Day 80: I encountered a grizzly at 9,900 feet

July 1, 2009


DAY 80: Cody, Wyoming
Miles traveled: 10,712
States visited: 25
Weather: 72, sunny

Having accomplished most everything I wanted in the first two days at Yellowstone, the only thing of significance to do on Day 3 was see Old Faithful, the giant geyser that shoots off 3,700 gallons of water once every 90 minutes. It’s just like the fountain in Pittsburgh, only it was naturally created. I wasn’t terribly impressed, but it’s something you have to see if you’re in Yellowstone.


After that I was driving around and I noticed that Chittenden Road was open. This road had been closed the previous two days. It’s one of two routes to the top of Mount Washburn, the other being the route I hiked on Friday.

I didn’t plan on hiking Washburn again, but when I saw this new route available, I had to go for it. I was still determined to see a bighorn sheep!

This hike was a little worrisome, because the path goes right through the area where I saw the grizzly yesterday. I put that out of my mind and headed up. Right away, I saw an encouraging sign – sheep tracks!


Then came the more ominous signs. First, what seemed to be bear tracks right on the trail.


Then, trees whose trunks had been slashed by grizzlies marking their territory.


This was starting to get really intense. I was hiking alone and I didn’t see anyone else on the trail. I soon reached a section of narrow forest, where bears could easily be concealed, and wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. But I embraced the danger and slowly walked through. This was one of the scariest things I’ve done… walking through a thick forest alone deep in grizzly country, already having seen definitive signs that grizzlies are present.

Beyond the forest, I could see the hill and the tower at the summit. It was farther than I wanted to walk. Then I saw a man coming down the trail off in the distance, so I thought I’d keep walking until I ran into him. I asked if he’d seen any wildlife, and he said no, which was discouraging.

Shortly after that I noticed a bunch of people standing motionless on the trail further ahead. They were all looking at a nearby hill. I looked over and saw a grizzly bear! It was just grazing on the hillside minding its own business.

The bear was about 80 yards away from me and walking slowly in my direction. I took a few pictures and began walking backwards. The bear didn’t follow me. I’m not sure he even saw me, but I wasn’t taking any chances.


Seeing bears in my car yesterday was nice, but actually seeing a grizzly on a mountain during a hike was quite a thrill. And it was nice that it was far enough away that I wasn’t in danger!

Here’s a crude diagram showing a wider view of the area. You may need to click to view the enlarged version.


I didn’t reach the summit of the mountain (because a grizzly bear was in my way), but I reached about 9,900 feet – a new personal record, breaking the mark I set two days ago. I never saw any bighorn sheep, but you can’t have everything.

Shortly after that, while driving towards my campground I saw another grizzly high atop a hill across from Mount Washburn. Now it’s just getting ridiculous – I’m seeing bears all over the place!

That was it for Yellowstone. The final wildlife count: several hundred bison, about 50 elk, a bunch of deer and squirrels, about 10 pronghorns, a few marmots, a beaver, a snowshoe hare, 4 bears, and 4 wolves. Coming here was a lot of fun. I think I’m more of an outdoors person than I had realized. My weekend here was probably the highlight of my trip so far.