The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By Mary Kate Teske
For the Courier 

Close Call With a Glacier Grizzly

 

October 11, 2017

Mary Kate Teske / For the Courier

Photographer Mary Kate Teske caught this sunrise on St. Mary's Lake in Glacier National Park from the eastern shore on the morning of May 28. By July 22, wildfires had threatened or consumed much of the area pictured.

Editor's note: For Fire Prevention Week (October 8-14), we are featuring several stories, images, opinion columns/letters and public service announcements related to this year's historically costly fire season.

This story was submitted by Billings-based photographer Mary Kate Teske, who writes from her family's farm in Terry, Mont. The setting for her tale is the St. Mary's Lake area of Glacier National Park. In late July, a fire exceeding 4,000 acres prompted evacuations around the lake, and consumed at least one historic structure and vehicle. Teske's story took place on May 27-28.

They weren't dogs like I had thought, but grizzly bears. To be more specific, a mother and cub duo running straight for me. Reacting, as any photographer in my position would, I snapped one photo and then took off full speed in the opposite direction. While making my escape, I thought back to ten minutes before this encounter where I was sitting alone alongside the road underneath the peaks of Glacier National Park, meditating, repeating to myself, "Show me what you want me to see." Funny, right? 

Logan's Pass was closed due to the fact it was the beginning of June, and most of the snow hadn't been plowed yet. It was my first time exploring the east side of the park, so out of curiosity, I walked the three miles of road that was cleared beyond the barrier at the entrance of the pass. During my hike, I took photos of the scenery, meditated and eventually decided it was time to walk back to my car. As I began my descent, I spotted a family and their dogs off in the distance walking toward me. I kept pace and eventually passed the family of four, a mother, father and two little girls being pushed in a stroller. I passed them, but noticed their dogs were still quite a way off in the distance. I continued to walk when the realization struck me that the two dogs were bears accelerating from a walk into a run. While hightailing it out of there, I noticed I had forgotten my bear-spray leaving me with what seemed to be my only option, to yell from the top of my lungs "BEAR!! HELP!!! BEAR!!! HELP!!!" I eventually caught up to the family, who unfortunately didn't have bear-spray either. All of us, including their eight year old and five year old, began running up the pass, adrenaline pumping, nervously  glancing at each other and back at the bears. 

After a mile of running, we reached a bend in the road that revealed a trailer. Arriving at it, we discovered the doors were unlocked, so we piled inside, set on waiting until the bears disappeared. Half an hour passed, and we began to peek our heads outside of the trailer searching for a sign that we were no longer in peril. The bears were nowhere to be seen, which led us to reconvene outside of, but still nearby, the trailer. As we waited, the five year old pulled me aside to show me the necklace she had around her neck. She extended it toward me, and in her hand I saw a giant grizzly bear claw. I looked at her, and staring back at me she said, " I knew we were going to be chased by a bear today and I knew you were going to be here too." I was taken aback by her statement, unsure of what to think. The next moment, caught all of our attention when we saw two cyclists riding our way. We asked if they had seen any sign of the two grizzlies, but they shared with us that they hadn't seen any bears. In case they reappeared, they gifted us with their extra can of bear-spray.

With all of the excitement over, I was preparing to walk back to my car, when the father of the family mentioned, "You know, we're from Texas and were planning on showing our girls snow for the first time. Would you like to join us and then we can walk back together?" Relieved, I accepted the invitation and we made our way up the road to the snow. We continued in the usual snow filled activities like throwing snowballs, building snowmen and making snow angels. As we did so, we noticed more cyclists making their way up the pass. The girls were filled with excitement as they played in the snow for their first time, but the snow chilled our skin, hurrying us into the decision that it was time to head back to our cars. Right as we decided this, we looked back at the trailer we had previously hid inside of and saw the two cyclists from before on top of it's roof. Looking closer, we saw that the bears had reappeared and were walking further up the pass. 

Stricken with fear once again, we climbed on top of the bulldozers and plows and awaited the grizzlies as they came closer. They meandered as they scavenged for food, which made their approach toward us painstakingly long. We discussed amongst ourselves what we thought we should do, whether that be cutting across the mountain, creating some sort of distraction, or waiting out the predators. Watching, waiting, and unsure of what to do, we prepared ourselves with the bear-spray we were given as the grizzlies closed in. Closer and closer they came and THEN, as if taken by some random scent, we watched as they ran up the side of the mountain, stopping amongst a cluster of shrubs. We waited to see if they would come back down, but after a few minutes of them staying in place, we took our opportunity to escape. 

We jumped from the bulldozers and hurriedly walked down the road below them, keeping a steady pace to ensure our distance from the animals. The bears continued to feast on berries and we continued to make our way to safety. The hike down the pass was filled with plenty of backward glances, but no other signs of wildlife. Finally, arriving at the parking lot four hours after our initial encounter, the family and I said our goodbyes, grateful to have had one another during that frightful experience.

My mind replayed all that had happened that day, filling me with a respect for life that I hadn't had prior. That night, as I prepared for bed, I set my alarm for sunrise hoping to at least capture one photo of Glacier that I could look back on and be happy with. I awoke that morning, with gratitude in my heart, and was blessed with an image I will forever remember.

Mary Kate Teske's work has been featured in The Billings Gazette, Glasgow Courier, Last Best News, Folk Magazine, and Yellowstone Public Radio. Check her out at marykateteske.com.

 

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