I have a few bear stories to tell, and plan to post one a month for a while. The first one takes place in the NWT, Mackenzie Mountains, the remote upper Keele River country. It is not really a bear story but a few interesting events in a few days. I was out with NWT Outfitters, the Nelson family – an excellent run operation. Duane Nelson and George, the wrangler, and I, had taken a week horse journey over some wild country and were on the end the loop and headed back. The second last day we rode through a hemmed in low pass, rocky country with a few narrow draws headed up to our right that went no-where but up to mountain tops.
Duane was out in front, and as usual kept up a good pace with me somewhere in the middle of the pack horses, and George somewhere behind. Me often checking back often and George appearing just once-in-a-while. A dry wash came out of a narrow gorge to my right. As I crossed the rocks of the wash I heard one of the strangest things imaginable – a baby crying from somewhere up the draw. It sounded maybe a hundred yards or so up the draw. I drew up the horse and listened, thinking maybe I was hearing things. There it was again. A distinct sound of a baby crying. It was chilling moment. Tingles ran through me, a strange mix of fear, excitement and the supernatural. I knew it could not be a baby alone in the some of the most remote mountain country in North America. George was nowhere in sight. I wanted out of there and kicked my horse to go.
We made about another mile and Duane stopped to make camp for the night. No George. Duane asked when it was the last time I saw him and was not happy with the answer. We had the horses unloaded before George showed up. Duane did not say anything. That night, tucked in our bedrolls the smells of canvas and spruce and campfire, George whispered to me. “Did you hear that? He said.
“Back there, at that dry creek bed.”
So, I was not losing my mind. “sounded like a baby crying,” I said.
George was silent.
“Is that why you were late?” I asked.
“I rode up the wash,” he said.
Geez, I thought, he’s got more guts than me, I just wanted to get the heck out of there.
The next day we made hard miles to get back to base camp. Just before dark we rode the last mile. Still a long way off, Duane began to trot then run the horses. It made no sense, you don’t run loaded pack horses. As we got closer to base camp the big food cache thirty feet up in the air caught my attention. There was Rose Nelson standing high on the rim of the cache. We stormed the camp with Rose yelling at us that there was a grizzly in the camp. I wanted footage of the grizzly and as we piled off the horses I scrambled to ready the movie camera as Duane yelled up to his mom. I ran toward the brush where Rose pointed and Duane yelled, “forget the camera, get your gun!” I had a short barreled 12 gauge with 3 inch mag slugs. But it was to late. The bear, that I did not see, stood up in front and with my eye in the view finder his head literally filled the frame, maybe seven or eight steps away. Luckily it moved off. We did not see the bear again that night.
Next morning the bunch of us sat in the kitchen tent around the big table – the guides, the Nelson’s, and new hunters. We were digging into Rose’s pancakes and bacon and moose back straps.
We looked to the tent door flaps. A big grizzly bear’s head stared at us as if waiting to get invited in. We began yelling and Rose banging a pot and the bear had enough and walked off. It hung around the perimeter of the camp for most of that day.
A couple days later I rode off with Darryl Nelson and a guide and rode into a nice little meadow under a hill, where we planned to made camp. There’s a grizzly there, Darryl said from up front. Sure enough, right where we planned to camp was a big blonde bear. We stopped and tied up anyway and they began to unsaddle and unload pack horses. The bear, again, just hung around the edges of the brush. Geez, I thought, why not just ride further and camp somewhere else?
We set up the wall tent and ate a hurried meal in the dark and I stepped into the tent and they were laying out their bedrolls. Both Tom and Darryl laid the head of their bags right up to the tent wall. That bear was prowling around right outside. I thought the cheese had slipped off their burger. Mine head was laid about three feet from the tent wall. Sure enough, pitch dark, about to fall asleep, and the bears snuffing at our heads, right on the canvas. Tom and I both sat up in the dark. “you got your gun?’ he said. I already had my short shotgun in my hands, loaded with slugs, but before I even answered he was out of his bag with his flashlight and out the door. I scrambled to keep up. The bear had moved off into the brush. Geez.
So, back at main camp we are at the dinner table telling out bear tales. I think, ok, these northern guides are not even allowed to carry guns, I guess I’m worried for nothing, then Rose tells me about the nice old prospector that used to camp on the very spot we sat. And where he just disappeared from. Never to be seen again. And how one of the guides found his glasses, that he always wore, laying in the brush several yards from his tent. Ok. Deadly bear encounters are like car accidents, they just don’t happen, until they do.
Stan Walchuk, McBride, BC