We need to get the heck out of here!
So, what should one say when confronted by a 600 lb black bear? I can’t say for sure, but “Oh, hi” doesn’t really seem to fit the bill. At least not for most people. But then, I’m not like most people… I’m a Bear Whisperer!
Do I have your attention? Great!
Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop, Flagstaff AZ
First Lesson Learned… Sometimes finding the trailhead can be harder than the actual hike.
Before taking on this hike I read an article about the Abineau-Bear Jaw Loop trail which, in its directions on how to get there, listed a forest road that apparently does not exist. After a futile search and a bit more investigation, we finally learned that the correct road is Forest Road 151, off highway 180. Which I am listing here so you don’t have to suffer needlessly, as we did, in trying to locate this awesome trail.
This loop can be hiked in either direction, and we ( Kscrazy1 and Clutch) chose to start at Bear Jaw Trail and come down the Abineau side. It’s a 6.8 mile loop, with an elevation gain of 1800 ft. A word of warning, about halfway up Bear Jaw the trail gets fairly steep and is a bit of a grunt to climb, but the reward of being led to groves of tall Aspen trees quickly makes the sweat well worth it. It also provides the perfect place to rest, drink some water, and sit in awe of your surroundings.
Second Lesson Learned… “DO NOT FEED THE BEARS”
When we reached the top of Bear Jaw trail (which ends on the rather wide and flat Waterline Road) Clutch and I were hungry and decided to sit by a rock in the shade just a few feet from the trailhead to have our lunch. As I ate my sandwich I began throwing large chunks of my bread roll into the woods behind me. I didn’t feel like eating all that bread, so why not leave a treat for a hungry critter? (Did I just break a cardinal rule?) Eventually I turned my head to see where my bread was landing, and instead of finding bread I found a very large bear standing no more than 20 feet away, watching me intently. Our eyes met and I gave him a bit of a calm, “Oh, hi”. This calmness in me was rather odd, considering I’m the type of girl to scream bloody murder when a moth flies into my car. I reached for my camera just as Clutch turned his head to see what “hiker” I was so sweetly greeting. When to his surprise the “hiker” turned out to be a huge bear, he immediately stood up and said “We need to get the heck out of here!”. Apparently Clutch was more in his right mind than I was. As we both stood, the huge Cinnamon colored bear turned and bolted down the trail we had just climbed up (pictured on left). The thunderous sound this (obviously 600+ lb) bear made as he high-tailed it away from us was akin to a bulldozer knocking over trees!
Third Lesson Learned… NEVER, NEVER, NEVER RUN FROM A BEAR!
I started walking down the road, as directed by Clutch, while he went back to get our gear we left in the shade. I turned around just in time to see a SECOND, even LARGER, bear charging toward Clutch. He started running toward me, yelling as he turned his head to look at the bear gaining on him. At this moment, I calmly said, “Stop running”. Now, you are probably thinking I suddenly remembered what I had read in some survival book, as to what one should do when confronted by a bear; i.e. ‘don’t run or you will be chased’, etc. And you might assume I had Clutch’s best interest at heart. But you would be wrong on both accounts. Honestly, I just didn’t want him bringing the charging bear in my direction! So far, I would say that my reaction in this crisis has been far from stellar. Thankfully, the second bear made a sudden, sharp detour off Clutch’s trail and barreled down the same path as the other bear.
As the dust settled, Clutch and I looked at each other without a word. Then we slowly retrieved our gear and continued down the path toward the Abineau trailhead at Waterline Road. My first words since the ” stop running” comment were, “I can’t believe you didn’t let me get a picture of that bear!” (The picture above is the closest I could find to what we encountered.) Clutch looked at me incredulously and said, “I saved your life, you’re welcome”.
Oh, and for the record, the stories you hear about idiots approaching bears to get a good picture? When their dead bodies are found holding their cameras with the last picture recorded being a close up of a bear, everyone assumes the idiot approached the bear; now I am living proof that sometimes a bear approaches you. So no more judging!
The steep climb down Abineau trail greeted us with lovely views and snow covered trails. We noted an abundance of fallen trees across the trail and wondered if, perhaps they were the victim of spring winds causing micro-bursts to whip across the mountain side again and again. As we climbed over and around trees we talked of nothing else but the bears. We laughed at my abnormally calm greeting to the bear. I am here to say I did not feel threatened at all. IF I had been alone, I’m pretty sure I would have tried to get a selfie hugging that bear. Whether that reaction was shock, stupidity, or it just so happens I have no fear of bears, it is still a little baffling. But after analyzing the encounter for a few days I have come to this conclusion:
I am a Bear Whisperer.