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The Epic Saga of the Ghost Bear

I was working at Lake in the summer of '97. It was one of my rare days off, and I was kind of bored since I didn't have a car to get out of town in. So I decided to hike up Elephant Back Mountain. The Elephant Back trail is one of the few hikes in the Lake area. It's a worthwhile stroll up the mountain, and has a pretty spectacular view of the lake from the top. Lake employees tend to hike Elephant Back a lot. My friend Vanessia was off that day too, so I talked her into coming along.

So anyway, we were walking along we were talking pretty loud, gossiping and talking bad about most everyone we knew, when we got to the turn of one of the trail's many switch backs. We turn the corner and boom, there is a big, pretty, shiny grizzly not more than 20 yards from us, coming down the trail toward us. Vanessia shouts "a bear, which way should we go". Since it looks like the bear is just leisurely walking down the trail I point off the point of the switch back, and away from the bear, and say "this way". So we scrambled of the trail really fast. It was a steep sort of gully area with lots of loose rocks so we were literally scrambling. We stop. No enraged bear chasing after us, that's good. But we couldn't see the trail. I climbed a little lodgepole pine where I was at to try and see if the bear had left the area, but couldn't see anything. Vanessia was starting to freak out just a little bit, wondering what to do next.

I decided to go back to the trail and check things out. Vanessia didn't want me to go, but I wasn't into sitting there all day. I get back to the trail. No bear of course. Vanessia is shouting, wanting to know what is happening. I stay quiet for a while. I am debating whether to pretend like I am being mauled just to make her really freak out, but I don't, I restrain myself. I am also looking for tracks so I can tell which way the bear went, but I don't see any. Plenty of human tracks in spots, but no bear tracks. Spooky.

I shout to Vanessia that the bear is gone and to come back over. She doesn't want to because of the loose rocks and steep slope, so I tell her that I will finish the hike and tell the rangers where she is when I get back. She scrambles back over to the trail really fast. We debate for a while over which way to go. I show Vanessia that there are no tracks. I say that it must be a ghost bear. She doesn't like my theory too much. We decide to continue up the hill since the bear was going down the hill. On the way up I keep arguing that it must have been a ghost bear because:

Vanessia likes my theory even less now. So we get to the top and rest. Vanessia is worried that we might run into the bear on the way back down. I suggest that we stay up there, build a fire, kill some chipmunks for dinner, and wait for someone to notice the fire and come rescue us. I can be sarcastic at times. Eventually this guy comes along. We tell him about the bear. I explain that it was the ghost bear. Vanessia looks embarrassed. It turns out that he is a ranger at Lake on his day off. We walk back down with him. He is our protection from the ghost bear.

When we get back I of course tell everyone we meet that we saw a ghost bear. Vanessia gets our residence coordinator, Ruth, to show us a video she took of a grizzly that had been hanging out around the dorms that looked a whole lot like the ghost bear, but not as shiny. It was a year old female that had been hanging out around Lake since early spring. The rangers had been trying to drive her away early in the season, firing guns in the air even, but it didn't work that well. We had a lot of bears around Lake that spring, more than usual I think. Lake is usually under a bear restriction in the spring because the hungry bears come to the lake to fish in the spring. I liked Ruth's video but I was not convinced. I still like to think it was a ghost bear.

copyright Chris Johnson

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