Out and Back

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Everyone loves a good bear story. This week, we bring you the tale of Grizzly Bear 399 — perhaps the most famous bear in the world. For more than a decade, Griz 399 has been living in the front country of Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. Thousands of tourists, wildlife watchers, and photographers flock to the park’s Pilgrim Creek area to catch a glimpse of Griz 399 and her cubs feeding on elk carcasses, scrounging for berries, and taking naps in the sun, all before the public eye. Tune in to hear how Griz 399’s fame exploded this year when she crawled out of her winter den with four tiny cubs in tow.

Guests on this documentary-style episode include...
1) Wildlife photographer and conservationist Thomas Mangelsen, who has been documenting Griz 399’s life for almost 15 years.
2) Montana-based journalist Todd Wilkinson, who has written extensively about Griz 399’s life, and has worked with Mangelsen to produce the absolutely ground-breaking work, "Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek".
3) Wildlife watcher Maureen Matsen, who has been scouting wildlife in Grand Teton National Park for 40 years.
4) Dennis Van Denbos, who in 2007, was attacked by Grizz 399 and her cubs...and lived to tell the tale.

Tune in to hear the incredible story of a mother bear and her cubs who have brought resilience and hope to so many!

Show Notes

Learn more about Griz 399 by visiting her Instagram page. Read her Wikipedia page and Mangelsen and Wilkinson’s glossy-paged book: The Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek. See Mangelsen’s photography by visiting his gallery in Jackson, Wyoming or follow him on Instagram. Read Wilkinson’s non-profit Mountain Journal to discover public interest issues facing the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem and for a greater understanding of the inter-relationships between people and nature in the American West. You can also see Maureen Matsen's photography by following her on Instagram.

Remember, podcast listeners can get UP TO 50% OFF ON A GAIA GPS MEMBERSHIP!

Episode Highlights
4:00: Wildlife watcher and amateur photographer Maureen Matsen grew up looking for wildlife when she would take long roadtrips with her family to Grand Teton National Park. To keep them entertained, Maureen’s dad would pay her and her siblings cash if they spotted an animal. This helped Maureen develop a keen eye for animal spotting.  
5:15: Maureen seeks out wildlife as a way to process the stress of her job as an ICU nurse.
5:45: Maureen seeks out all kinds of wildlife in the park but bears, because they are not an everyday sighting, are the piece de resistance. 
6:10: Grizzly Bear 399 has very distinct markings: a heart-shaped face with blonde coloring down her snout.
7:05: Grizzly Bear 399 lives along the roadside in the Pilgrim Creek area of Grand Teton National Park. 
7:20: Hundreds of people line the roads just to get a glimpse of 399. But on Maureen’s first outing this year — she missed the chance to see her and her cubs.
8:30: The pandemic has been heavy and these animals have brought so much hope and joy in such heavy times. 
9:20: Maureen went back a few weeks later and Grizzly Bear 399 popped out of the sagebrush trailing four little cubs behind her. And the crowd goes wild. 
11:28: This bear is being stalked by hundreds of tourists and professional photographers just trying to get a glimpse of 399’s glory. The joy when she appears is palpable. 
12:50: Professional Wildlife Photographer Tom Mangelsen describes the return of Grizzly Bears to Grand Teton National Park. A grizzly bear showed up on his back porch in 2006. That was his introduction to Grizzly Bear 399.
14:30: Tom recalls that last year, Grizzly Bear 399 was fatter than ever before. He speculated she would have triplets.
14:45: Grizz 399 surprised everyone when she came out of hibernation with four tiny cubs. 
16:50: Todd Wilkinson has written about Grizzly Bear 399 for National Geographic magazine and then collaborated with Tom Mangelsen to publish a book: the Grizzly Bears of Pilgrim Creek. 
17:25: Grizzly Bear 399’s life has been more dramatic to watch as the years go on. 
18:00: Bears are not these fearsome creatures, they only want to protect their young. 
18:50: Lives along the road because it’s safer for her babies, and she does all of her bear business with a grandstand of people around her. 
20:20: The front country has turned out to be the perfect habitat for Grizz 399, who has raised 7 litters along the roadside over the years.
21:43: Grizz 399 has exuded amazing tolerance for human beings; she can navigate cars and hundreds of people without “losing her cool.” Tom says Grizzly Bear 399 has become a master at navigating the crowds.
23:45: But not so fast. Grizzly Bears are dangerous and wildlife officials advise to keep your distance, stay in your car, and never feed a bear.
25:00: Dennis Van Denbos was at the wrong place at the wrong time in 2007. He was mauled by Grizzly Bear 399 and her then-yearling triplets. He lived to tell us about it. 
28:21: Grizz 399 jumped out of the bushes about 20 feet away and charged at Dennis. Three “teddy bear shapes” stood in the background. 
29:25: Dennis saw this striking image with the sun shining on her — a sight Dennis will never forget. Dennis started to back away but stumbled off the road. 
31:10: Dennis is face-to-face, eye level with Grizz 399. And she charges. 
31:50: Dennis hits the deck and Grizz 399 and her three cubs bite him in the back and backside. 
32:50: “They’re just going to eat me.” Dennis contemplates the end of his life. 
33:00: People intervened and Dennis survived. Dennis understood why she attacked, she was feeding on a carcass and was stressed. He would have been very disappointed if the park had decided to kill Grizz 399 because of the attack. 
37:30: The decision to let Grizzly Bear 399 live after the mauling of Dennis turns out to be a pivotal moment in grizzly bear recovery in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Grizz 399 went on to have multiple sets of cubs.
38:40: Grizzly Bear 399 displays emotions humans can relate to. 
40:00: After the death of her cub “Snowy,” Grizzly Bear 399 “bawled” and grieved her baby’s death. Tom describes how distraught the bear was. 
41:00: Grizzly Bear 399 is 24 years old, and that makes her a grandmother bear who isn’t expected to live much longer. 
41:50: Todd explains how Grizzly bears face many dangers in the world: human encounters and traffic.
42:00: We have this homegrown nature safari in the Yellowstone ecosystem.
42:15: Todd describes how the story of Griz 399 brings us all together. 

What is Out and Back?

In the Out and Back Podcast presented by Gaia GPS, thru-hiker Andrew “Shanty” Baldwin, professional guide/outdoorswoman Mary "Hiker Midnight" Cochenour, and professional athlete Abby Levene dive deep into conversation with long-distance hikers, record-breaking athletes, offroad travelers who sold everything to live full-time on the dusty backroads, and other awesome guests who have mastered their backcountry craft.

In every show, Shanty, Mary, and Abby tap into each backcountry expert’s superpower so you can take their experience and knowledge with you on your next adventure.