Do you know what to do if you have a close encounter with a bear? Here is Tom Covenay’s account of what happened when he screamed and ran from a bear a few weeks ago while out on a run on a trail in the Elk Valley. Thank you Tom for sharing your story.
“Well I’m struggling to sleep so I thought I’d write it out in full. Yesterday evening I set out to do a quick 5km run on the cross country ski trails at the Fernie Alpine Resort. So I ran from our hotel over to the start of the trails, I didn’t have best feeling about it from start.
Anyways I set off down the trail, I’m generally very aware of bears so I was shouting and making lots of noise from the off. I had gone at most 600m (could still some of the condo buildings) and was heading uphill when I heard crashing behind me. I turned and a black bear was charging me, when I first saw it was about 10m away but got to within 1m.
I didn’t have time to react other than to start screaming at it. We circled each other for a minute or so, me shouting and trying to look as big as possible. The bear was not so much being aggressive more curious; it didn’t stomp or make any sounds. In somewhat pure panic i threw my jacket at him, he was somewhat interested in it. I was able to start backing off and probably made it 200m back down the trail. I then really screwed up; I couldn’t see the bear so I started to run.
I probably made it another 200m (could see the parking lot through the trees) when I turned and saw the bear chasing after me. I’ve heard stories about how fast they are but nothing prepared me for the reality. It was probably the most awe inspiring/utterly terrifying thing I’ve ever seen.
The bear caught up with me blocking my escape. We had another standoff; he blocked my escape and forced me back up the trail. At times he probably got to within 2 feet of me, I was close to trying to punch it as a last resort.
At this point he backed off a little and I was able to call 911. I spoke with dispatch for the entire rest of the encounter. The bear forced me back almost to where I had first seen him. He stood on his hind legs watching me from about 100m away and then took off back down the trail to the parking lot. My only thought was what do I do now, my escape was blocked and I had no idea where the bear was!!
Dispatch advised I stayed where I was, for the next 5 mins or so there was no sign of the bear. I found some rocks and a small branch, at least it was something to fight back with. Out of nowhere the bear came crashing through the forest on my left on an old quad trail. We circled each other I was screaming and throwing what rocks I had. I managed to work my way round so i was down trail of him.
For the next couple of minutes I slowly walked backwards constantly watching him. After a 100m or so I turned a bend in the trail and lost sight of him. I was then able to walk back to the parking lot, once there I ran as fast as I could to the nearest hotel where I ran into the RCMP and a conservation officer.
I went back up the trail with the conservation officer (armed with a rifle) to the spot. I snapped the below photo of where it went down and got my jacket (intact). We found tracks and signs he had been foraging under rocks when I disturbed him on the side of the trail. CO estimated it to be a 2 – 3 year old male black bear.
What’s really kept me awake tonight is what I did wrong. If this maybe helps someone down the line then that would be awesome.
- Trust your gut – I really didn’t have a good feeling about my choice of route. I almost bailed and ran on the road.
- Bear spray – if you are in bear country always take bear spray with you. I always do, except this time.
- Expect the unexpected. I’ve spent the last 4 years climbing mountains, running crazy trail races, exploring the back country and have never had a problem with bears. Of course the night I choose to go run a crappy x country ski trail is the night I run into a bear.
- Don’t ever run- this was the dumbest thing I did. They are so fast. The sight of the bear running me down is something that will live with me forever.
- Make noise- I thought I was making lots of noise bit it clearly wasn’t enough. I think i did job of making use of what i had at the time. He really didn’t like the screaming and the rock throwing. Having my phone and being in cell service was a huge plus.
I don’t think the bear was necessarily being aggressive. I completely surprised him and from then on it was a game. According to the CO they will try and trap him and move him on elsewhere.
All in all it was a terrifying yet completely humbling experience. I have to feel that as we humans continue to expand, these animals will be pushed into an increasingly smaller pocket and encounters like this will become more regular.”
For information on how to stay safe in bear country go to www.wildsafebc.com