Kids live to tell the tale of another family vacation

Posted July 23

If you were hiking to Avalanche Lake in Glacier National Park around noon Sunday, or to Redrock Lake around 5 p.m. Saturday, I apologize on behalf of my 3-year-old.

And, you’re welcome.

You might remember us from last year when we had a meltdown the size of Manhattan in the back of the Zion National Park shuttle. I recall standing on the side of the road in the late-August heat as I contemplated the value of bringing my children to a national park as they took turns whining, crying and complaining at the opportunity to be in one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Sometime over the winter, I forgot all about that experience. Then I woke up and booked a three-day camping trip in Montana. This time, we would show our children one of the most beautiful places in the world, but we would do it in tents with burned foil dinners, mosquitoes and bears. What could go wrong? reports that only 10 people have been killed by bears in Glacier since 1967, but they don’t say much about the “nonlethal encounters” which happen once or twice a year. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love the idea of having a bear’s jaws around my head while I play dead and wait for my “nonlethal encounter” to end.

I thought about bumping into a grizzly with her cub on the trail — the scenario most likely to trigger an attack — and wondered whose protective instincts would win. I imaged saying, “OK, grizzly, you’ve got your cub there, but I’m a mama too, so what are you going to do with that?” And then I ordered two canisters of bear spray for safety.

What could go wrong?

My husband and I researched what you should do if you encounter a bear because bears “frequented” the campsites where we stayed. We learned to make a lot of noise to alert bears of our presence so we wouldn’t surprise them on the trail.

The park’s wildlife biologist told us to clap loudly and yell “hey, bear!” intermittently as we were hiking, as often as every 10 seconds. If we did come across a bear, we were to remain calm, raise our hands overhead like a stick-up and say, “Hey, bear, it’s just me. It’s OK,” and back up.

I felt pretty confident that I could do those things and then curl myself in the fetal position if the situation escalated. I even started to feel a little safe entering bear country with my cubs, and then I had the thought: If we meet a bear on a trail and it decides to put my head in its mouth, there isn’t much I’m going to be able to do.

We decided our best bet was to make a lot of noise — an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, you know. So from the first moment we arrived at our campsite, we carried our bear mace, clapped our hands, shouted “hey, bear!” and cleaned up every little crumb.

The next morning, my daughter said, “I think we’re going to stay alive today. We made it through the night.”

Nothing like a little life appreciation to give our kids some character, I always say.

We started our hike along a stream in a rainstorm — just the kind of conditions that tend to make humans incognito to bears, but we weren’t worried. There were a lot of people on the trail.

About a mile in, we decided to load the 3-year-old in the backpack so we could walk faster. This was the ultimate indignity, even if we did promise him crackers and candy and marshmallows if he would just sit in the backpack and let me carry him.

He screamed and cried for at least 20 minutes as we continued on, passing other unwitting hikers. They had measly bells on their belts — but we had a full-blown siren that alerted bears for miles, I’m sure.

My boy fell asleep on the hike back, and I resumed clapping and shouting, just as I ran into a couple of hikers who told me they’d seen a bear scrambling around on the rocks above our heads.

Thankfully, we didn’t cross paths, and I attribute my son’s lungs for that blessing.

So, look out, national parks of America. For posterity, we’re coming for you next.

What could go wrong?

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother Fleeta.


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