Pocket-dial summons RCMP to rescue Alberta hiker from bear encounter

Virginia Differenz emerged from the woods unscathed Tuesday morning after being followed for a short time by two black bears on a trail in Athabasca.

70-year-old played music on her cell phone to try and scare mother and cub on trail near Athabasca

Officials have posted signs on trails in Athabasca warning people that bears have been spotted in the area. (Athabasca RCMP)

A 70-year-old woman followed by two bears on an Alberta hiking trail was rescued by RCMP after a pocket dial. 

Virginia Differenz, of Bruderheim, Alta., had embarked on a five-kilometre hike on the Muskeg Creek Park trails, about 145 kilometres north of Edmonton, at about 7:30 a.m. Tuesday.

She had nearly completed the loop when she saw a mother black bear and cub on the trail in front of her. 

"The were standing on their hind legs and they were kind of batting each other and playing," Differenz said.

She decided to play music on her phone, thinking that would scare them away.  

"In fact, it just made them curious they couldn't see me probably," she suggested.

When the bears started coming toward her, she began retracing her steps back on the trail. 
Virginia Differenz was followed by two black bears Tuesday morning while she was hiking on the Muskeg Creek trails. (Virginia Differenz)

She used her cell phone to call her aunt, who she planned to visit in nearby Athabasca, and told her she'd be longer than expected due to the bear encounter. 

"I put my phone in my hoodie pocket and then it pocket-dialed her, so then she got really excited, because I told her about these bears so she thought I was in trouble."

Differenz's aunt immediately phoned the RCMP, who jumped on their quads and found the woman on the back trail.  

"I was quite happy to see them," she said. "I walked for two and a half hours and that was enough for me."

The RCMP told her she should have been carrying a wildlife deterrent. But they commended her for having a cellphone and leaving a note telling her aunt where she was going.

"The fact that she did leave that note …  pointed us in the right direction and assisted us in locating her much more quickly than if we were starting from scratch," Cpl. Curtis Harsulla told CBC News.

Harsulla said it's always better to go hiking accompanied by someone.

"If you get injured or harmed in any way, if you have someone else there, they can either go for assistance or call for assistance," he said.
Virginia Differenz took a photo of a black bear she spotted on the trail in Athabasca Tuesday morning. (Virginia Differenz)

He urged hikers to take noise-making deterrents such as a whistle or an aerosol air horn to scare the bears away, and bear spray if the animals come close.

Differenz described the experience as an "exciting" morning that taught her some lessons.

"Two things that I didn't do right — one was that I was walking alone, and that I didn't have a whistle or a bear horn," she said. "I did see the sign saying 'Caution, bears have been sighted,' but I'm pretty trusting and naive, I guess, and didn't even think that it would be on the trail, of course, that I was on." 

There have been a number of bear sightings in the area recently, Harsulla said, including one on the same morning just south of the townsite.

He said people in Athabasca are fairly used to seeing bears, noting the community is a "nice, pretty, little wilderness town" surrounded by nature.

He couldn't recall the last time someone reported seeing a grizzly in the area.