Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Bear Bait: Dawson Pass Loop Day 1 - Glacier National Park

Within 30 minutes of walking we ran into a group of hikers going the opposite way, who warned us of a black bear ahead of us on the trail

I kind of slowed down, and was intently scanning the forest in front of me looking for it, trying to make sure that we wouldn't surprise each other. The woods were thick with spruce, and pine, and fir, and even aspen, and all I could see were a thousand shades of green and brown.  Two Medicine Lake, I knew, was maybe a couple hundred feet from my left shoulder, but I couldn't even see it through the trees. I couldn't see squat. I felt like the point-man on a U.S.  Special Forces team in some southeast Asian jungle, trying spot the enemy first before I stumbled into an ambush.

 I know the bear isn't my enemy, but  frankly I didn't want to surprise the hell out of it and get attacked by the damn thing. I kept thinking about that poor hiker in Kentucky last June who was almost eaten by a black bear. If he hadn't been rescued by another group of hikers he would have been dinner. But I had some companions with me, so I wasn't too worried.

We were being loud. We sang some Tom Petty. We clapped our hands. We called out “hey bear” and “coming through bear”, or even the occasional enticement “people steaks” and “Special tonight, leg-of-Larson, come and get it”. It was pretty amusing coming up with funny little quips to yell into the woods to ward off bears…  And in this particular instant it didn't even work.

I had just about given up. I thought the bear must be gone and I wasn't going to see it.  I glanced to my left and my eyes locked with the eyes of a bear that was standing about 15 feet just off the trail in front of me. He was staring right at me, watching me coming, and I didn't see him until I was nearly right on top of him. The instant I saw him, I was startled, which in turn startled the bear, who jumped just as a person would when you scare the crap out of them, did a lightning  fast 180 degree turn, and took off into the woods. He got about 30 feet before he ran into some huckleberry bushes and sat down for lunch.

He was big and black and the light gleaming off his manicured coat looked like something a rich woman would have worn back in the day. He paid no attention to us at all, just sat there eating like we weren't even there.  I took some pics, and soon we were on our way again. I couldn't help but wonder how the outcome might have been different if it was a 500 pound grizzly instead of a 150 pound black bear (that’s what it looked like to me). Not that 150 pounds is small. I remember Luke remarking that it was just the size of a big dog.  Well 150 pounds is a huge dog (and coincidentally also the size of the bear that mauled that dude in Kentucky).  I remember my old dog Bruener (who I compare all big dogs too), he was about 110 and scared the holy crap out of everybody, and could have killed just about anyone if he wanted to. Seeing the bear up close like that was surreal, but it wasn't scary. I realized 5 minutes after we left him that I didn't even reach for the bear spray I had on my hip.

About 15 minutes later we had another encounter that truly did scare me.  Jesse was up front, and somehow spotted a bull moose off the trail to our left about 60 feet or so into the woods. I t was by far the biggest animal I have ever seen in the wild. His rack was 5 feet long from end-to-end it looked like a damn school bus. I know that I’m exaggerating, but I was kind of freaked. It just stood there holding its ground staring. It’s like it was sizing us up. I remarked to the guys, “That thing is gigantic and it’s staring right at us” and Jesse goes, “Yeah, should we be standing here? Let’s go!” I took a couple heart pounding (it was so huge) pictures and we boogied.

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