Expect the unexpected | Reporter’s notebook

The black bear spotted on Sourdough

The black bear spotted on Sourdough

The only thing better than seeing bears is talking about seeing bears.

Viewing such an animal and living to tell the tale is perhaps a throwback to the days when our ancestors roamed the earth living in true fear of these large predators. It was a time when being in the presence of such a beast and surviving the encounter meant that you could continue the health of our species.

I learned the lesson about the power of trading stories after publishing my own bear confession in the July 30 issue of the Sounder. I took the “story less written” approach and described my failure to secure a bear viewing in the wilds of Alaska. To my surprise the next week, everywhere I went, people wanted to share their own bear stories. One reader even came to the office to gift me a book of the creatures and a photo she took of a grizzly. Another reader, Ron Myers, informed me of his bear encounter while fishing in a stream in Alaska. The bear came down to the stream and started scooping up salmon with its paws and biting into them.

“He was a better fisherman than I was,” Ron recalled with a laugh.

The enthusiasm for Ursus arctos was magical and made even more otherworldly after I finally had an up-close-and-personal viewing of our four-legged friend two weeks ago.

Yes, after publicly lamenting about this absence in my life, I found myself looking into the eyes of a very healthy and furry black bear.

The day started with a steep 5.2- mile hike up Sourdough Mountain. There were signs at the trailhead identifying the area as bear country, but I thought,”How likely would it be for me to see a bear in the North Cascades and not in Alaska?”

After a grueling five-hour hike to the top, I enjoyed the explosion of snowy peaks and decided to make my way back down the trail in the hopes of catching the 9 p.m. ferry. After several miles I met up with another hiker named Michael and we started talking, as you do. When I noticed that he had bear spray I said, “Do you seriously think you’ll ever need that? It’s so unlikely you’ll see a bear here.”

“Yeah, but if I do see a bear, I’ll be glad I have it,” he responded.

Not 15 minutes later we walked around a bend, and there was a black bear less than 10 feet away. We stepped back, and it calmly strolled off trail into the brush and started chewing on leaves about 50 feet away. The bear couldn’t care less that we were so close. I, on the other hand, was cowering behind Michael who now had the bear spray in a ready position. Luckily, we did not need to use it and after staring in awe of the bear for a good 20 minutes, we made our way safely to our cars.

No, I did not catch the ferry, but yes I purchased bear spray the following weekend.