Momma bear and two cubs in a tree on Mitchell Trail Wednesday evening. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
Non-zoomed in shot for reference of how far away I was. Light colored tree in the center is the one with the bears in it. I’m amazed I even noticed them as I was walking by. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
The tree appears to have discolored portions; might be from bears climbing it? Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
BY JOANNA O’NEILL
I was hiking on Mitchell Trail near the water tower around 7:45 p.m. Wednesday and came across a momma bear and her cubs in a tree. I watched them from a distance for about 45 minutes.
I was up on the ridge where the trail is and there was a fairly steep gully and probably about 100+ yards of distance between us at all times. I’m fortunate to have an awesome phone with really good camera zoom, so even though it might not look like it from the photos, I maintained a safe distance and acted with extreme caution the entire time. I also carry bear spray with me any time I go hiking, though I’m not nearly as concerned with bears as I am with mountain lions… I’ve had a close encounter with a mountain lion at the ski area a couple years ago which prompted my purchase of bear spray, but bears will typically leave you alone if you make good decisions (especially the ones we have out here).
While I was watching the momma and cubs in the tree, another larger, darker colored bear that I assume was male emerged and approached the tree. The momma began making strange hyperventilating noises and chomping her mouth/teeth which I read online is a sign of distress. I’ve also heard that male bears will sometimes kill cubs if they aren’t their own offspring so I’m wondering if the momma was trying to protect her cubs by getting them in this tree.
While the male waited at the base of the tree grunting, the momma climbed down briefly but then scaled back up after only about 30 seconds on the ground. This can be seen in the attached videos. The cubs stayed put the entire time and although I didn’t have a clear view of the base of the tree, it sounded like the male bear made a few attempts to climb up but failed and eventually sauntered off. When I left, the momma and cubs were still up there looking like they might be settled in for the night. If anyone is on Mitchell Trail tomorrow morning, I’d be interested to hear if they are still up there! The cubs appeared healthy from what I could tell, but the mom looked pretty skinny and her fur seemed rather disheveled but that could be the result of birthing cubs and summer shedding.
If anyone is more knowledgeable about this I’d love to hear what you think! I feel incredibly lucky to have witnessed this; we live in such an amazing place!
The three bears in the tree. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
The two cubs in the tree. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill
Bear cub checks its surroundings from the top of the tree while momma and the other cub hang out below. Photo by JoAnna O’Neill