How do you talk calmly to a bear?

When the weather finally got hot and all my spring-cleaning duties had been completed my wife and I decided that we would escape to the peace and tranquility of the Rocky Mountains for a few days. School wasn’t quite out yet, and although the July long weekend was just around the corner, it wasn’t really too busy, most of the snow was gone, and the off-season rates were still in effect at the hotels.

When the weather finally got hot and all my spring-cleaning duties had been completed my wife and I decided that we would escape to the peace and tranquility of the Rocky Mountains for a few days. School wasn’t quite out yet, and although the July long weekend was just around the corner, it wasn’t really too busy, most of the snow was gone, and the off-season rates were still in effect at the hotels.

It is totally awesome that in just a few short hours one can get away from the hustle and bustle of the city life and find yourself enjoying a quiet lunch on an old wooden picnic table next to a cold clear stream right in the middle of those majestic mountains. After getting into shorts and t-shirts it was then time to drop into the nearest tourist information centre and find out what trails and other attractions might be available for a pair of amateur hikers with wobbly knees.

The two very congenial wardens informed us that there were lots of hiking trails in the area, and that they were classified as easy, medium, or difficult-depending on our wishes. We gingerly chose easy with no bears please, and they presented us with a descriptive updated list of walks, as well as several free colourful booklets explaining many other events available. Like a couple of newlyweds we headed out into the wilderness with great gusto, and within 15 minutes we were casually wandering along one of those easy trails through the forest and up to a waterfall in the magnificent Kananaskis country.

After working up an appetite we had lunch, then relaxed beside a stream in our lawn chairs and enjoyed the scenery. Then it was off on another jaunt, which took us above, and around a very expensive golf course, which is surrounded by the ski runs and expensive hotels where Peter Lougheed and the rest of that political dynasty spent millions to play host to the Winter Olympic Downhill competitions, and later the Summit Conference.

As we later settled into the bustling Town of Canmore, where you can avoid the expensive park gate fees, we planned the rest of our adventures, then made a list of what we required or didn’t bring along. Depending on the weather 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 nature’s wonders.

When we asked about the wildlife in the area we were told that the biggest problem was usually the two-legged variety, who many times forget 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 carry 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 traveling with cubs or a mate. Also, never leave food or pets unattended.

Pro-active measures will greatly reduce the chance of an encounter with a bear, but they do not eliminate them. Always be aware of your surroundings, and if a bear approaches talk in a calm but firm tone, have your spray ready, but always try to back away slowly and get out of the area immediately to minimize your appearance as a threat. On extremely rare occasions if the contact is sudden and predatory one may have to fight back with whatever is available at hand, including sticks, rocks, etc.

What most of us have discovered many times is that our fun source of holiday treasures and family fun are to be found right here in our own Alberta backyard. While I will carefully ponder what I might calmly say if I ever run into a bear again, I will never forget the morning that our family crossed paths with a young cub in Banff, and this poor bear became so stressed at the sight of us whistling and hooting humans that it dashed away and dove straight into the Bow River. Hope that you are all having or planning your super summer, as well as having a great week, all of you.

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