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Local Man, Toddler Charged by Grizzly on Pass

Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Thursday, October 7, 2021
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Courtesy photo
Tom Reiter with his son, Connor (pictured near Line Creek Trail) escaped an angry grizzly.

On Sunday, Oct. 3, around noon, Thomas Reiter of Boyd, was enjoying a gorgeous day in the Beartooths, hiking up the Line Creek Trail. With him were his 2 ½ year old son, Connor, snug in his baby carrier backpack, and his five-year-old German Shepherd, Kaiser. “There’s a pond you can see from 212,” said Reiter, and he was heading right for it. He was at about 10,000 feet, about 5-600 yards from the pond when, suddenly, what appeared to be a large adult grizzly bear came charging out of the brush from the other side of the pond. It headed into the pond, which was shallow. Reiter felt it was a male, “I didn’t see any cubs. It had a big hump. I was pretty scared!” He says he’s been to hunter ID classes and knows a grizzly. He’s also seen them each spring in Yellowstone National Park. “We go about May to watch them.”This grizzly, however, was not stopping for photos. “He just came busting out of the shrubs across the lake. As he hit the lake, I booked it. My legs were going as fast as I could.” They were in a clearing on the plateau with no trees around them. When his legs “stopped going”, he paused to look back. Reiter has been hiking up in the Beartooths since the late eighties. He loves going to that particular area. “I never see grizzlies there,” he remarked.  He had neither bear spray nor gun. At that point, the bear was in the middle of the pond, watching him. When he saw Reiter stop, he started charging towards him a second time, running through the water. “I ran as fast as my legs could go” as it appeared the bear was going perpendicular to his place on the trail.Again, he stopped when his legs couldn’t go any further and, again, the bear was watching him. He charged a third time! The bear was now on the Line Creek Trail “coming towards me,” said Reiter. As Reiter got further up the trail, to his relief he finally saw the bear going in the opposite direction. “I pulled out my binoculars and he was quite far back, about a half mile away.” But, said Reiter, it was clear “he wanted me out of there!”Nevertheless, Reiter wasted no time continuing on the trail swiftly to the parking lot not far away where his car was parked. He got the message. “It wasn’t close, but that bear…he was heading for me! He was quick, real quick,” said Reiter. When it charged out of the brush like a true October surprise, “it was spooky.” As soon as the bear hit the water, his toddler, Connor, recognized the danger and advised him wisely, “Let’s get out of here. We gotta get out!” Connor complained along the way that he had lost his hat, but there was no going back.Afterwards, Reiter contacted the Sheriff’s Office, and they contacted Montana Game Warden Matt Heaton, who told him that signs would be posted at the trail. Reiter knows that he was lucky. Asked if he will continue hiking in the Beartooths, he said, “Oh yes, I’ll keep hiking. Fish and Game said they’re (grizzlies) all over, including these heights. But every time I go out hiking, I’ll take bearspray and a gun, no matter where I go.” Looking back, he reviewed his options. “I’m glad it charged so early (as they approached the pond). If we were already at the lake shore, I don’t know how we could have gotten out of there.” At no point did his dog ever see or smell the bear, because the wind favored the bear and the dog was so low to the ground, with shrubs all around. “I had nothing,” he reflected. “What would I do? Smash it in the head?” He said even if he wanted to tell the dog to attack, “we’d need to be close-until it was right on us.”As he talked later that evening on too close a call he said, “I’m still pretty shook up. I got a good lesson.” When he discussed it with Heaton, Reiter said it appeared that the grizzly might have had a kill stashed in the shrubs on the opposite side of the pond. He said Heaton explained that it’s a “pretty textbook response” for a bear guarding his kill. “That’s what I thought as well,” said Reiter.When he got to the parking lot, Reiter realized there had already been a car in the parking lot when he arrived. He never saw the occupants. He worries a bit about them. In the same lot, a third vehicle had pulled up at the trailhead. They were mountain bikers and they were already out of their car and on their bikes, facing the Line Creek Trail. “I warned them a grizzly just charged me on the trail. I hope they did leave. They were still on the trail trying to decide as I was leaving. I hope they decided to heed my advice!”Tom’s wife, Bry, was also “pretty spooked” he said. About a month ago, they took the same trail, not as far, but so “Connor could play in the snow bank.”Reiter said Heaton noted that grizzlies up at 10,000 feet are “not uncommon this time of year.” When asked what he would like people to know, Reiter says, “Be prepared! I wasn’t prepared. I’ve lived here in Montana (born in Laurel) all my life. I hiked with my dad in the mountains-started the same age as Connor, going with him. We’ve never seen grizzlies! I just tell people to have a plan-whether it’s gun, bear spray. They’re all over these mountains!”