Updated: May 21
First, figure out if it is a black bear or a grizzly. Make sure not to make eye contact. While it is charging you, look at its ears and face. Are the ears back, or up and forward? This will help your terrified brain decide if it is in attack mode or just bluffing. If the ears are up, it is a bluff charge and you might be able to just back away. Phew. But if the ears are back, you are in big trouble. Even the rangers say there is not much you can do.
While the bear is charging and your hands are shaking in fright, you can try to pull out your bear spray. Get it out of its holster, remove the safety, aim it at the bear’s face and wait until it is no more than 30 feet from you. (Won’t it already have covered that distance by now???) And oh, make sure you are downwind. Don’t want to spray yourself by mistake. Make sure to do all that before the bear hits you.
When all else fails, fall on your belly and play dead. Make sure your shaking legs are spread apart. Try not to pee your pants. Keep your hands behind your neck to protect it. Keep your pack on. (As if I would have time to take it off.) Lie still if the bear is riffling the pack on your back for food. Don’t let the bear, who is much bigger and stronger than you are, roll you over.
Wait for a while after the bear leaves before calmly getting up and walking away. Then either go screaming into the night or walk down the trail knowing it could happen again.
Mary Anderson is writing a book about her trek along the 3,000-mile Continental Divide Trail, a journey of healing that she undertook in her sixties. Mary hiked the southern half of the trail, from the Mexican border into Wyoming, in 2020 and will begin the northern half in a few days. You can follow her progress here on the Korongo blog.