Miss Lucy’s Real Life Bear Encounter

For those who don’t know…..Peri Zahnd becomes Miss Lucy when she’s in the mountains, and her main man is Mr. Jinks.

It’s become a familiar occurrence—the alarm clock going off once a year at 1 am during our family vacation—the wake-up call for the Longs Peak climb. The past two years I got up and dressed silently along with the others in the clothes that had been carefully laid out just a few hours before, gulped down a bowl of Cheerios, and hiked the six and a half miles with the summitters, only to wave good-bye at the Keyhole. I would have done the same today, but the guys weren’t going the Keyhole route, wanting to try the Loft, and would be turning off at Chasm Junction, so I made other plans for the day.

Since I wanted the car, I’d need to drive them to the trailhead. So instead of getting up when they did, I laid there and began to dread returning at 2:15 am to this remote house we had rented halfway up the side of Prospect Mountain. Our road dead-ended after several switchbacks at the house, and there was a climb up a set of steps past a bushy tree that hung over the stairs. As Jinks would put it, I had a case of “bear on the brain.”

I contemplated just sending them on, but knew I’d regret it in the morning. At the very last possible moment, I jumped out of bed and threw on some clothes, and began to rummage through our camping stuff.

Jinks stood in the open doorway and said, “C’mon, we’re ready. What are you looking for?”

“I’ll just be a second. I want to find the bear spray.”

“Good grief! You don’t need the bear spray to take us to the trailhead! You heard Igloo Ed say just the other day how he’s only seen one bear in all the years he’s been out here, and that was from his car! Leave the bear spray alone. You’re just feeding your fears!”

It immediately occurred to me how similar the phrase “feeding your fears” was to “feeding the bears”—just change one letter. But instead, I just said, “Fine, then. I’ll take my chances! I’ll leave it here!” and climbed in the truck. I wanted to say I knew he’d be sorry if I was eaten by bears, but was satisfied just thinking it this time.

I am happy to report that I made it back to the house just fine, ran up the steps without any fanfare, and took a few deep breaths after I made it through the door. I went back to bed and slept blissfully until the sun woke me up.

It was a beautiful bright morning, and I had been up an hour when I finally sat down at the kitchen table to eat my bowl of Cheerios. One of the nicest things about this log house we were staying in was the wrap-around three sided deck, and as I sat next to the sliding glass door, I saw out of the corner of my eye a large black figure amble by, just on the other side of the screen, six feet away. “Big black dog” was the thought that immediately struck me. The thought that hit a millisecond later was “we don’t have a big black dog!”

I leaped up, and ran to the window around the corner from the door. I had closed the shades on this bank of windows when I got up, because the house got too warm when you left them open in the mornings. I didn’t want to jerk them open and scare away the “dog”, so I used my left hand to part them, and miraculously, realized my camera was right there in my right hand!

Here is the picture I took of the “dog” who I immediately christened Sukey.

She was on the move, so I quickly ran to the front door, opposite the door where I’d first seen her. She’d already hopped off the deck and was heading away from our house, obviously just having used our deck as a shortcut to a previously determined destination.

She heard me come out the door, stopped and looked up inquisitively. There was nothing threatening or menacing about her, just another creature on God’s earth doing her thing. I think if she could have spoken she would have simply said “Good morning!” We gazed at one another for just a second, and then she was gone.


I was very glad to have met Sukey, the bear. I was even gladder to have met her in broad daylight. A nighttime encounter wouldn’t have been near as pleasant, and that would probably have been my fault, not hers. If I’d caught her in my headlights returning a few hours earlier from the Longs Peak trailhead, I probably would have spent the rest of the night in the truck.

I went to the Cub Lake trailhead by himself a little later, hiked to Cub Lake, the Pool, and on back around. We’d never been here before, and it was a quiet peaceful place. I saw lots of rabbits, squirrels, deer, and a coyote. I went back to the house, had a nice lunch, a shower, a nap, and then went to see if I could find my guys. I walked a ways up the Longs Peak Trail in my jeans and flipflops and took a book and sat and waited on them.

Another perfect day in the mountains.