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Visit gives 'paws' to hiker

Karen Gastineau got a pretty hairy surprise this past Saturday while hiking Claremont’s trails. The retired Claremont High School teacher was just leaving Burbank Canyon and heading down into Johnson’s Pasture when she saw a California black bear ambling up the path.

The bear was so close that all she could do was fervently hope that it would decide to get off the trail and move along. Ms. Gastineau, an avid amateur nature photographer, wasn’t so scared that she didn’t have the urge to document the experience.

After calling out “Bear!” 3 times in a successively louder tone of voice, hoping to warn 2 young men hiking a few feet away as well as a group of 12 hikers resting nearby in the shade, she sprang into action. She asked the men to hold her hiking poles so she could begin snapping photos.

“There was no time to get away, so I figured I may as well tough it out,” she said.

She had another reason for handing over the poles. “I said to them, you would have more strength to crack him across the nose than I would,” she said.

At first, Ms. Gastineau counted herself lucky that there were so many hikers around, because when it comes to bears, there’s safety in numbers. You’re supposed to stay together as a group and make yourself look as big and as intimidating to the bear as possible, she said. The dozen hikers shading themselves, however, didn’t stick around to see if this principle is effective.

She managed to get an impactful series of photographs of the visiting creature, coming, closer and closer down the path before climbing way via some nearby hills. According to Ms. Gastineau’s camera, the close encounter lasted from 9:04 to 9:06 a.m.

“I went home and was really jazzed,” she said of her stunning pictures.

While she held her breath for a moment there, Ms. Gastineau will certainly be back up on the trails. A perennially active go-getter, she heads out to Claremont’s open spaces as often as possible. She also likes to get in a good game of golf on a regular basis, particularly relishing the Marshall Canyon Golf Club in La Verne for its breathtaking vistas and regular visits from deer.

While most Claremonters shy away from the hiking trails when it is rainy or foggy, those are some of her favorite moments, she notes.

“You see spider webs with beads of rain or dew on them and it’s so beautiful,” she said.

As befits someone who is crazy about nature, Ms. Gastineau admits she has taken a few risks in the name of a good shot. When you see a rattlesnake lying on the path, it’s still and looks dead. When riled, however, it can spring up a considerable distance.

“It’s kind of stupid, but I’ll poke them so they’ll rear up,” she said. (The COURIER, and likely the Claremont Police Department, cautions all readers to avoid snakes rather than tempting them to strike a pose.) In Ms. Gastineau’s defense, she is one of those people who just seems to find the wild kingdom irresistible.

“I love nature. I could live in a house with no roof,” she said.

—Sarah Torribio

storribio@claremont-courier.com

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