When you first think about travelling to Canada, you immediately picture the wildlife. There will be coyotes, eagles, beavers, moose, racoons, goose and lastly, bears. Everyone considers running into a grizzly bear as one of the most dangerous things that could happen when exploring the Canadian wilderness. For weeks this idea has made me extremely paranoid when walking through the woods, especially since Vancouver is close to the mountains.
After several hikes and months, I was starting to wonder whether the common sightings of bears was actually a myth. Surely they don’t really come and raid through residential garbage bins do they? Should we really be taking bear spray into the woods with us and attaching bear bells to our backpacks? I hadn’t seen any evidence that these precautions were necessary. However, people were always telling us that bears were really a real thing.
Last weekend Leo and I went camping for a night with some friends of ours. Yes, we have Canadian friends now! On our drive up to Alice Lake Campground, near Squamish, off of the scenic Sea to Sky highway, we discussed the natural beauty of British Columbia and its majestic mountains, lakes and waterfalls. If you haven’t done this drive already, I suggest you get in the car and do it. There are so many places to stop along the way – both lookouts and campsites – and it is perfect.
As we pulled into our campsite, one of us (I can’t remember who) shouted, “Look, there’s a bear!” No joke – the car slowed down and there was a small black bear on the edge of the road. The park ranger was nearby and in a matter of seconds, the bear bounded back into the green bushes. But not before we got a good look at him. Leo and I turned to each other. We literally couldn’t believe that the first thing we saw on our first camping trip was a bear.
It had beautiful black fur and from a distance looked cute. We know that black bears are less aggressive than grizzly bears. If you had to choose between meeting one of the two, you would always choose the black bear. This does not mean, however, that they are welcoming and enjoy a good pat. No – we know never to approach any type of bear. I think my mother will have a heart attack when she reads about our bear sighting…
Leo and I were pumped after this experience and we hadn’t even put up our tents yet! Later, we learnt from the Park Ranger that the bear we saw was two years old and known for being very curious. We were also notified that there was five active bears in the area. I can’t say that I didn’t worry every time I had to walk to the amenities block. In fact, I made sure Leo came with me – I used the excuse that I didn’t have a torch, which was totally true of course.
The rest of the evening involved starting a fire in the dark (we arrived pretty late), cooking vegetarian sausages over the flames, making vegetable kebabs and watching our friends try and roast some potatoes in foil. We used nothing other than the fire to cook our meals. Consequently we didn’t eat until 11pm, oops.
I loved the feeling of sleeping outside for the night. We woke up at 5am to the sounds of birds. At 7am we watched a tiny squirrel scurry under the moss-ridden logs that surrounded our tents. I imagined that he was spying on us, waiting for someone to leave him some tasty breakfast crumbs. Again, breakfast consisted of chargrilled tomatoes, bread and veggie sausages over a more successful fire.
We didn’t see another bear for the remainder of our camping 24 hours, but thoughts of this furry mammal were never far from my mind. Next time it might be on a hike that I see one, in which case I believe I would have a heartache, or possibly pee my pants. The advice we’ve been given in this situation is to look big, stay as a group and back away slowly – in case you wanted to know.
The truth is most people think of bears as ferocious creatures who can kill you with one swipe. What we forget is that we are also killing them. Many of these wonderful animals die because we leave food out at night or get too close because we want the perfect holiday snap. Don’t we have the responsibility to look after them, admire them from afar but not to intrude into their personal space?
I left Alice Lakes with a new appreciation for Canada’s nature and a desire to explore more. I also left with the awareness that it was me who was crossing into bear territory, not the bears climbing into ours. They are the natives after all.
What do you think? Have you had any face-to-face encounters with bears?