I was expecting to see a caribou. Instead I almost ran into the biggest, blackest, hairiest rear end I’ve ever seen.
Last week, I was in Gros Morne National Park. Alone on Stuckless Pond trail.
It's a magical path that circles a mountain pond after crossing the Lomond River on a gorgeous suspension bridge
I’ve walked or run it about half a dozen times over the years.
Once, I saw a caribou grazing by the edge of the pond. So last week, hoof prints in the mud had me hoping I’d see one again.
Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the large droppings that looked like someone or something had eaten too many berries … but when I came to the spot where I’d seen a caribou before I was completely gobsmacked.
My first thought was: "That is the weirdest, blackest caribou."
My second thought was "Oh no, this is how I’m going to die."
It was a massive black bear. Right on the trail between me and my way home. It smelled like a dead animal.
My mind flashed to a recent polar bear attack in northern Labrador. A lawyer from Maine was dragged from his tent and badly mauled before the bear dropped him.
I looked around for an escape route.
We were surrounded by trees, but I decided the bear was probably a better climber than me. I thought of running, but then I remembered someone saying bears can run down a caribou.
I stood frozen behind the animal. His rump was about 25 metres away. My heart was pounding out of my chest.
I looked for rocks. I had a vague memory of a television show. The Waltons, I think. Grandpa drove away an approaching bear by banging two rocks together.
There was nothing but mud and long grass at my feet, and — although I’d seen the profile of his snout and a glint off his beady eyes — I wasn’t sure it he had seen me yet. Would making noise be just like ringing a dinner bell?
I decided to back away slowly. Very slowly and very quietly. Going back the way I came would add many kilometres to my escape. It was already early evening and I didn’t want to be out there in the dark. So I backed away as far as I could without letting the bear out of my sight.
He never turned towards me while I watched him foraging his way up a hillside meadow. I was shocked by his girth. Powerful back legs and forepaws like tree trunks. It felt like an eternity, but slowly he lumbered out of sight and into the woods.
I had to walk past where he was standing to get back to my car. Would he come crashing out of the woods when I tried? Maybe he was circling around behind me now.
I held my breath and walked. Never taking my eyes off the last spot I saw him.
Then I broke into a lope. I had about two kilometres to go. Probably the fastest two kilometres I’ve ever run. I must have been a sight. Sheet white, I ran at least half the way with my mouth open.
Later that evening I met a Parks Canada official. I told her my story. She said I did the right thing, suggested the bear probably knew I was there and confirmed the bear could have weighed about 400 pounds.
Apparently, Newfoundland black bears are bigger than black bears in the rest of Canada … but lucky for me they’re also believed to be the least aggressive.
There are no reports of people being attacked by black bears on the Island of Newfoundland.
There’s nothing bad about Gros Morne National Park …even the bears are friendly. But will I have the courage to walk that trail again? Ask me next year.