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Hiker has close call with mother grizzly bear and cub in Banff National Park

Parks Canada is reminding hikers to use caution in bear country after a Cochrane man had a close call with a mother grizzly and her cub in Banff National Park on Sunday.

East end of Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail remains closed until the animals move on

A hiker from Cochrane escaped with minor injuries after surprising a mother grizzly bear and her cub in Banff National Park on Sunday. (Gary Gulash)

Parks Canada is reminding hikers to use caution in bear country after a Cochrane man had a close call with a mother grizzly and her cub in Banff National Park on Sunday.

The lone hiker came across the year-old cub Sunday afternoon on the Lake Minnewanka shoreline trail at the eastern end of the lake, about one kilometre inside the park boundary. Sure enough, the mother was not far behind.

"As soon as she saw the proximity, the closeness between the hiker and the cub, she closed distance," said Bill Hunt, a resource conservation manager with Parks Canada. "So she bluff-charged to within around 15 feet."

Fortunately, the hiker had bear spray close at hand.

"He gave her a good long spray, and that deterred her for a bit but she came in eventually and he ended up knocked to the ground and his backpack was swatted a couple times," he said.

The man also received a small bite on his hand but his injuries were not severe.

Hunt said the mother grizzly eventually took off with her cub and the man was able to hike back to the trail head.

"It's a fairly classic sort of defensive behaviour where a bear is just startled, it reacts aggressively, then assesses the situation and realizes it needs to flee," said Hunt, adding the hiker reacted appropriately in using his bear spray and then curling up when the bear attacked.

Hiker did 'everything right'

"I think he did everything right he could. It's difficult in those situations, you can always use hindsight to think of what you should have or could have done. But getting the bear spray out and getting it ready and getting it deployed was really fortunate in this case."

Too often, hikers keep bear spray on the back of their packs or tucked inside "where it's completely useless," Hunt said.

The incident has triggered the closure of the east end of the shoreline trail, including three backcountry campgrounds, Hunt said. Parks Canada will be monitoring the area to see if the bears move on. Hunt said park staff have also observed a black bear and cub active in the area.

The incident is an important reminder to hikers that they are often sharing trails with bears — even if they don't always realize it, Hunt said.

"We've got lots of evidence from trail cameras where we see bears and people on the trails just minutes apart quite often, and we know people aren't seeing those bears."

To reduce their chances of startling wildlife, hikers should take care to make plenty of noise when they're hiking, even in groups, by regularly calling out, said Hunt.This is particularly important if hiking close to streams or dense forests that may mask moderate noise, he said.

Hikers should also carry bear spray where it is easily accessed and know how to use it. Dogs should be left at home, or kept on a leash.

With files from Elizabeth Snaddon

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