beware of bear


three vancouver natives try their hand at wildlife photography.

Words & Photos by Ian Tyley

The smell of rotten life jackets greeted us as we warily ducked into the old canoe rental shack. Shelves of moldy gear and paddles that looked like they were made out of fence palings perfectly complimented the burly men collecting our signatures and hustling us along. We stood there on the dock at the southern entrance of Pitt Lake, British Columbia—admittedly over-packed and lacking any experience steering a canoe. The possibility of capsizing was an unspoken, yet real concern, but the promise of Widgeon Falls motivated our first paddle strokes.

The midday sun beamed high in the sky over the glassy water and snow-capped mountains in the distance. A little further and we’re navigating the Pitt-Addington Marsh, a stretch of comedic failure as we clunked through the winding turns. Our captain clearly preferred soaking in the landscape rather than planning our next move, and we chartered a zigzagging course .

As we made our way through, we crossed paths with numerous day-trippers, a few of whom alluded to the presence of a bear at the campsite, near the Widgeon Falls trailhead and where we planned to spend the night. Our initial reaction should have been fear, but the possibility of meeting a bear face-to-face was too good to pass up. We paddled forward in a whirl of trepidation and increasing ferocity as our mutual excitement grew.  

An hour later we slowly climbed out of the canoe and up the bank toward our campsite, the boat hoisted over our shoulders. Half an hour later, our tents were up, but no sign of the much-anticipated bear, so we began the two-mile trek to Widgeon Falls. A short ways into our hike, we thought we heard faint noises coming from the campground, but collectively chose to carry on to the falls. Roaring water rushed over immense granite boulders, and Widgeon Falls measured up to everything we’d hoped it would be. We spent the afternoon cooling off under the icy cascade.  

We arrived back at our deserted campsite and started to go about making a feast for dinner when we were approached by the local park ranger. He informed us that the commotion we’d heard earlier was a black bear stumbling between our tents in search of a snack. The ranger warned us of the dangers of the animal and told us that we were the only remaining campers in the area—as everyone else had decided to flee. He expressed the high probability that the inquisitive bear would be back in our company at any point in the evening. We held a vote on whether to stay or return to civilization, which resulted in a resounding ‘yes’ to staying.

We began cooking our well-deserved feast, and like clockwork, the hungry black bear emerged from the forest about 50 feet away. Our reactions were surprisingly calm as we beelined for our cameras. Our furry friend remained amicable and unphased by the attention from a few delighted photographers. After 30 minutes of continuous snapping, we stood tall and made as much noise as possible, watching as he finally scampered up the hill behind the campsite.

Since the bear had attempted to break into our tents earlier that day, we decided our time in the wilderness may be drawing to a close and used the bear’s absence as an escape window.

As the sun began to set, we loaded our canoe and set back to the mainland. With a new navigator at the helm, the return journey was somewhat smoother. The challenge now was identifying the correct route home as darkness was falling. Determining the right turns was becoming an increasingly tedious and uncertain task. With great relief, the shore lights came into view and we began to search for a new place to set up camp.

The canoe’s owner seemed unimpressed by our moonlit return and swiftly dismissed any idea of setting up camp in the now-abandoned parking lot. Driving down a nearby dirt road, we reached a gated entrance that led to an open field: the perfect place to camp under a star-filled sky. As we started setting up once again, we noticed a surprisingly illuminating presence above. Vivid colors began to stream across the sky as the magical northern lights revealed themselves, a truly perfect ending to such an eventful day. I dozed off wondering if the bear was enjoying the show too.