Of Bear Encounters & Backcountry Awareness at the Stanley Mitchell Hut

Of Bear Encounters & Backcountry Awareness at the Stanley Mitchell Hut
August 17, 2019 Paul Ruchlewicz

Early last Thursday morning while heading up the Kiwetinok Pass trail, I had the pleasure of meeting Lynn Martel coming down. She had been doing some early morning photography and had observed two bears coming down from up high on one of the moraines. We chatted a bit and then she left to pack up and then hike out through the Iceline trail herself. I waited until a guided group from the hut came along and I asked if it was ok to tag along for safety as we didn’t know if Momma bear was around.  We did not see them during the morning and I ended up leaving the group to do some photography myself.

In the afternoon I had just come down from the Pass and was having tea on the deck when a hiker on the Yoho trail yelled if he could come into the hut and asked if I could see “his friends” behind him. Sure enough the two bears friends Lynn had seen came waddling over the rise not 40 feet behind him! They looked like day hikers with not a care in the world. About 40 feet from the hut they both stepped off the trail and began the most beautiful scenario I have ever seen. Wrestling, playing, throwing grass in the air and frolicking like children. What was incredible was the fact that one was very light in colour, almost white with a darker stripe down its back!!. After a while, the brown one got up had a look at us on the porch and wandered over to the closest tree and began a nice long back rub. By this time we had stopped quite a few hikers from approaching and there was a large group snapping away. We later learned that lots of hikers had observed them on the trails.

Finally, they got bored with the paparazzi and trotted between the woodshed and the hut, past the outhouse emerging onto the trail towards the campground – which I had come through on the way back from the Pass earlier and at that point was empty.

I stayed on the porch and told all those passing the hut on the way to the campground about the bears and to make noise and to be very careful with food storage as these beautiful bruins were likely siblings, recently given the boot by Mom and were inquisitive, being completely unfazed by human activity.

This was a wonderful experience for those observing but I feel it may turn out badly for the bears at some point. I hope I am wrong.

When I told my wife of this after getting home yesterday, she had mentioned that her coworker had been to the SMH several weeks ago and that several young girls staying there as well, had put out leftovers on the steps overnight to keep them cool! Being rather concerned about this incredibly ignorant behaviour, later in the evening, my wife’s coworker had taken the food back into the hut. In the morning the young girls were very upset about her doing this and she got an earful for not leaving the food outside!!!

I have heard so many stories about this type of behaviour and seen it myself over the years, I believe many choose not to heed or bother to read the information that is currently available through the Parks and or ACC membership requirements when visiting the Parks or ACC huts. Ignorance breeds stupidity and I believe that some stricter education and enforcement need to be implemented before something terrible happens to both bears and unsuspecting visitors. You should not be able to plead ignorance when there is so much information for proper Park and hut etiquette in print and online. The ignorance of some of these tourists and individuals is unbelievable and only seems to be getting worse.

At about 6:30 pm Thursday night, while chopping firewood two young American hikers in cotton came up to me and asked which way to the Iceline trail. I looked at them, their clothing and then at my watch and said its raining lightly now but expect it to get heavy soon, will be very windy as it’s exposed to elements above treeline and late in the day to be doing it now. The young man smiled and said they were prepared, though the girl became a bit nervous and said “let’s go now” and off they went. Hopefully they were fine. Friday afternoon while leaving the Takkakaw campground parking lot in a severe downpour a family of Japanese tourists asked me in broken English if this was the way to the SMH. They were dressed in running shoes and cotton clothing and beautiful umbrellas with tiny backpacks. I tried to explain, pointing at my watch that at 4:30 in the afternoon in pouring rain was not the time to head up to the hut and that it was a very long way in those conditions. They had booked the hut and were going in and thanked me.  As I was leaving they were standing by the sign and the young boy went back to another group of campers to ask them more questions, I can only assume. I hope they made it safely if they did try to go. Should these travel groups not tell their clients about what to expect in the backcountry areas? They were dressed for a day of shopping in Tokyo not slogging up a wet muddy trail, where even wearing the best Scarpa boot on the market can be dicey at times. These people are not stupid, but just ignorant and uninformed of this environment. How can we change this before something terrible happens?

Surely there must be something that can be done to help train/educate and prepare visitors on how to behave correctly. There will be incidents related to this type of behaviour time and time again unless some means can be utilized to educate, warn and enforce change. Whether through law and or fines and or evoking admission /membership to the Parks and ACC huts, this behaviour will continue to rise. The increase of ignorant, inexperienced hikers, tourists, new ACC members and guests that are now visiting are creating a situation that seems to become increasingly more common and needs to be corrected sooner than later, for everyone’s safety, wildlife included. Anyone visiting the Parks and or Huts should fully understand the rules and regulations, and made fully aware that any behaviour that puts the lives of Parks wildlife as well fellow guests, visitors, whatever, in jeopardy, should not be tolerated. We must as ACC members voice our concerns about the safety of us, themselves, as well as the wildlife.

Sorry for the rant, but I do not want anyone and certainly not the bears to be put in harm’s way because of the ignorance of others.



Paul Ruchlewicz

(A lover of all things ACC has given me!!)


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