Brought back down to earth

No matter how comfortable we feel in the wilderness there is always some way to bring us back “down to earth”. Examples ranging from the riveting grandeur of the 120 million year old Rocky Mountains, to the miniscule conservation of insect structures from millions of years before that when the area of Banff National Park was first emerging from the oceans (over 500 million years ago). These examples are a unique intellectual way that we can be awed by nature, although, today Carlene and I became humbled and in a much more adrenaline filled way.

As with many biologists, we have been in the throws of nature since a young age, which has made us very comfortable in its isolation. After taking down a site in a deep marshland that bordered a cliff near Corral Creek, we decided to sneak in a bit of rock climbing before heading back to the bus. I was the first to go, and noticed a rather large Grizzly bear leaving the marsh and crossing the abandoned road. He briefly paused to look at us before continuing into the forest. It was a captivating experience where it seemed that we nonchalantly acknowledged each other.

Grizzly momma and two cubs across Bow River at Lake Louise Campground

Once Carlene started to take her turn on the cliff I noticed that the bear was curious to check us out further. Carlene and I followed proper bear etiquette by singing and talking loudly, trying to be as obnoxious as possible, although the bear was not phased. With his attention directed at us he crossed the road and began to travel down the marsh-cliff corridor that ended only with us. As enticing as a close encounter with a grizzly would be, it is very unnerving to be approached by such a large and dangerous animal, and Carlene and I were getting prepared to scale the cliff. We continued our staring contest with the bear as he came ever closer. When he was 70 m away he seemed to have a change of heart and returned to the road.

It was a fortunate opportunity that made us realize that we are at mercy to animals that are abundant in the wild (with the exception of our bear spray). Even now, I am sitting beside Bow River in the hamlet of Lake Louise watching a mother Grizzly bear graze with her two cubs not 50 m away. But, the river is between us and we can be aware of each other without sizing each other up and I don’t need to recite the “never run away from a bear” mantra. Our friend earlier today was further away, but he was singularly interested in us. It was a huge wake up call and thankfully he decided that we weren’t worth it.