Posted by: stacylynn12 | August 5, 2011

The Grizzly Story

Ok, I wasn’t planning on making this a post in and of itself. But you asked and well, I aim to please. So, here it is…

The Grizzly Story.

Once upon a time there were 3 boys and a Mama. That’s me.

There was no porridge or rocking chairs involved but they did decide to go out for a walk in Denali National Park, a place where bear sightings (among other creatures) is all but guaranteed.

But let me back up a day, to better set the scene.

We had been camped at Teklanika Campground at mile 29 along the ~90 mile Denali Park road. If you have a reservation at this campground you are granted special permission to drive your personal vehicle to it. Once there you must park and take the shuttle bus to all other points within the park.

As the shuttle bus lumbers along the gravel road, tourists peer out in all directions looking for wildlife. If you see something cool you are to shout “stop!” and direct the fellow binocular toting tourists toward said creature.

On our first bus trip we saw huge herds of caribou, moose, a lynx (which apparently was a very rare sighting), a ptarmigan and some Dall sheep. We took a short hike at a beautiful place called Polychrome Pass. It was a great day. Except that we did not see one single bear.

The next day we rode the bus back up to Polychrome and went for another hike. Denali is unique for many reasons, one of them being that there are almost no trails. Our hiking, all above treeline, was quite delightful – crossing the wide open alpine tundra. Our kids were rock stars and we hiked for hours up to a ridge top, followed the ridge up and over a summit and raced back down a steep slope to intercept a passing bus to return back to camp. (Buses pick up hitchhikers at any point along the road.)


Another great day of wildlife sightings but again, no bears. We were beginning to think we’d be the only people ever to come to Denali and not see a freak’in grizzly bear.

On our 3rd full day in the park we decide to take it mellow and not spend several hours riding the shuttle bus. Our campsite sat on the edge of the Teklanika River – a classic Alaskan landscape where braids of glacial output create ever changing flows through a wide open gravel bed. We decided to go for a hike from our campground.


We wandered the gravel bars away from camp hopping over small channels of the river and found our way to a small but prominent cliff with a sweeping view of the river valley. After scrambling up to the cliff top and stopping for a snack break, we decided to follow the trail down the other side of the cliff – through dense willows and small spruce trees.

Shortly after beginning to descend we came upon some fresh…gulp…bear scat. A huge colorful mound of red berries and twigs.

Joshua, our youngest, has grown quite fond of scat during our trip and shrieks with delight upon finding a pile of the stuff. He and his brother, the budding naturalists that they are, can now identify quite a few varieties. I know, it’s weird but it warms my heart to see them picking through poop trying to figure out what the animal ate. This particular pile was clearly the recently digested remains of soapberries…the primary diet this time of year of… you guessed it… the grizzly bear.

Seeing this sort of sign is both exhilarating and terrifying. While hiking in Alaska, you know the possibility of encountering a bear is always there but seeing such a sign makes it a little more real.

We continued on down the trail a little more alert now. Then right in front of us was…. no not the bear but a sign scratched in the dirt by a fellow hiker (we presume) that read “BEAR” with an arrow pointing in toward the willows.

Alert level jumps from yellow to red. Time to exit the willows where surprising large carnivores lurking about seems probable. We all start singing “twinkle, twinkle little star”.

Before long we spill out onto the river bed on the other side of the cliff. For a moment I feel better but then I realize we are now in a sort of basin with no easy exit route. We could walk the river bed for miles in a northerly direction but we will be heading away from our camp. To the south is the trail back up and over the cliff. To the east and west are thick stands of willow, and soapberry. No thanks.

We plop down on the gravel bar for a drink and a snack. The kids do their thing… bombing and trying their best to sink sticks and other debris floating by on the river with all the rocks they can find. I begin to relax a little. Then Randy says “Oh look! There’s a grizzly bear on the other side of the river!”. The tone he carries leads me to believe he is totally kidding…trying to raz me. I turn, expecting to see nothing and there it is.

The Grizzly.

Wanna see it?


Ha! You are probably smarter than I am and you didn’t fall for that trick. I however did. In the name of entertainment, I’ll provide you with a short, self deprecating side bar…before returning to the actual grizzly.

The day before at Eielson Visitor Center, the kids, our friend Sue and I were watching a video about climbing Denali (or Mt. McKinley as it is known to some). At 20,320 feet it is the tallest peak in North America. Randy was taking a stroll outside. When we all got back together he smugly said “So, ah…. I was walking just up the hill from the visitor center and you won’t believe what I saw!”

Me: “What?”

Him: (pulling out the camera) “Check it out!”


Me: “No way!”

Him: “And this!”


Him: starts laughing…

Now I’m on to him. He’d snapped photos of photos at the visitor center. 🙂 The joke is on me. Funny.

So here is the real grizzly… as we saw it from about 300 to 400 feet away, across the river…



Now we’ve been rehearsing what to do if we see a bear for weeks. Don’t panic, don’t run. If the bear doesn’t see you just start to move away slowly. We are all of course equal parts thrilled and terrified. Randy snaps some photos and we are mesmerized by this enormous creature that could devour us in about 2 bites if it wanted to. It looks up. We stare at each other. The moment of truth. The bear studies us a bit to see what we are and then thankfully goes back to eating it’s lunch of soapberries and seems wholly uninterested in us. We watch for a while, hearts beating a little faster, and then amble away. We keep close tabs on the bear until we have skirted the cliff and are back up on top. (We found a route that avoided the slog back through the willows). From there we watch the bear from a comfortable distance until it disappears into the bushes.

Not bad for a day in the park.

And now…a confession.

On our second day in the park (the day we took the bus to Polychrome Pass for our hike) we did actually see a bear from the bus. In fact we saw two playing together. I meant to tell you, I did. But the story seemed so much better without that teeny, tiny truth. I decided to come clean though lest I become a world famous blogger and someone outs me for embellishing stories for my personal gain.

Go easy on me please dear readers.



  1. Grrrrrrrwwwlll. Thanks for sharing! The pictures are beautiful – especially hiking above tree line. Travel safe! – Seth

  2. Another exciting story, I enjoyed every word and pictures.
    Keep sending them.
    Thanks – Lucette

  3. These stories – and your storytelling – are just perfect. Keep ’em coming. Love, Melanie

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