Nova Scotia

Hikers rescued after they were 'surrounded by bears' in Cape Breton Highlands

Two hikers were on the Clyburn Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park when they encountered some bears on the trail. "I did not think we were getting out of the woods yesterday," said Stephanie Hawley.

'I did not think we were getting out of the woods yesterday,' says Stephanie Hawley

Stephanie Hawley, left, and Crystal Hill wait on the Clyburn Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park after calling 911. Hawley said while they look relaxed, they were 'in shock' after encountering black bears on the trail. (Submitted by Stephanie Hawley)

Crystal Hill wasn't overly concerned when she saw a black bear ahead of her on the Clyburn Trail, just north of Ingonish in the Cape Breton Highlands National Park on Monday.

It's not uncommon to see black bears in the park.

Still, this one was "within reaching distance," Hill said on CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton.

So she and her friend, Stephanie Hawley, decided to turn around and retrace their steps.

"I was just like, 'Stay calm, don't run.' We were just walking as quickly as we could," said Hill. "And within two seconds, there was another bigger bear on the trail in front of us."

Hawley said she was terrified.

"I did not think we were getting out of the woods yesterday," Hawley said on CBC's Mainstreet Cape Breton.

A section of the Clyburn Trail where two hikers encountered black bears this week. (Submitted by Crystal Hill)

Hill said the larger bear was crossing back and forth across the trail, as if he didn't want them to pass.

She said she found that odd, since most wild animals will run off when they encounter people.

"I know this is the time of year when they're coming out of hibernation, and they're starving," said Hill. "So I was thinking about that, but not telling Stephanie."

And although they didn't see it, Hill said she's certain there was a third bear to the side of them, judging by the cracking of branches and other noises they could hear.

The pair decided to call 911. Hawley said the dispatcher contacted the provincial Department of Lands and Forestry, and Parks Canada.

Then they settled in on the trail, until someone could come for them.

Hill said the dispatcher told them to remain quiet, so the bears wouldn't feel threatened.

"So we were standing as quietly and as still as we could, for over an hour, waiting to be rescued while we were surrounded by bears."

'The biggest relief I've ever felt'

Hill said she was trying to offer Hawley some tips on what to do if a bear did attack.

"But I told her, it's not the time," said Hawley.

The pair said after about an hour, two Parks Canada employees drove up the trail in a truck.

"Seeing the truck was, like, the biggest relief I've ever felt," said Hawley.

'Get in the truck'

Hill said one of the employees had to move some COVID-19 testing gear inside the truck to make room for them, and that's when she asked if they were allowed in the truck, given guidelines around physical distancing.

"And that's when he said to me, 'You have more chance of getting attacked by a bear, so definitely get in the truck.'"

Hawley said the Parks Canada employees told them that section of the trail is known for bear sightings, but they're more commonly seen in the fall.

The two women were not hurt, and have been sharing their experience on social media.

They're also making plans to go back to the Clyburn Trail, perhaps as soon as this coming weekend.

"But I'll definitely have my husband with me," said Hill. "And I'll definitely have extra mace."

Hill said she'll also bring more people, and wear bells that will alert the bears that there are people in the area.

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With files from CBC Mainstreet Cape Breton

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