During the hottest day of the year we decided we would drive up in the mountains and go on a refreshing hike instead of sweltering away in the city. I grabbed my photo gear and my tripod and we drove up into Manning Park, located about 90 minutes from where we live. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much cooler up there, but the trail didn’t seem too bad. It was mostly a large path through meadows, at least for the first little while. As we began to get closer to the first waterfall, the scenery changed. The forest became denser, and the footpath narrower. Despite the heat, we enjoyed it a lot. At the half way point, we encountered a lone hiker. He greeted us and stopped, recommending to continue all the way to the end of the path, to Derek Falls, which was the only waterfall of the three that we would be seeing up close.
“It’s worth the effort,” he said.
I didn’t see how it could be effort to walk what was a flat path so far, but whatever. We saw the first two falls and the view wasn’t too spectacular, so we were looking forward to seeing Derek Falls, which promised a great view and maybe some cool water spray to enjoy. Now the path was beginning to descend into a forested gully, and I was wondering how we would manage to get back up in this heat. Thomas and I pressed on, with Erik trailing behind us, and we could already hear the rumbling of the water in the distance. As we are coming around a bend, Thomas stops in his tracks.
“Is that a bear??” he whispers.
I look up and indeed, about 50 meters ahead of us, smack dab in the middle of the trail, there is a black bear — not a shadow, not a rock. A black bear, the biggest damn old bear I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a few.) We weren’t exactly quiet, and the fact that the bear is right on the human-scent laden trail and not hidden in the bushes makes me think that he would prefer us not to be there. I’d sure prefer not to be there, myself. We back off. At this point, Erik catches up with us.
“A bear,” I hiss, “Let’s go!”
The problem is that we need to get away, fast, and the trail back is going uphill, all the way. I send Thomas ahead and we climb back, as fast as we can. I remember Thomas’s bag of Doritos in his pack.
“If he’s coming, you throw down the Doritos and run!” I tell him.
By now the adrenaline has worn off and I feel like I’m going to faint. I can’t faint here. There’s a huge bear, and no cellphone coverage. I need to make it. Only now I remember the pepperspray in my backpack. I get Erik to fish it out for me, and put it in my pocket. I feel a bit safer now, but I keep looking behind me, and my heart is racing — not only because I’m completely exhausted, but also because I’m scared shitless. Erik doesn’t seem to alarmed.
“If he was as big as you said, he’s well fed and not hungry. It’s the scrawny looking guys you have to watch out for,” he tries to reassure me.
“Yeah,” I stammer, “but maybe there are cubs nearby and she is trying to defend them!”
We need to get back out of this forest, and quick. For what seems an eternity we climb back up the trail and we finally reach the lookout where the first waterfalls are. There is a large family with children and dogs enjoying the view, and Erik informs them that there is a bear on the trail further on, but they didn’t have any plans to go further, anyway. They don’t seem to be worried at all, but they didn’t see how damn big that thing was. We are now halfway back to the beginning of the trail, and the incline is leveling out. I start to feel better, and my pulse is slowing down. And as we are getting closer and closer to the safety of our vehicle, I know that as long there isn’t a family with screaming children and barking dogs sprinting past us, we know that we aren’t in any danger anymore. The rule of the forest is, and always has been: You only have to be faster than the slowest person behind you.