In Grizzly Company

Face-to-Face, What to Do?

Story and Photos by Tom Lopez

Stapled to a Forest Service informational sign at the trailhead to Targhee Peak in the Henrys Lake Range, a large handwritten note read: “beware. Bear Hazard Ahead. Dead horse near trail area shown on adjacent map and signed on trail. caution. Possible Bear Attractant.” Targhee Peak is among Idaho’s most picturesque mountains, its bold southwest face crowned by a ring of ragged cliffs. Located just north of Island Park and west of Yellowstone National Park, it’s one of those peaks that aesthetically pull me toward the summit. When I first looked at it, I wanted to climb it. But after reading this note, I suddenly didn’t feel so eager.

It was a perfect late-summer day in 1985 at Island Park: sunny, fifty degrees and not a cloud in the sky—a day that promised a great climbing experience. The mosquitoes had come and gone. Dana Hanson and I were visiting our friends Karin and Scott Bates, who both worked for the US Forest Service. The day’s agenda for Scott, Dana, and me was to climb the peak, and after breakfast we had driven to the trailhead. On the way, we had excitedly discussed the route and commented on our luck at having such exceptional weather. We unloaded, put on our packs, and walked to the register box, where we saw the grizzly warning.

Grizzly bears have long stalked the deeper recesses of my mind. I was quite young the first time I read of these fearsome bears in a book about the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Those explorers, who endowed the bears with the “grizzly” moniker, had more than one run-in with them. They were among the first to write about the bears and are probably as responsible as anyone for documenting its fierce predilections. Before Lewis and Clark confronted their first grizzly, Native Americans had warned them about the dangerous animals.

Lewis and his companions soon confirmed firsthand that the bears were not only dangerous but also nearly indestructible. In a May 14, 1805 entry in the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Lewis wrote about one unforgettable encounter, from which members of the Corps of Discovery were lucky to escape unharmed.

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Tom Lopez

About Tom Lopez

Tom Lopez is the author of Idaho: A Climbing Guide and the website In the last fifty years he has climbed more than a thousand Idaho peaks and completed a total of 3,500 ascents across the United States, including several first ascents. His writing has appeared in the Idaho Statesman, Summit, Rock and Ice, and Climbing magazines, among others. He strongly believes that the secret to successful aging is to keep moving ahead, “Otherwise, you’ll fall behind.”

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