Fully grown grizzlies are such massive creatures you’d think they would be precluded from climbing trees by their sheer size and weight.
So, if, by some stroke of misfortune and horrible planning you one day happen to find yourself excitedly running away from an adult grizzly, you might think it a good idea to climb up the nearest tree.
However, would that be a good strategy?
Can Grizzlies Climb Trees?
Grizzlies can not only climb trees but there is video proof that an adult female bear can charge up a tree at a considerable pace. Based on the visually documented evidence, it is clear that a grizzly, even a fully grown adult one, would easily outpace any human in a race up a tree.
Grizzlies are Not the Best Tree Climbers in the Bear Family
The undisputed bear-family king – or queen – of tree climbing is the black bear.
For sure, if you were being chased by a black bear, climbing a tree would be an extravagant and cavalier display of ignorance in not knowing that black bears themselves run up trees to find safety!
In short, you would be deciding to compete against an animal that is faster, stronger, more agile, and better suited than you for your selected refuge.
Your poor choice of sanctuary would probably end somewhat disagreeably. Would you fare any better against a grizzly?
Compared to black bears, grizzlies are at a disadvantage in tree climbing.
Size Matters in Tree Climbing
When thundering across an alpine tundra or crashing through a mountain forest to chase down prey, a hungry grizzly is powerful enough to be barely troubled by its size and weight.
And when at last it gets its claws into its hapless prey, those latter hindrances suddenly become amazing advantages that help the grizzly become perhaps the apex non-human predator on the planet.
Bigger and heavier than a black bear, a grizzly is nevertheless so incredibly strong that it can literally muscle its way up a tree.
As previously mentioned, it can accomplish this tree-climbing feat at nearly full pelt, in a swift cadence that one could even describe as ‘running’ or at least, ‘a canter.’
Claws Matter When Climbing Trees
Powerful claws provide an animal with the grip necessary to ascend trees. This is one reason why we humans invented crampons, to give us a grip that nature did not herself bless us with.
However, the mere fact of having claws is not the sole factor in deciding how well-suited a creature is to climbing trees. It also matters how strong, long, and well-shaped those claws are.
Black bear claws are hook-shaped, curving back on themselves at the extremities. As you can imagine, such claws, coupled with sufficient strength, make for an exceptional grip on tree bark.
Grizzly claws curve too, but not like hooks.
Instead, grizzly claws curve like curved swords, and in fact, grizzlies employ their claws for a similar purpose as ancient man: to slash, damage, and kill.
Thus, a grizzly’s claws are not optimized for tree climbing.
However, grizzly claws are four to five inches long in an adult grizzly and plenty strong enough to cut into tree bark and help propel the animal upwards.
In short, they are for hunting, but they are good enough for tree climbing too.
It’s Easier to Climb Trees with a Body That is Designed for that Purpose
The grizzly is designed from its shoulder-muscle-powering hump down to tear apart and turn heavy objects, move massive weights, and dig excessively in the never-ending search for food.
Such a body is simply not meant to excel at tree climbing, so the grizzly isn’t an arboreal acrobat.
Instead, it is the next best thing, a tree-climbing adept, and one that I’d venture to say is better at climbing trees than even a lion or tiger.
It’s Hard to Climb Trees When There Aren’t any Around
The natural range of grizzlies is polar barrens, tundra, plains, and other areas where trees are decidedly sparse.
Thus, over the millennia, grizzlies have come to rely less and less on being able to climb trees for sustenance of safety.
The end result is a variation in body type that does not necessarily lend itself to the tree-climbing form but instead melds together those elements that make the prospect of meeting a hungry grizzly on a plain a terrifying and possibly lethal encounter for most animals.
The Top Speed of a Grizzly Bear Climbing a Tree
Unfortunately, there is no formal, widely-agreed top speed of a grizzly climbing a tree.
Here is a video that shows an incensed grizzly scaling a tree at a rate of knots, so to speak, covering an estimated 100 feet in 8 seconds.
I don’t have the trigonometry, photography, and geographic skills to rigorously calculate the precise details of this incident, so even with this video evidence, all I can do is postulate an anecdotal figure, which I have given above.
Frequently Asked Questions about Grizzlies Climbing Trees
Do grizzly bears usually climb trees?
Grizzlies do not usually climb trees. If a mother grizzly’s cubs are threatened by other grizzlies, she will take them into a tree to make their defense easier. On the other hand, grizzly cubs love to play in trees, and their relative strength and smaller size make such ventures an easier adventure.
What kinds of trees can grizzlies easily climb?
Given that grizzlies don’t have hook-shaped claws like black bears, grizzlies are better suited to climbing large trees with firm, evenly spaced branches that can hold their weight. However, this isn’t to say that a grizzly can’t climb other kinds of trees rapidly.
Is running up a tree the best way of defending myself from a grizzly bear?
Running up a tree is not the best way of defending yourself from a grizzly bear. The very best way to protect yourself is to not live, visit, or trespass into bear country in the first place! The second way is to arm yourself, but, don’t shoot at them because it only annoys them.
Afterword: Can Grizzlies Climb Trees?
Grizzly bears eat all kinds of foods, mostly vegetation, and plants.
However, they are partial to animal, bird, and fish protein and will go out of their way for a delicious snack.
If that snack happens to be you trying to stay out of a grizzly’s way up in a tree, I’m afraid that you’re probably out of luck by the proverbial country mile.
There are many recorded cases of humans who, literally, came to a grisly end when they thought of finding safety from a grizzly bear in a tree.