Hammertime: Getting down to bear facts

Enjoying the wildlife spots while still staying safe in the Rocky Mountains

Mike Rainone

Hammertime

Now that we are retired my wife and I can usually make those zany ‘spur of the moment’ getaway plans, email the kids, adjust the calendar on the fridge, and then hit the road for a few days of R & R.

It was a few years ago in May, when school was still in session that we decided to pack up the little red Mazda and escape to the peace and tranquillity of the Rocky Mountains of Alberta, when it wasn’t very busy, most of the snow was gone, and the off-season rates were still available at the hotels.

It is totally awesome that in just a few short hours and one quick stop for coffee and a bathroom break, one can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and find themselves cruising along in sight of those magnificent ‘Rocky monuments.’ and surrounding landscape. Along the way we pulled over to enjoy a quiet lunch on an old wooden picnic table next to a crystal clear lake, and then later after getting into shorts and t-shirts we dropped into the nearest tourist information centre to find out what trails and other attractions might be available in the immediate area for a pair of amateur hikers with wobbly knees.

The two very congenial wardens informed us that there were lots of hiking trails available and that they were classified as easy, medium, or difficult-depending on our wishes and the physical condition of all would be ‘happy hikers.’ We gingerly chose easy with no bears please, and they kindly presented us with a descriptive updated list of walks, as well as several free colourful booklets explaining many other events that were available at all times of the year. Like a couple of newlyweds we headed off out into the wilderness with great gusto, and within 15 minutes we were casually wandering along one of those easy trails through a forest in the pristine Kananaskis country that was blessed with hoodoos, magnificent waterfalls (some still frozen), and lots of big old logs to sit on, thank goodness.

We later settled into a motel in the bustling Town of Canmore, where you can avoid the expensive park gate fees, and after a nap planned our adventures for the next few days as well as making a list of what we forgot to bring and what we needed to survive during our trek into the wilderness.. Depending on the weather, at most times of the year, they claim that tourists should dress in layers to prepare for anything, wear good running shoes or hiking boots (not sandals or high heels), and while preparing your trusty back pack, always include bug and bear spray, water, a few munchies, your cell phone just in case of problems, and of course a camera to capture all of natures’ wonders.

When we asked about the wildlife in the area we were told that the biggest problem was usually the two-legged varieties, who just love to get up close and personal to catch the perfect selfie while often forgetting to respect and protect the delicate landscape and inhabitants. Of course there are deer, mountain sheep, wolves, coyotes, elk, moose, all sorts of birds and bugs, and the odd bear and cougar wandering around in the natural habitat that initially was their own, and now has to be shared. They say that the best way to help avoid encounters of the furry kind is to hike in groups, make lots of noise, and be prepared by packing such items as…bells, a whistle, horn, bear banger, a couple of cans of bear or pepper spray, and a really big walking stick.

I found a very interesting article in the Canmore weekly newspaper on how to avoid bear encounters, which are usually rare, but could happen at any time in most areas of the parks. Most contacts with black or grizzly bears are defensive or predatory, and those usually grumpy critters will resort to just about anything to move us out of their area, especially if they are feeding, or travelling with cubs or a mate. Also, there have been many bear sightings already in the Provincial Parks and other areas this summer, so please remember to never leave food or pets unattended, always be aware of your surroundings, obey posted warning signs that bears or other wildlife are in the area and get out of there immediately to minimize your safety.

Whatever the case we had a great time on our little get-away, saw lots of wildlife and magnificent scenery from the bottom to the top of that mostly still untouched and unlettered wilderness, and even managed to get a good photo from the safety of our vehicle of a young bear eating berries. Let’s all strive to enjoy our summer holidays to the fullest no matter what activity we may choose, but along the way to respect, protect, and maintain the amazing alive and growing natural environment and inhabitants that through the ages were delicately created for the pleasure of each and every one of us. Have a great week, all of you.

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