BILLINGS — Thomas Reiter of Roberts has a warning for anyone frequenting the Beartooth Mountains after he and his two-year-old son were charged three times by a presumed male grizzly bear.
The pair are shaken but uninjured and now have a message about stepping out of your car while on the Beartooth Highway.
Reiter said that on October 3 he and his son Connor took their German shepherd out to their favorite spot on the Line Creek Trail. “We frequent that area all the time,” said Reiter.
He said his wife was at home catching up on some rest because she works overnight as a nurse. So Thomas and Connor, who was packed in a backpack hiking carrier, often head out to the mountains for some outdoor time.
“We just we park off the side of the highway up there and we walked down a little bit. There's a snowbank down there that Connor liked to play on,” he said.
By this time of year, the snowbank had melted but still, Connor was looking forward to hanging out next to a small pond.
“We were going to go down there and sit on the shore, I was going to let him just play and do what two-year-old do,” said Reiter. “I probably went another 150 yards, if that, and then this is when that bear decided to charge.”
The grizzly bear, complete with a hump on its back, charged from behind some shrub, said Reiter, and splashed through the shallow pond.
“We came within about 500 yards of the lake,” he said.
Reiter was quick to move because on this occasion he didn’t bring bear spray or a handgun along, something he says he does in the backcountry but never on this trail.
“I saw that thing and I turned around and I headed up the side of the mountain, just as fast as I could go,” he said.
Three times, the bear buffed up and charged the pair, each time getting closer to Connor and him. “I've been hiking up there since the 80s, and I've never seen a bear,” he said.
Reiter believes the grizzly was perhaps protecting something in the area and smelled them coming. He says the bear watched as he and Connor moved away continually looking back at them while still fronting.
During the tense moments, Connor also kept calm, according to Reiter, which for a two-year-old was pretty brave. “He said, there’s a grizzly bear, Daddy, we got to get out of here,” said Reiter.
But in the process of running, Connor ended up losing a green Paw Patrol hat in the area.
“So, there's a green Paw Patrol hat on the trailhead out there, and he was pretty concerned about that,” he said. “But he held it together really well.”
Growing up in Laurel and frequenting the outdoors plenty of times, Reiter says he was shocked to see a grizzly bear out at 10,000 feet in the Beartooth Mountains. After all, he’s traveled those trails many times and never thought twice about bringing protection.
Now, though he says anyone who steps out of their car on the pass and travels down their chosen trailhead should know, bears are out there.
“If you plan on going out, you better be prepared, or have something and have a pistol or rifle or bear spray, and just don't have it on your train in with it, it,” he said.
And because he knows there’s a grizzly bear on their favorite trail – he anticipates it could be awhile before they head out there as a family again.
“I'll probably give Line Creek break, but I'll be going up the other areas up there,” he said.