Author Topic: Signal Mountain, Wyoming  (Read 6921 times)


  • Enjoying life in the slow lane
Signal Mountain, Wyoming
« on: 20 August, 2018, 08:09:27 pm »
The ride was going beautifully. Then I met the bear.

I was climbing Signal Mountain, in the Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. It's not a particularly hard climb - a little over five miles at a steady gradient - but I was keen to try it because it would take me up to about 7,500ft, which is much higher than I am used to and I was planning a much higher climb a week later so wanted to see how I would cope at altitude.

I warmed up - so to speak, as the temperature was already in the mid-30s when I set off - with a 15 mile cruise from my campsite through the park. Turning off the main road, past the signs warning that the winding road ahead was unsuitable for vehicles longer than 25ft, I went from open space, with stunning views of the Teton mountain range, in to dense woodland, banking up on each side of the narrow road. I could see a little way into the trees on each side but, frankly, almost anything could have been in there and I'd have been unlikely to notice it until it was right by the road.

I knew about bears, of course. Any visitor to Grand Teton or the adjoining Yellowstone National Park is bombarded with warnings about the danger, warned not to hike alone and strongly advised to carry bear repelling spray*.  I had taken on board all of that advice and, foolishly, assumed that a bear was unlikely to be hanging around on a popular road, with cars buzzing up and down, in the middle of the afternoon.  And so I pedalled comfortably through the first mile or so of gently undulating forest road, enjoying the peace and musing over what kind of view I would get from the top of the mountain.  I rounded a bend, on a slight incline, and there he was, on all fours, slap bang in the middle of the road about 40 feet in front of me.

I am pleased to recall that I didn't panic. Had I succumbed to my immediate thought, to turn around and get back down the hill as quickly as possible, I might not be here to write this. I had read that the worst thing you can do when faced with a bear is to run away. Apparently, they enjoy the chase as much as the subsequent munch. So I stopped, dismounted, and backed away very slowly with the bike held in front of me (as everyone knows, a bicycle is a highly effective defence against a charging bear  ::-)), all the time avoiding eye contact and talking calmly to make it clear that I was a human. I can't remember what I was saying but I suspect it was gibberish.

All seemed to be going well. Then a car came down the hill, behind the bear. And rather than stop immediately, the driver chose to get within a few feet of the animal so that his kids could lean out of the windows and take photos.  :facepalm:  Not surprisingly, the bear took exception to this encroachment on to his bit of road and decided to move away.  Towards me.  Luckily, he didn't move very fast, but I'm not embarrassed to say that I was scared at this point.  He came a bit closer, now about 30ft away, then stopped again.  Suddenly, there was a new factor to consider - another car that had just come around the bend and stopped immediately behind me.

This was my saviour, or so I thought. There was a certain logic in placing another, large and metal, object between me and the bear. Very slowly, I edged alongside and then around the back of the car.  Caught in a vehicle sandwich, the bear began to pace restlessly from one side of the road to the other, still coming closer towards where I was lurking.  Then, without warning, he leapt up the bank to the side of the road and started to amble among the trees.

I think at that point, all involved assumed that our little encounter was about to be over. Another car had now come down the hill and was spilling its camera-wielding occupants all over the road.  As some of them were small kids, I reasoned that this was helpful as, given the choice, any bear would be bound to go for an easy meal rather than take on an adult. He had now come along the bank and was almost parallel to the car behind which I was cowering.

Not wanting to take any chances, I edged back alongside the car, so that it was still between us.  This turned out to be a smart move as the bear jumped back down on to the road and approached the very spot at which I had been standing.  There were a couple of mountain bikes strapped to the back and, perhaps because they would have the smells of previously-ridden trails on them, these became the focus of his attention.  However, so far as I was concerned, I was still fewer than six feet from a large black bear, so continued to take baby steps towards the front of the car.

Thank goodness for those bikes.  Whatever it was about them, it was enough to occupy him completely. He began clambering over them, pawing at the tyres and making the rear end of the car rock up and down.  That was enough distraction for me to gently back away up the hill, towards the gawping onlookers.  I wonder how many holiday photos I appear in.   As soon as I was out of direct sight, I was back on the bike and continued the climb, albeit a little more nervously than before.

The car with bikes came past about 15 minutes later.  The driver reported that the bear had ended up on the roof and they had resorted to beeping the horn and jerking the vehicle to drive him away.  I expressed my hope that he really had gone away and wouldn't be waiting for them on their (or my) return!  A couple of cyclists who reached the top about 10 minutes after me reported that they had spotted him among the trees but that he had shown no interest in them. 

As for the climb - it was lovely and the view from the summit worth the effort. There's a photo on Twitter if you're interested. But I made sure that I took the descent in company, tailgating (with permission) a large SUV all the way down. 

And if I were to cycle in that region again, I'd do it with company - and a can of bear spray in one of the bottle cages.

* Bear spray is a powerful repellent that is to be used when an attacking bear is within a few feet of you. I was told that once a bear has experienced one spraying it will back off as soon as it sees the canister appear, but I'm not sure I would want to chance it.  It stinks to high heaven whichi is why purchasers are repeatedly reminded that it is to be sprayed at the bear and not all over the body, as you would with insect repellent  :facepalm:

Why should anybody steal a watch when they can steal a bicycle?

Re: Signal Mountain, Wyoming
« Reply #1 on: 20 August, 2018, 08:27:43 pm »
Was Mr Larrington in the vicinity ?    ;)

Bears put my bite on the leg from a French dog in perspective.    There were several campsites & Oregon & Northern California where I had to put all of my food & toiletries in lockers, and one said they'd had a bear in the day before I arrived.    Sitting in the dusk cooking a tasty meal became an interesting experience....  :jurek:

Pictures please.  Grand Teton looks gorgeous.
Not fast & rarely furious

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