Climbing Glacier Park:
Grizzlies on the Summit of Rising Wolf Mountain
My wife Shannon and I love to climb mountains in Glacier National Park, and having over 100 summits under our belt, we’ve had our share of amazing situations while climbing these incredible peaks. One such amazing situation was when we climbed Rising Wolf Mountain several years ago.
Rising Wolf Mountain is located in the Two Medicine Area of Glacier National Park. We were looking forward to seeing the views from the summit of this famous mountain as it is the tallest mountain in the area. It was mid August, which is prime time for grizzly activity in the high country because of the moth larvae that are located under rocks on the alpine slopes and ridges. Grizzly bears love these larvae because they are packed with protein, and this draws them to these high altitudes. This grizzly behavior is known as “mothing”, and it can make mountain climbing in Glacier National Park quite interesting at times.
As we made our way up to Dawson Pass we were fully aware of the grizzly situation, and we knew that the long ridge between Flinsch Peak and Rising Wolf Mountain commonly had grizzlies “mothing” on it during the month of August, and this was the route that we had chosen. We’ve been around grizzlies our entire lives, and we always do our best to avoid encounters with them by talking loud and letting the grizzlies know we are in the area. We also ALWAYS carry bear spray just in case.
As we began working our way up the south slope of Flinsch Peak from Dawson Pass, and as we eventually reached the long west ridge located between Flinsch Peak and Rising Wolf Mountain, we noticed that there was a lot of evidence of recent “mothing” activity by grizzlies. So we were definitely on the “alert” as we made our way along this long ridge that would eventually take us to the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain.
Along the ridge, we did not see any recent signs of “mothing”, and did not see any other signs of grizzlies in the area, so we were hoping that the grizzly (or grizzlies) that were mothing under Flinsch Peak were not on this ridge as of yet. We didn’t let our guard down, but we were admittedly more relaxed. It was a gorgeous morning, and we were excited to get to the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain early while the light was still good.
Everything was going great as we began scrambling up the last thousand feet above the ridge toward the summit, and the views started to really get good. We saw no signs of grizzlies up to this point, so most of our attention was on getting to the summit so we could enjoy the view and start snapping photographs. We also stopped talking loud, thinking we were “out of the woods” as far as grizzlies were concerned. Shannon and I then reached the final hundred yards of scrambling, and the summit cairn was in sight.
Just as we reached the summit cairn, our day changed in an instant. We had just hiked, scrambled and climbed over 11 miles, and were ready for an enjoyable hour or so on the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain in Glacier National Park, but instead we found ourselves staring at a grizzly sow and young cub who were on the other side of the summit cairn.
We instantly froze and began to softly and gently say “nice bear, nice bear” as we began slowly backing up. As we were backing up we were also removing the safety pins from our bear sprays. The sow and cub both looked at us, and fortunately began to walk away from the cairn (and us) until they reached a snow field about 100 yards east of the summit. The sow then stopped and just stared at us… which made us feel a little uncomfortable. Then the tiny cub began to play with its mom. The mom responded by beginning to “play wrestle” with this tiny little cub, making the cub think it was actually “winning” the wrestling match. It was one of the cutest and most amazing sessions we’ve ever witnessed with grizzlies, and will never forget it.
When the “wrestling match” began to wind down, and the cub then began sliding down the snow field like a little kid on a sled, we quickly stopped video taping, and took about 5 photos from the summit of Rising Wolf Mountain, and then reluctantly began working our way back down the west side of the peak and headed back to where we came from. It was a gorgeous day and the photos would have been wonderful, but we felt that we had already really pushed our luck and needed to quickly and quietly get out of there. We kept looking back to make sure the sow and cub were not coming down off the summit and heading for the same ridge that we were on, and thankfully they did not. We never saw these bears the rest of the day.
What really “diffused” the situation dramatically was when the cub started playing with the sow on the snow field. Prior to that the sow was very concerned and we weren’t sure what decision she was going to make as she stared at us from the snowfield. That tiny little cub literally may have saved the day by starting the wrestling match with its mom. We must admit that this day in Glacier National Park was one that we’d never forget.