In search of close animal encounters, Sarah Marshall joins 'Bear Whisperer' Gary Zorn on a new adventure in Canada's Cariboo Mountains

There were several chilling lessons to be drawn from Werner Herzog's 2005 documentary Grizzly Man, which told the tragic story of Timothy Treadwell's misguided love affair with Alaska's brown bears: No matter how long you've known or studied them, these are intrinsically wild animals, and pitching a tent in their campground is a foolish, arguably suicidal act.

Precaution or prejudice, it's a thought that sticks with me as I zip open a canvas tent erected on a floating pontoon deep in the heart of British Columbia's Cariboo Mountains - a wild, remote region of ancient forests, glassy rivers and snow-dusted peaks, where my closest neighbours are bears.

Glamping With Grizzlies is the latest venture from veteran wildlife tracker Gary Zorn, whose affinity with the shaggy mammals led him to trademark his Bear Whisperer moniker. For more than 40 years he's been tracking paw prints by foot and monitoring behaviour. Now he's setting up camp in their front room.

At 5am we motor slowly into the middle of Quesnel Lake, waiting for ridgelines to map the horizon and treetops to emerge from shadows in the early morning light.

It's a 50 mile boat ride to former gold rush community Likely, where Gary operates wilderness adventure company Ecotours-BC with his wife Peggy. But sleeping overnight in the thick of the action means we can catch the bears at their most active in the first few hours of the day.

A former hunter turned photographic guide, 72-year-old Gary was the first person in British Columbia to be awarded a bear guiding licence. He has almost exclusive use of an area the size of Switzerland, covering areas where he claims people probably haven't set foot for 20 years.

But it's here, on the Mitchell, a small river running into the Cariboo Mountains Provincial Park, that he has his best encounters.

Unlike so many of the province's coastal hides and lodges, there are no fenced, elevated platforms and - crucially - no crowds.

I'm not sure whether it's the towering vegetation or gut-clenching fear, but the forest begins to spin around me. "Too much wilderness," is Gary's somewhat equivocal diagnosis.

On the riverbank, meanwhile, a bloated male grizzly wobbles towards the water, his bottom jiggling like a chocolate panna cotta.

"Jethro," tuts Gary, as if chastising a greedy child. "Will you look at the butt on that!"

Much of Gary's success stems from his understanding of the Cariboo's resident bears. All of them have names and distinct characteristics, and some even display recognisable family traits - all recorded in a journal which the Whisperer writes every night.

There's Jethro, "the big bruiser of the river" whose bulk gives him unlimited access to the salmon buffet; Matilda's daughter, who wears a white Elizabethan-style ruff just like her mother; and Henry, who allows us to float so closely in our boat he could almost jump aboard and join us for a ride.

Wading through icy water, Gary gently pulls our metal boat towards a fallen log where the young male is fishing. Sweeping a paw below the surface, he scoops up a catch, claws shining like hooks on an angler's rod. As he gently ambles in our direction, we slowly drift away.

Although fond of close encounters, there's nothing naive or gung-ho about Gary. With every step or dip of the paddle, he exercises caution and never underestimates the wild animals in his company. Reading Cariboo's grizzlies with the astuteness of a psychologist, he knows when we're welcome and when to back off.

Operating a camp so close to the shore is a potentially risky business, but Gary is confident the bears won't pose a threat; all food is carefully locked away in containers, and there are plans to install an electric fence around the site.

Featuring two double tents, the set-up is exclusive, and with sprung mattresses on bed frames and a heated shower, it's a comfortable experience too.

My thoughts return to his warnings of wilderness overload, and for the first time those words begin to make sense. From the amplified squeals of eagles commanding the canopy, to decades of rotting vegetation creating uncertain ground - it's nature on a scale unfamiliar to most.

Our concrete horizons, smooth Tarmac roads and smoggy air make places like the Cariboo feel like a fantasy. Never mind glamping with grizzlies - that's the scariest reality of them all.

How to get there

Canada specialist, Discover the World (01737 886 131; offers a 4-night Glamping With Grizzlies adventure from £2,796 per person (based on two people sharing) on a full board basis with excursions, a guide, local transfers from Williams Lake, return domestic flights from Vancouver to Williams Lake and a pre-night in Vancouver. Departures between August 27 to October 16, 2019 incur a supplement of £372 per person.

Discover the World offers all airline options flying to Canada from the UK with prices in summer 2019 starting from around £370pp for return flights between London and Vancouver.

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