked down the side of the hill to a spot that felt safe. She took off her pack and hugged me crying. She is a real trooper, but this shook her up. She kept saying to me “I thought you were going to die”. I told her I was fine. We sat and talked about what had just happened. The whole thing didn’t last for more than 30-45 seconds, but it’s frozen in my memory for life. I eventually went back to get both of our hiking poles while blowing my whistle and yelling very loudly. As I picked up mine one was bent at a 45 degree angle. She must have stomped on it as she approached me.
We continued our hike after everything calmed down. We didn’t make it all the way to Violet Springs, but I’ll get her back there this summer eventually.
After we arrived back at my truck we headed to Canyon Village to file a report with the Rangers. We talked with 3 of them and we explained the whole incident in detail and filled out a report. I drew on their map our route so that they could see exactly where everything happened. They were very professional, and in the end, they said we did everything right in how we conducted ourselves.
I look back now after 3 or 4 days of thinking about it, and I’m proud of how I handled the situation. I was calm, and didn’t panic. I protected Julie, as well as myself. I reacted just as I hoped and thought I would.
This is a photo of me with the hiking pole. The trees in the background were where the incident occurred.
Side note… I always, I mean always carry Counter Assault Bear Spray. The minute I step on a designated trail or off-trail, it’s on my pack hip belt at hands reach. It saved my life on this day, contrary to what some might say.