I made it through my first year in Montana without seeing a grizzly. This was partly due to dumb luck, and partly because I spent more time exploring the areas close to Bozeman and in the Bridgers where grizzlies are less common.
One of my main motivating factors for choosing Montana State University for my undergraduate education was to hunt. The variety of game animals in Montana is unparalleled in the US and I wanted to hunt everything. Bighorn sheep are probably the most revered game animal in the nation and for most people a sheep hunt was a once in a lifetime opportunity requiring either a very expensive guide, or a very lucky draw in a lottery. Montana, however, had two areas that were so remote and where the sheep didn’t get very big and it sold unlimited sheep licenses in those areas. It was my only chance. One of these areas was just to the northwest of Yellowstone National Park and I was excited both for the hunt and to explore a new area.
I was hunting by myself and I backpacked in for a week, camping right at timberline near a small stream. Everyday I spent hiking above timberline and looking for sheep. I didn’t see any but one evening, as I was returning to my camp I spied a large bear crossing an avalanche path well below me. Getting a better look through my binoculars revealed it to be a grizzly. Fortunately it was almost 1000 feet below me and going in the opposite direction from my camp so I just enjoyed watching my first griz for a minute or so and didn’t really think much about it.
After a quick meal in the waning daylight I crawled into my sleeping bag and prepared for a good night’s sleep. A few minutes later I was surprised to hear loud snorting and pawing at the ground outside my tent. Suddenly I had a vivid recollection of the bear I had seen 20 minutes before. Had he smelled me and come running? He would have had to run FAST to cover that distance in such a short time. That didn’t make sense. Bears don’t stalk people from half a mile away, but what else could it be?
I sat up with my rifle pointed at the noise. Would my sheep rifle stop a grizzly? What if my foot was in said grizzlies mouth? Do I take that shot or not? My tent was small and I felt vulnerable laying on the ground, but I couldn’t stand up. And it was getting darker by the second. What to do? I knew I wanted to be standing and able to see what was happening so I gathered my nerves and jumped out of my tent. Actually the tent was way too small to jump out of. I crawled out on my hands and knees, grabbed my rifle, and stood up and looked around. Any bear worthy of the name could have covered 100 yards in the time it took me to do that, but I felt better. As my eyes adjusted to the growing darkness I was pleasantly surprised to see not a large grizzly, but rather an even larger bull moose. It was late September and thus the peak of the moose rut when bulls can be quite unpredictable. Bull moose have been reported to derail freight trains in Norway during the rut. Moose in Montana are only half the size of northern moose. That’s still pretty big. At least I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be eaten and being stomped to death somehow is not quite so disturbing. I waved my arms and yelled at him and was relieved when he wandered off down the mountain, curiosity satisfied that I was not in fact a female moose and therefore completely uninteresting to him for at least two weeks of every year.
The following summer I spent doing construction work in Bozeman but I saved the last week before school began for a trip to Glacier National Park. My friend Bill had hooked me up with his friend Matt Reid who was making a film about grizzlies. Matt had invited me to go out with the film crew and I was giddy with anticipation. I literally couldn’t imagine ANYTHING I would rather do. When I arrived in Glacier, however, I found Matt also giddy with excitement. The day before his film crew in Yellowstone was sitting on a bison carcass in the Hayden Valley hoping that a bear would find it when a wolf appeared. This was BIG news. At the time wolves had not yet been reintroduced into Yellowstone but a lot of work had already been done towards that goal. Most of the work that I did in Yellowstone during my time there was gathering baseline data prior to wolf-reintroduction so that it would be possible to evaluate their effects. Wolf reintroduction was highly controversial in the area, however, and some of the opposition groups claimed that reintroduction was unnecessary, perhaps even illegal, because wolves already existed in the park. There was not a shred of evidence to support this idea, however, until then. Matt was pulling the film crew from Glacier and sending them to Yellowstone and he himself was leaving the next morning to fly to New York to appear on the Today show. It was that big of a deal.
Although I was thrilled for Matt and for the film I was a bit devastated to lose my opportunity to go out with the crew. Matt told me that his crew had been filming a bear that had been hanging out near No Name Lake and he assured me that if I went up there I would probably see it. This wasn’t what I had signed up for, but I didn’t want to seem afraid in front of Matt. He took me to the backcountry ranger’s office at Two Medicine Lake and talked them into giving me an undesignated site permit for the gypsy campground at No Name Lake. Even then, it was very difficult to get a backcountry camping permit in Glacier. Backpackers were required to stay in specific campgrounds to protect the resource and provide some measure of safety from bears. If you had reason to be someplace other than one of the designated campgrounds you could ask for an undesignated site permit. Rangers didn’t like giving them out but Matt assured me that they couldn’t legally deny them and he stood his ground. The ranger told me he didn’t recommend it and I was almost ready to bail but he did issue me the permit. It was for the “gypsy” campground which was an unmarked, hidden campground where trail crews and other park personnel stayed when they were in the area on official business. I would be there alone.
It was a dreary morning and I was eager to get on my way and set up my tent before it began to rain. The hike in was 5 or 6 miles and took only three hours. I managed to find the hidden trail to the gypsy camp and arrived just as it began raining. I quickly set up my tent and jumped in just as the heavens opened up in a downpour so I pulled my pack in afterwards. Rainstorms in Glacier are always cold, even in August so I pulled out my sleeping bag and crawled in, thankful that it was warm and still dry. It had been a long couple days and the next thing I remember was waking up. As usual it took a few seconds to remember where I was. Yeah, Glacier Park. In a gypsy camp where a grizzly had been hanging out. All by myself. And it was dark. I had slept through the afternoon and into the night. I was hungry and turned on my headlamp and stared at my pack for a bit as the realization slowly hit me. All my food was still in it. The first rule of camping in grizzly country is DO NOT KEEP FOOD IN YOUR TENT. The second rule of camping in grizzly country is DO NOT KEEP FOOD ANYWHERE THAT IT IS ACCESSIBLE TO A BEAR. The first is to protect people, the second is to protect bears. Actually the first is to protect the bears as well.
Bears are highly evolved to remember where to find food in different seasons of the year. They have incredible memories and will remember and return to places where they have found an easy meal. In 1989 a train derailed near Marias Pass on the southern boundary of Glacier spilling 10,000 tons of corn. By the fall of 1990 the corn had begun to ferment and had attracted more than two dozen (slightly inebriated) bears to the area and by 1993, nine grizzlies had been confirmed to have been killed by trains, five of them breeding females. That is a huge loss to the relatively small and endangered grizzly population in the park. The railroad eventually cleaned up the spill but bears are still returning to the are two decades later looking for corn. If a bear happens to find a meal in a human campground there is a good chance that it will return as well. And if it continues to find food it will continue to return until it becomes a “problem bear” and problem bears have very short lifespans. As I lay awake in my tent pondering the best course of action, I envisioned the newspaper headlines “Wildlife biology student and aspiring grizzly bear biologist mauled to death after doing everything wrong….”.
I weighed the danger of keeping food in my tent versus going outside to hang it in the dark, where a bear might already have been attracted by it and weighing the dangers for itself. Eventually I decided that it was raining hard enough to keep the scent from traveling and hopefully to keep the bears holed up someplace warm and dry, and I faded off to a fitful sleep full of bear attack dreams.
At some point in the night something hit me in the face and I woke up screaming and punching into the dark. Nothing happened. I turned on my light and stared into the glowing eyes of a deer mouse sitting on my pack. It had crawled up the screen door of my tent, worked its way through the zipper at the top and dropped in the dark onto my face. I’m sure he was more scared than I was…. I grabbed for him but he ducked behind my pack. I lifted the pack and he ran under my sleeping bag. I grabbed under my sleeping bag but came up empty handed. Eventually I gave up and dozed off to sleep again waking occasionally screaming and punching into the night whenever the mouse decided to run across my face. In retrospect it might have been a good thing I was the only human for miles around. I might also have scared off any bear dumb enough to wander out into the storm. Finally I decided I had enough. The rain had slowed to a drizzle and I put on my raincoat and emptied my tent item by item until there was nothing left inside but me and the mouse. I cornered him, grabbed him by the tail, and flung him unceremoniously into the dark, wet, cold, night. I didn’t feel bad.
The next time I awoke it was still dark. As the fog of sleep left me I realized that I could not move my legs. There was a large heavy weight pressing my legs against the floor of my tent and that… weight… could… only…. be…. A BEAR!!!!!! I erupted. Screaming, punching, and kicking again. Again nothing. This time I turned my light on and saw that my tent was indeed only half the size it had been when I went to sleep. A quick check outside showed why. Snow. In August. Not an inch or two, but a foot. Oddly enough it made me feel better, believing that no bear worthy of the name would be out and about and I was still warm and dry so I eventually caught a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. I awoke to blue skies, the rocky spires of Pumpelley Pillar and Rising Wolf Mountain towering overhead, and the blinding whiteness of newly fallen snow. I was very happy to be alive and breathless at the beauty that surrounded me. I was however, quite cold, so I gathered my gear, threw it in my pack, and set off down the trail through the unbroken blanket of snow that surrounded me. Unbroken for about 100 yards at least before I hit my first set of grizzly tracks. Another 20 yards was another set. Then they followed the trail in the direction I was heading. Hmmm, I desperately wanted to move fast to warm my fingers but I didn’t want to catch up to the bear either so I turned around and hiked uphill towards Dawson Pass where I could warm up without going to fast. Then I turned back around and headed for home confident that any bear that wanted me had their chance the night before and that the bears that were out and about were reveling in the beauty around them just like me and not interested in what I had in my pack.
A few weeks later, exactly a year after my first grizzly and probably not 30 miles away as the crow flies I was hunting again in late September on another ‘only in Montana’ type of hunt. This time it was elk, but a very unusual type of elk hunt. When elk are rutting or bugling, they can be called in by hunters pretending to be another bull elk, or if they are smart hunters, a cow elk. Generally this occurs prior to the rifle season and only bow-hunters are allowed to hunt elk during the bugling season. The possibility of calling in an elk is the main advantage that bow hunters have, although having a 700 pound bull running up to you looking for a fight might leave you unable to hold your bow steady enough to shoot. Elk are not stupid, however, and most areas have enough hunters that the elk have gotten smart and don’t respond quite so easily to every bugle and cow call they hear. This was not most areas, however. This was Yellowstone.
Normally, someone like myself, who is far too lazy to put in the time to learn how to shoot a bow and learn to sound like an elk, would never have a chance to hunt during bugle season (In my defense I was carrying 21 credits and working 20 hours most weeks). There is one area in Montana, however, where there is an early rifle season during the rut. That area is the Hellroaring Creek drainage. This valley drains INTO Yellowstone National Park from the north and there are no roads into it (not even close) from outside the park. Hunters are not allowed to go through the park, so the only way to get in is to hike or ride a horse 7 or 8 miles to the top of the ridge that defines the Hellroaring Creek drainage. That is the beginning of the hunting district.
It is the nature of ridges that once you are on one, the only way to go is down. A corollary to that natural law is that if you are on the other side of a ridge from your truck, the only way to get back to it is to go up. And if you happen to have shot an elk on the opposite side of a ridge from your truck you have to take it up and over the ridge with you. The entire 300 or 400 pounds of meat. This is not a trivial task if you have horses. If you have no horses, however, it can be a monumental task. Needless to say, I was not interested in hunting the lower elevations of Hellroaring Creek. I stayed on the ridge top.
Late September is a spectacular time to be in the woods, especially in Montana. The aspen trees are turning gold, the elk and moose are in rut, there is usually a dusting (at least) of snow on the peaks, and all the merry woodland creatures are out and about preparing for a long winter. Mostly by gorging themselves silly. This is especially true of bears. In southwest Montana, the prime source of food for bears at this time of year is the whitebark pine nut. Whitebark pines are my favorite tree. They are the last tree species to grow before timberline so they are always in beautiful, remote places. They have a broad spreading canopy and often multiple trunks which is more reminiscent of a live oak than a pine forest. There is very little understory so they are easy to walk through. This is partly due to extreme climate and partly due to intense solar radiation at that altitude which breaks everything down quicker.
My favorite thing about whitebark pines however, is the ecology of their seeds. They produce a large nut that is high in fat and protein and it plays a large role in the ecology of high elevation forests in this area. There is a bird, the Clarks Nutcracker, that specializes in harvesting these nuts. They pull them out of cones still in the trees and cache them two or three at a time (the most they can carry in one trip) around the forest. Research has shown that they can remember the exact location of thousands of these caches and return months, even years later to retrieve them. They do not get them all, however, and this is the reason that these trees have multiple trunks. Research shows that if you plant one seed, you get a tree with one trunk but if you plant two or three seeds together, you get a tree with two or three trunks, so we know that almost all of these trees are planted by this bird.
Red squirrels also feed heavily on whitebark pine nuts. They climb the tree, cut down a cone, and store the nuts in large middens around the base of a tree. Whitebark pines, however, are inconsistent producers. Every two or three years there is a good crop, but the other years there is very little production. What this means for squirrels is that they can only exist at the lower elevations of the whitebark pine zone where they are mixed with spruce, fir, and lodgepole pine so that the squirrels have a backup during the years when whitebark pine nuts are not available. At higher elevations where there are only whitebarks, squirrels can’t live and these nuts are left for the birds. This also has implications for bears as well. Grizzlies are not the best tree climbers, and, like me, they are somewhat lazy, so they spend their time in the fall looking for squirrel middens to raid. And research has shown, that in years with high whitebark pine nut production there are very few problems between bears and people, relative to years with low whitebark productivity. When there are nuts the bears stay on the remote, high ridges, where the living is easy. When there are no nuts, the bears stay lower down where they are more likely to get in trouble with people.
The fall of 1992 was a time of high whitebark productivity, which had implications for my hunt that I was well aware of. When you backpack hunt alone just outside Yellowstone you are truly a part of the ecosystem. On one hand it meant that the bears were more interested in nuts then they would be in me. On the other hand, it meant that all the bears in Yellowstone were concentrated on the high ridges, such as the one that I was spending a week on. As I hunted I saw lots of evidence of bears. I saw lots of scat that was full of pine nuts. I saw lots of middens that had been raided. Twice it snowed an inch or two and I saw lots of tracks in the snow. I found two gut piles from elk that had been shot and field dressed. Both of these had been mostly consumed by bears. I ran into a few hunters who had seen bears. Somehow, however, I managed to go the entire week without actually seeing a bear myself. Or many elk for that matter. At least not one that I was willing to cut my hunt short for and pack out 8 miles. I was having too much fun hunting to bother to shoot anything.
On the evening of the last day of my hunt I was coming back to my camp. It was getting dark and I knew that I was getting close to my tent but I hadn’t seen it yet (it was a natural shade of grey and somewhat dirty…). Suddenly a spruce grouse flushed about 40 feet in front of me. I watched it land in a tree branch silhouetted against the setting sun and I felt the saliva begin to flow like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I hadn’t had meat or any fresh food in a week and grouse sounded delicious. I quickly shouldered my rifle, took aim at its head and cleanly decapitated it with my first shot. My eyes followed it as it hit the ground, first with anticipation of my upcoming meal, and second in slowly growing horror as I realized that it had landed only a few feet from my tent, which I had not noticed until that time. My horror continued to grow as I watched it run a full circle around my tent spouting blood from its neck onto the ground and onto my tent.
There I was again, darkness arriving quickly, in an area that I knew to be full of grizzly bears, and my tent was sitting squarely in the center of a circle of blood. Yeah…. I saw the headlines already. “Stupid wildlife biology major and aspiring grizzly biologist found dead after doing every possible wrong thing you can do….”. I was running out of time, however, so I quickly grabbed my tent and my pack and moved it about 100 yards to the base of a pine tree that had been struck by lightning. One trunk was still standing and had a few low branches that made it relatively climbable but the other was dead and lying on the ground. Perfect. I faced my tent towards the dead branches and gathered a large pile of dead wood under it. My theory was that if I heard a bear I could empty my stove fuel on it, turning it instantly into a massive bonfire, which would give me enough time and light to climb the tree. It wasn’t much but it was all I could do at the time. Having completed my preparations I cooked the grouse, which was delicious, and crawled into my sleeping bag with a bottle of stove fuel in one hand and a lighter in the other, listening intently to the movement of all the creatures of the night, waiting for the sound of a large, furry, clawed foot on soft moss. Fortunately it never came. At least for the 10 minutes or so that I managed to stay awake….
The next summer I got my first real job in the science field as the GIS/GPS coordinator for Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies. I worked for about a month straight until early July when I finally got caught up enough to take a few days off. I knew exactly what I was going to do. We have all seen films of coastal grizzlies (brown bears) in Alaska feeding on spawning salmon. Most of us, however, are probably unaware that a similar phenomenon exists in Yellowstone. Yellowstone lake is huge and has a massive population of cutthroat trout (at least it did until some yahoo introduced lake trout a few years back….). Cutthroat spawn in the spring, which is June in Yellowstone. The exact time is dependent on the temperature of the water. When the water in the stream gets warm enough, the trout migrate out of the lake into the streams to breed and some of the bears have learned about this, usually from their mothers, and they spend most of June feasting on spawning trout. There are not that many bears in Yellowstone and not all of them know about the spawning trout. There are, however, a lot of streams flowing into the lake and so you don’t get huge concentrations on any one stream as you do in Alaska.
There is one stream, however, which stays cold longer than the others. In order to keep this special place secret I won’t say where it is or why it is so cold. Suffice it to say that because it is colder and spawning is temperature dependent, it is the last stream that gets a spawning run. As I said, bears are very highly adapted to remembering where easy food can be found and for one week in July, this stream is the only game in town and there are a fair amount of bears that have figured this out. I knew this because I had connections among bear biologists and my best friend Bill had been a bear researcher in the seventies and he focused on the use of spawning streams around Yellowstone Lake by grizzlies. Over the years he had taken several people to this place and I had heard the stories. Ten or fifteen bears visible at once was common. I told him I wanted to go and he gave me all the details.
“They usually come out about an hour before dark” He said.
“So… you watch them for an hour and then walk out in the dark?” I asked.
“Don’t worry”, he said. “They are full of fish and not interested in you”
It sounded good sitting in his living room in Bozeman.
I mentioned this trip to my friend Ann Marie who was working with me that summer. She said she wanted to come along. “Are you sure?” I asked. “The only way to get there is to paddle a canoe for a full day”.
“Yes”, she said. “I want to come, it sounds amazing!”
I didn’t tell her that I had almost no experience paddling a canoe.
“We’ll be completely isolated and surrounded by bears” I said.
“I don’t care”, she said “I’m in”. It’s easy to be brave sitting inside on a couch, but I didn’t argue. I was pretty sure it would be safer with two people and she had always been good company (Except for one time when she tried to extinguish a burning marshmallow by shaking it rather than blowing it out resulting in second degree burns to everyone sitting around the campfire. But that is another story….).
Getting where we were going required crossing the west thumb of Yellowstone Lake. It was a dreary day and by the time we got permits, watched the “camping in grizzly country” video, and found the put-in the wind was picking up. It was coming from the west which made crossing the west thumb fast and easy. By the time we reached the east shore, however, the wind had shifted to the northwest. Getting out of the thumb meant going north diagonally into the waves. As I said, I was not an experienced canoeist but I learned quickly that you want to be perpendicular to the waves. Getting parallel to the waves significantly increases the probability that you will swamp the canoe. Getting out of the west thumb meant we had to go northeast for at least a short bit which put us directly parallel to the oncoming waves. Just going north meant a lot of zigzagging but we figured it out and although it took longer than expected we made it to the northern end of the thumb. Getting around the thumb, however, proved to be more than we were capable of. We tried everything we could think of but we just couldn’t make the turn without feeling like we were going to swamp. Eventually we decided that it might not be as dangerous as we thought and we were being scaredy cats. We went for it and we promptly swamped the canoe.
Fortunately we had not been complete idiots and we made our attempt just 50 feet from shore so we were able to get out of the lake quickly. I did lose a camera and some pride but other than that, we were fine. It was cold, however, and we were wet (Yellowstone lake rarely gets above 40 degrees). We were also miles from where we were legally allowed to camp, but we had no choice. It was getting late and there was no way we were getting around that bend or back across the west thumb heading into the wind. We built a fire, dried our gear, and did a bit of exploring before dark. We were 50 yards from a stream. All along the stream was bear tracks and scat. The scat was full of fish scales. Crap. I began envisioning the headlines “Idiot wildlife biology student and aspiring grizzly biologist mauled to death after doing everything wrong….”. It was getting dark. Yeah, I know. You think I would learn…..
“Don’t worry” I said. “They are full of fish and not interested in us”
“I didn’t see any fish in the stream” Ann Marie said.
I hadn’t either.
“They’ve probably already gone to where we are headed” I offered, “That scat didn’t look that fresh”
“How do you tell fresh bear scat from day old bear scat?” she asked, unconvinced.
“Its not something you can explain” I promised, “It comes from experience”
“How many times have you been here?” She asked.
“Just go to sleep” I said.
The next morning we woke up to sunny skies and calm weather. We quickly packed our gear and got out of the thumb while the getting was good. We paddled for two hours, followed by pelicans and watching bald eagles and ospreys catch fish from the lake and watching elk and one smallish black bear enjoying the day on shore before arriving at the campsite we had a permit for. We set up our tent and took a nice long nap in the sun. Around 5:00 we got back in the canoe and paddled the last 2 miles to our destination.
“They come out about an hour before dark” I said. “Sometimes you can see 10 or 15 at once”.
“So…. You watch them for an hour and then walk by them in the dark?” She said.
“Don’t worry”, I said. “They are full of fish and aren’t interested in us. Besides we’ll be sitting at the base of a tree that we can climb”.
We arrived at our destination and tied up the canoe.
“There aren’t many trees around” Ann Marie noted.
“Don’t worry” I said. “They are full of fish and aren’t interested in us”
“I don’t see any fish in the stream” She said.
I hadn’t either.
“The timing is not exact” I said. “But the bears are here, see look at that scat”
“But they won’t be full of fish” She said.
“Lets at least find a tree” I said.
We walked up the stream ¼ mile before finding a decent tree to sit by. It was easily climbable and about 75 yards from the stream. Perfect. It was 6:30 and in Montana in early July we had almost 2 ½ hours of useful light. The bears would start coming in an hour or so.
15 minutes went by. “If we have to climb the tree will we be in it all night?” Ann Marie asked.
“Don’t worry” I said. “The tree is a last resort, The bears will be full of fish and won’t be interested in us”
“There aren’t any fish in the stream” She said.
“Maybe there are now” I offered. Apparently I was not very convincing.
Another 15 minutes went by.
“If we have to stay in the tree all night, we’ll have to stay awake won’t we?” Ann Marie said. “Otherwise we’ll fall out of the tree.”
“Don’t worry” I said. “I know people who have done this. Nobody has had any problems”
“If the bears show up and there aren’t any fish THEN they will be hungry and bitter, won’t they?” She said.
“There might be fish” I said.
Another 15 minutes went by.
“So…. The hungry, bitter bears will be here soon and then we have to walk through them for ¼ mile to get to our canoe and then paddle back to camp in the dark?” She said.
“Look, I told you it we were going to be remote, alone, and surrounded by bears. What exactly did you think that meant?” I asked.
“You said they would be full of fish and not interested in us”
“They might be” I said.
“They might not be” She said.
“I want to go home” She said.
On our way back to the canoe we saw two bears walking up the stream. They didn’t seem interested in us but we gave them a wide berth.
In 1995 I left Montana and began graduate school at Colorado State University. When I finished three years later I was burnt out. School had been stressful but I had also experienced the unexpected death of three people I cared about during that time. I needed a break and moved to Steamboat Springs, Colorado for the summer and fall and worked as a roofer. That fall I realized that I was only a four or five hour drive from the southern boundary of the Yellowstone ecosystem. The bears would be in the whitebark pines and I could probably find a few. I hadn’t seen a grizzly in four years. My friend Mikele was in town.
“Lets go backpacking in Yellowstone next weekend” I said.
I worked out a good size loop south of the park, where I had never been before. It was a little more than I would have wanted to do but I couldn’t find a shorter loop that would have gotten us in the whitebark pine. On the drive up it began to rain. By the time we got to the trailhead it was early afternoon but we had time to hike in a few miles. We set our tent up in the middle of a large meadow and crawled in with our dogs and fell asleep. In the morning there was snow on the ground and I got up early and went down to the creek to make breakfast. A few minutes later Mikele joined me.
“I think there will be too much snow higher up to do the loop “ I said. “But we can do a day hike from here”
“Did you make those bear prints?” She asked.
“What bear prints?” I replied.
“The ones by our tent” she said.
“Nope, I had nothing to do with those. In fact I didn’t even see them”. There were black bear tracks 8 feet from our tent. Not only did we have no idea, but our two dogs missed it entirely as well. Or else they just chose to remain quiet…..
After eating we headed off for the high whitebark ridges. Before long we ran into some of the largest grizzly tracks I had ever seen. They were longer than my foot and more than twice as wide.
“Told you” I said.
“Cool” said Mikele.
“Let’s follow them” I said.
The ridge we were on contained mostly meadows with an occasional patch of forest. The bear tracks mostly went through the meadows and we followed it hoping to catch up. In the meadows we would have seen it from quite a distance away so we weren’t worried. It was a beautiful day with blue sky and fresh snow and after an hour or two I think we sort of forgot that we were following the tracks of a very large grizzly bear and just began enjoying life. Suddenly I realized that we were no longer in a meadow but in a dense forest and there was a tree across the trail that I was just about to step over. The hair went up on the back of my neck.
“You know….” I said. “This is exactly the sort of place that a grizzly would bed down for the day”
“Yeah….. Maybe we should NOT track this giant bear into the dense forest and head back to camp” I said.
Mikele pointing out the grizzly tracks, just as we decided we should turn around.
See? I am capable of learning from past mistakes after all. It just takes a few more of them in my case. Unfortunately all that experience has come for naught as for the past 15 years I have been living far from grizzly country. Black bears, however, are common visitors to my front porch. Its different though, for instance,, I would NEVER throw an empty bottle of Makers Mark at a grizzly. But that’s a whole other story….