by Heidi Henderson
Mid-way through a paddling trip in the beautiful Bowron lake Circuit, we reach the end of Babcock Lake and prepare for our next portage. Philip and I are photo bugs and I get my camera out to take advantage of the angle of the sun and the eroded rounded hilltops of the Quesnel Highlands that stand as backdrop. Looking around for material to shoot, Leanne pipes up and says she can see a moose a little ways off and that it appeared to be heading our way. Yes, heading our way quickly with a baby moose in tow. I lift my lens to immortalize the moment.... We three realized the moose are heading our way in double time because they are being chased by a grizzly at top speed.
"Grizzly!" The three of us gather together to prepare for what is racing towards us.
A full-grown moose can run up to fifty-six kilometres per hour, slightly faster than a Grizzly. They are also strong swimmers. Had she been alone, Mamma moose would likely have tried to out swim the bear. Currently, however, this is not the case. From where we stand we can see the water turned to white foam at their feet as they fly towards us.
We freeze, bear spray in hand. In seconds the three were upon us. Mamma moose, using home field advantage, runs straight for us and just reaching our boats, turned 90 degrees, bolting for the woods, baby moose fast on her heels. The Grizzly, caught up in the froth of running and thrill of the kill, doesn’t notice the deke, hits the brakes at the boats and stands up, confused.Her eyes give her away. This was not what she had planned and the whole moose-suddenly-transformed-into-human thing is giving her pause. Her head tilts back as she gets a good smell of us. Suddenly, a crack in the woods catches her attention. Her head snaps round and she drops back on all fours, beginning her chase anew. Somewhere there is a terrified mother moose and calf hoping the distance gained is enough to keep them from being lunch. I choose to believe both moose got away with the unwitting distraction we provided, but I’m certainly grateful we did.
The Lakes are at an elevation of over 900 m (3000 ft) and both grizzly and black bear sightings are common. Both bear families descend from a common ancestor, Ursavus, a bear-dog the size of a raccoon who lived more than 20 million years ago. Seems an implausible lineage having just met one of the larger descendents.While we’d grumbled only hours earlier about how tired we were feeling, we now feel quite motivated and do the next two portages and lakes in good time.
Aside from the gripping fear that another bear encounter is imminent, we enjoy the park-like setting, careful to scan the stands of birch trees for dark shapes now posing as stumps.
Fortunately, the only wildlife we see are a few wily chipmunks, various reticent warblers and some equally shy spruce grouse.