KANANASKIS – Reports of a grizzly bear bluff-charging two women in a surprise encounter have prompted a warning for the Tent Ridge Loop in Spray Valley Provincial Park and reminders for hikers to be extra vigilant at this time of year.
According to social media reports, two women were bluff charged by a grizzly bear approximately two kilometres from the trailhead around noon on Sunday (Sept. 24).
“A group of six of us came to their rescue and set off a bear bang,” said Kait Lewis in her Facebook post circulated on Bow Valley Network.
Earlier in the morning, there was another report indicating a woman was peeing in the bush about 15 metres from the parking lot when she encountered the bear, believed to be a large breeding male grizzly who took off up the trail.
“She was less than 10 feet when he went on his hind legs, probably to smell her,” said her cousin Elle Why in her post. “She made it safely to the vehicle.”
Bridget Burgess-Ferrari, a spokesperson for Alberta Parks, said the hikers in the second surprise encounter were heading up the trail while the bear seemed to be heading down the same trail, coming to within eight to 12 metres.
"After moving away from the bear, the hikers encountered another group who set off a bear banger as a precautionary measure,” said Burgess-Ferrari in an email.
The hikers were carrying bear spray, but did not need to deploy it.
“No contact was made with the bear and the bear did not show any signs of aggression,” said Burgess-Ferrari.
“Conservation officers responded and were unable to locate the bear. The warning is in place to ensure hikers are aware that there is a bear in the area.”
As bears begin to prepare for hibernation, the risk of surprise encounters increases as they are currently focused on eating as much as possible and may be less alert.
Nick de Ruyter, program director for Bow Valley WildSmart, said there have been a few close bear encounters on trails in the last couple of weeks.
“A lot of them are now kind of out of the valley bottoms up at the higher elevations and using those trails to get around,” he said.
As they prepare for hibernation, the bears are trying to pack on more weight.
“Food is still on their mind, but also saving energy is on their mind,” said de Ruyter, noting bears will use trails when it is easier than travelling through the forest.
“That's another reason why they're using the trails and why people are running into them on the trails.” At this time of years, a lot of grizzly bear food is at higher elevations, which happens to coincide with packed trails as hikers take in the spectacular fall colours as larch trees turn from green to gold.
“There’s lots of people out using the trails, and that just increases the chance of an encounter,” said de Ruyter.
To avoid a surprise encounter with a bear, make plenty of noise, travel in groups, stay on designated trails, keep dogs on leash and carry bear spray in an accessible location.
If there is a warning in place, de Ruyter said hikers could consider hiking elsewhere in order to give the bear a bit of space and security.
“Have a Plan B or plan C if it's too busy in one spot or there's a bear warning or a closure, go somewhere else,” he said.
Hikers are also advised not to panic in the event of a close encounter with a bear.
“I like to emphasize the whole stop, talk, walk – don’t run away, stay calm, gather in a group, have your bear spray out,” said de Ruyter.
“Talk to the animal, just to let the animal know you’re not a threat, and back up slowly and leave the area… if the bear charges at you or you feel like your life is in danger, use your bear spray.”
For information on the weekly bear report, trail warnings and closures, or the how-to-use bear spray video, WildSmart is a one-stop shop.
All bear sightings in Kananaskis Country should be immediately reported to 403-591-7755.