Hiking on a sunny day in the Enchantments, I had passed astonishingly beautiful Small Eightmile Lake and was on a way to Lake Caroline and Windy Pass farther away. I was climbing cautiously with all my attention on the rising, half visible trail with large yellow rocks scattered around. As I neared a narrow stream that sparkled in the sun, I decided to wait for the rest of my group still well below me on the slope. All of a sudden, I saw a bear — very close — no more than 20 feet ahead of me on the ascending trail.
For some time, probably less than five seconds though it felt much longer, I was literally unable to move. I did not panic but my first thought was that this bear might be young because it was somewhat smaller than those I had seen in zoos, and its mother might attack me if she were nearby… the most dangerous situation according to my hiking book. My second thought was about grizzly bears – that they can run 60 miles per hour. (Not that it would need to run – with the short distance between us and with the bear on a higher ground one short jump would do it!) Finally, I realized that I needed to walk slowly back down the trail but I was unable to move. The trail behind me was too narrow and steep to back out without watching my step but I was unable to take my gaze off the bear.
The bear had other ideas: he suddenly turned away and ran to the other side of the shallow creek. From there we watched each other for about ten seconds and then the bear ran a little bit farther to the small sunlit hill nearby. When I saw this, I began to relax, thinking that apparently the bear did not plan to have me for lunch. Heartened, I took my camera from a backpack and started taking photos. I still do not understand why I spent time turning on a camera and taking pictures when the bear was still so close and still watching me. I should have slowly backed away from bear as soon as I was able to move but I guess I was not very rational at the time.
While still on the hill, the bear visibly lost interest in me, walked around and then slowly ambled away. I realized how lucky I had been to see a bear and still be alive.
Minutes later, when people from my hiking group came up the trail behind me, they thought I was joking or trying to scare them when I told them of my silent encounter.
Funny fact: the first time in my life I saw bear in the wild exactly two years earlier on the Memorial Day in the same area. I was hiking Dirty Peak Trail near Lake Wenatchee (around 20 miles away from Eightmile Lake) and on the way down from the top I glimpsed a bear on a nearby peak, much farther away. He too ran away almost immediately.