Deck out your device with 15% off smartphone cases & laptop skins. Use code DEVICE15.

There was no sound at all when the grizzly charged. No roar. No blood-curdling snarls. Most of all, there was no warning. (2,062 views on 28 August 2014.)

He just launched himself at us. I’d been told just how rapidly a grizzly can move, but I was astounded at how quickly he covered the 25-30m that separated us. I didn’t even have time to register the fact that his claws were visible (see image above).

That, and how deathly silent it was.

The last place you’d expect to be charged is when you’re about five minutes away from your car, after a six-hour hike through Kluane National Park, a World Heritage Site in the Yukon.

Our guide, Brent Liddle of Kluane Ecotours, reassured us, his six rookies, that he had a can of bear spray in his backpack. "I’ve carried bear spray for 30 years and never had to use it,’’ he told us on the morning of 1 September 2008.

For most of the day, I had trailed the rest of the group by about 20 metres because I constantly stopped along the way to take photographs. There was no shortage of subjects, but we saw no bears.

All that changed quickly, and dramatically, as we approached the car park. I had just switched off both cameras and was down on my hands and knees, refilling my water bottle in a mountain stream, when I heard a summons. Grizzly up ahead.

Grizzly? Here? I was convinced they were kidding me just to gauge my reaction. There was no grizzly, not as far as I could see. And we were less than 40 metres from a paved pathway.

Highly skeptical, I moved to the front of the group. Not the smartest thing to do if threatened by a grizzly, but as far as I could see there was nothing there.

That’s when he appeared. What happened next took no more than five seconds, but I can still see it like a series of freeze frames.

He was close enough for me to notice his patchy brown hair. He was on all fours, which I guess indicated he was about to challenge us for sovereign rights over this patch of Canadian turf.

Instinct took over. I knew I’d never have a photo opportunity like this. How often in your life do you get to photograph a grizzly in the wild? More importantly, how often does someone photograph a grizzly charging in their direction?

I snatched for one of my cameras when the grizzly began his charge. I was standing between him and the other hikers. Things happened so quickly there was no time for anyone to reach for the bear spray.

In the split second while I trained my camera on the charging bear, I only had time for one thought. Incongruously, it was photography-related. There were vibrant splashes of autumn hues all round us, patches of orange, yellow and red, but the grizzly had chosen to launch himself at us in a zone that was devoid of colour.

I only had the time to hit the shutter once as he charged. Then he was gone. He veered left into the undergrowth. For three or four seconds, we could not see him. Then he reappeared on our right, looked at us briefly and wandered away.

I immediately asked each hiker if they had been scared. Each had the same answer: things had simply happened too quickly for anyone to be gripped by panic.

But that night, as I reviewed my photographs, the fear gripped me. For the first time in my life, I understood the true meaning of the phrase ``spine-chilling’’.

Why? Not just because of the amazing confrontation and the once-in-a-lifetime photograph. Not, not solely because of that. But also because the grizzly had chosen to retreat up the narrow pathway that I had just come down, entirely on my own.

I do not crop, enhance or post-edit my images in any way. Shot with a Pentax K200D, using a Sigma 70-300mm lens. F8, 1/180 sec, ISO 400, focal length 300mm.

Top 10, FOR THE WRITERS Challenge, March 2010.

Featured in IN THE EYES OF DANGER, April 2010.

Featured in STORY AND IMAGE, August 2010.

Canada08-Kluanehike-01Sept-8483

Walkley Award-nominated journalist, novelist and wedding photographer at davidmcmahonweddings.com

View Full Profile

Comments

  • Scott  d'Almeida
    Scott d'Almeidaalmost 5 years ago

    wild david great capture

  • Thanks, Scott. It was an unforgettable experience in every sense.

    – David McMahon

  • CeePhotoArt
    CeePhotoArtalmost 5 years ago


    Your cohosts,
    Cee and Chris

  • Thanks, Cee – it was the only time I’ve ever seen a grizzly on a pathway!

    – David McMahon

  • Nancy Polanski
    Nancy Polanskialmost 5 years ago

    Thanks for posting this, David! I’ve been waiting for it! I found this story to be very interesting, indeed! Especially the part about…..“I was standing between him and the other hikers.”……I have one question:

    Are You Insane??

  • Thank you, Nancy! I have to answer your question frankly – INSANITY IS THE TEMPORARY ANAESTHETIC GRANTED TO PHOTOGRAPHERS WHO TURN TO THE CAMERAS INSTEAD OF TO PRAYER!

    – David McMahon

  • Brian Walter
    Brian Walteralmost 5 years ago

    Fantastic story, thanks for sharing.

  • Thank you, Brian. Really a once-in-a-lifetime experience – and I was VERY lucky.

    – David McMahon

  • hfrymark
    hfrymarkalmost 5 years ago

    You should submit this also “in the eyes of danger” wow this is a great shot, I almost felt like I was being stalked!

  • Great to know you like this shot. I didn’t know about the “eyes of danger” group – so thanks very much for letting me know. Really appreciate it.

    – David McMahon

  • GranC53
    GranC53almost 5 years ago

    What a fabulous story and I’m so happy for all of you it was a happy ending! I’m deathly afraid of grizzlies but have hiked a few times in Yellowstone and the Grand Teton’s where they are quite at home. Kudos to you for this capture!!

  • Great to know you liked the story. I was extremely lucky that day. I’ve never been to Yellowstone, but hope to get there one day!

    – David McMahon

  • hfrymark
    hfrymarkalmost 5 years ago

    Actually the group name, now that I looked it up is called, In the eyes of danger, sorry about that

  • Thanks so much for that info. I’m off to investigate right away!

    – David McMahon

  • pallyduck
    pallyduckalmost 5 years ago

    how frightning, my heart races at the thought of that, very brave!

  • So glad you enjoyed this. My heart races now, when I think back on what might – or could – have happened. But when it happened there was no time to think. My mother-in-law also thinks I was “brave” but I gently explained that what I did was “instinctive” and not based on bravery!

    – David McMahon

  • Brandie1
    Brandie1almost 5 years ago

    Great shot,If I had a bear chase me I would of dropped the camera & ran
    like hell..xx

  • If it happened again, Brandie, I reckon I’d take your advice!

    – David McMahon

  • Betty Mackey
    Betty Mackeyalmost 5 years ago

    Nancy has a point, but the picture is astonishing.

  • Thanks, Betty. The strange thing is, the colours of the foliage were amazing, great reds and russets everywhere – but the bear came at us from the area where there was no colour at all!

    – David McMahon

desktop tablet-landscape content-width tablet-portrait workstream-4-across phone-landscape phone-portrait

10%off for joining

the Redbubble mailing list

Receive exclusive deals and awesome artist news and content right to your inbox. Free for your convenience.