Bear spray, not bear, turns out to be hazard for hiking group

'Grizzly' tale of bear spray

This is part three of a four-part mini-series called Adventures with Wildlife. You can read the first part ,about a seal attack in Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park on the west coast of Vancouver Island, and the second part, two about a close encounter with a humpback whale here.

This grizzly adventure began with plans by the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen (CCC) to accompany long-time friends Brian and Kim on a multi-day hike to Egypt Lake west of Sunshine Village in the Rockies.

Their first stop was the Parks Canada office in Banff where they were warned: "Bears are active in all areas."

A shiver ran through CCC. Keep in mind, she is deathly afraid bears will be the death of her.

Their hike started at the top of Sunshine Village, so they jumped aboard a shuttle bus in the resort parking lot. Halfway up, a black bear browsed beside the gravel access road and they stopped to take photos. CCC's shiver grew more pronounced.

An hour later, they climbed up a hillside as another couple were descending.

"A grizzly bear is ripping large rocks out of the meadow at the top of the hill in search of grubs," warned the woman. "You should detour to the northwest, across a stream and around the edge of the meadow."

CCC grabbed Kim's umbrella, removed its cloth cover and fully opened the umbrella, prompting the Sheriff to ask: "Are you going to fly over the bear, Mary Poppins?"

“No,” she responded. "It makes you look bigger to the bear."

And she took out her bear spray, unlocking its trigger. She was ready...and shaking.

Perhaps they should walk up the hill to the edge of the meadow just to make sure the grizzly was still in the meadow and not headed for the same creek, suggested the Sheriff.

So they climbed the hill, Kim in the lead, until she began walking backward toward the others.

"It's right there, in the middle of the meadow," she whispered. Was she whispering in case the bear could hear them?

They quietly descended the hill and circled the edge of the meadow to a rise on the west side behind some trees. That's when they overheard female voices crying "Shoo, bear." Huh? Despite CCC's urgent protests that they should get out of there, the Sheriff and Kim cautiously investigated.

Two teenage girls, wearing small decorative backpacks, were standing at the top edge of the meadow trying to “shoo" away an 800-pound mature male bear.

"Girls," the Sheriff warned. "Grizzlies are at the top of the food chain, the most ferocious North American predator, and two teenage girls are not going to scare him away!" They accepted the Sheriff's advice and took the same detour to the north.

Meanwhile, back at the top of the meadow, CCC was struggling to push the umbrella back into its tight cover. Frustrated, she jammed it against her thigh, accidentally pressing the trigger of her bear spray canister and shooting pepper spray directly into Brian's face.

The others grabbed their water bottles, poured them into Brian's eyes, but he quickly ran up the trail looking for that stream. A half-hour later they caught up with Brian. He could see but his face was burning.

When they reached the Egypt Lake cabin—already occupied by several other hikers—they excitedly told them about th close encounter with the grizzly. Yes, they too saw the same grizzly.

"But did you see his female mate?" one asked. "While the male looks for grubs, the female rests in the trees at the top of the meadow beside the trail." CCC had another shiver moment.

The group set up their tents outside the cabin but Kim couldn't figure out why her lungs were so congested every night, until she checked the corner of the tent and found the umbrella soaked in bear spray.

They returned to Sunshine Village without another grizzly encounter, but having learned an important lesson—keep CCC away from bear spray.

On their Made to Explore blog, Cayleigh Barbeau and David Barbeau describe Egypt Lake as a gorgeous back-country campground, quickly gaining popularity due to its towering peaks, stunning alpine lakes and charming mountain meadows.

“This backpacker's paradise is perfect for any outdoor enthusiast looking for a multi-day adventure."

Bring bear spray but keep the trigger lock engaged until you need it. Also, bring an umbrella. Practice removing and replacing it in its cover.


Talk about coincidences: Teresa Pavlin, communications advisor for the Regional District of Central Okanagan, recently circulated an email about bears in public parks.

"Visitors to RDCO regional and community parks should expect more signs that bears are out and active. With ripening fruit and spawning kokanee salmon returning to streams, reports and sightings of bears typically increase," she warned. At this time of year, field staff and visitors notice tracks and scat as well as live sightings.

"If you spot a bear in one of our parks, please report the location and other details through our website or by calling 250-469-6232. If a bear poses an immediate threat to public safety, please call the Conservation Officer Service at 1-877-952-7277 (RAPP)."

Park staff recommend that visitors travel in a group of four or more and make noise when on trails to let bears know of their presence, she said. "Bears foraging for food or fishing for salmon by waterways may not hear humans over the noise of rushing water. If you see a bear, remain calm, give it plenty of space and stay well away, ensuring it has a clear escape route. Keep dogs on leash and prevent them from chasing wildlife."


This week's Secret Okanagan Spot in the SOS series is Redlich Pond, hidden between Pinehurst Crescent and Gillard Drive in what many call Old Glenmore in Kelowna.

What makes it special is six floating bio-islands, each two-by-four metres in size and containing 80 planting holes for a total of 480 plants designed to improve water quality.

The gardens, all linked together, are built of a buoyant plastic matrix. The pond was originally a wetland and orchard property but became part of the stormwater infrastructure when the area was developed for residential properties.

It is also home to a turtle nesting area beside a wooden walkway and a flock of ducks who gather on the lawn and wander over to visitors looking for a treat.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.

More Making Tracks articles

About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

Previous Stories