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In search of bears in Slovakia

Head of Product Simon Grove recently recce’d a new walking trip, searching for wild bears in the heart of Slovakia. How did he get on?
"What happens if you get eaten by a bear?" were the departing words from my seven year old as I said goodbye before heading to the airport, and then Slovakia to recce the new Walking with Bears trip. I pondered the question on my drive to Luton; it hadn’t been a concern, but decided that I should write daily notes and send them back to the office… just in case (you’ll need to read on to see whether or not I made it back). 
On the flight I tried to calculate my chances of being devoured by a hungry bear and settled on the fact that they might be higher than normal, as Slovakia - In Search of Bears is no ordinary trip. As my local contact had pointed out “We’re going into an area of Tatras National Park which is closed off to tourists. Most bear watching trips involve spending time in a hide whilst waiting for bears to come to a feeding station, this is completely different, we’re going into their habitat and we’re going to seek the bears out in their own natural environment!”
So, I’m heading alone, into the wilds looking for bears with a maximum group size of only six people – I began to feel my chances of survival weren’t great….was this recce trip a good idea?!

The answer, of course it was, my trip included some of the most memorable walking that I have experienced. Off-piste in the park I was accompanied with the Explore Leader and a local park ranger, a bear expert who offered a unique insight into the park and life of the bears and who reassured me that unless I was a berry I was unlikely to be eaten by a bear. He then laughed...
As much time in the mountains as possible is packed into this short break. Days are long, as the best time to see bears is dawn and dusk. In the height of the summer I realised that dawn and dusk fall very early and quite late. Along with the Leader and the park ranger I got up at 0330 and set off on trek. It wasn’t too long before the ranger pointed out what looked like a brown dot, slowly waddling down the side of a mountain. A quick look through binoculars showed a hungry bear, looking for breakfast. We sat and watched him for over half an hour, as he slowly walked towards us, well aware than any sudden movement or noise from us would see the bear scurrying off in the opposite direction. Our walk continued as we ascended along animal trails to the ridge overlooking the Kamenista valley, where a simple marker post showed the boundary between Poland and Slovakia.

We had one more bear sighting that morning, and as good as that was, the over-riding memory of the day related to the trekking and walking through unspoilt meadows, along old trails, across ridges and conquering small peaks all isolated, alone and away from other groups. We spent time exploring empty valleys, ascending and descending by trails and at one point wandering through waist-high grass for a better view of a chamois, a rare deer-type animal only found in this region. The days were interspersed with picnic breaks and fantastic dinners prepared by our Leader's wife.
The highlight of my trip? There truly were too many to list… walking, bears, small groups, ranger guide, the mountain scenery and exclusivity all featured highly. It was also nice to make it home uneaten!

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