Favorite Travel Quotes

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts."
-- Mark Twain
Innocents Abroad

"Stop worrying about the potholes in the road and celebrate the journey." -- Fitzhugh Mullan

"A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving." -- Lao Tzu

Yo Bear; Yo Bear

©Bert Gildart: According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this winter could be a bitter cold one. Here in Glacier National Park there are many indications to suggest they may be correct. Two nights ago, just a few thousand feet up from our campground in Many Glacier, the rain here had been transformed to snow, and when we awoke, the peaks were all dusted with layers of white. What’s more, the bears we’ve been seeing (more on that later) seem well feed and unusually plump for this time of year.

Fresh snow on Mount Jackson

Fresh snow on Mount Jackson

The snow, however, provided clarity to the air, transforming the smoke laden-air into something that was fresh and inviting. What’s more the storm was lifting, and Matt Rigg and I decided to stick to our plans. We would beseech our wives to drop us at the trailhead for Piegan Pass which would lead us 13 miles later back to my Airstream now parked beneath Grinnell Peak in the campground. Matt and his wife, Bonnie, divide their time between Kalispell, Montana, and Miami, Florida. Matt is a financial consultant and Bonnie an art teacher at the local university. Janie and I have enjoyed their company now for over 15 years. Initially, our friendship began because of our mutual love of Glacier National Park-and over the years, Matt and I have hiked some of the park’s other trails (*Grinnell Overlook ).

The trail Matt and I decided to hike begins at Siyeh Bend along the Going to the Sun Highway, and almost immediately it begins to climb. Bears frequent the entire area coursed by our route and so we both checked to make sure our bear spray was strapped on our belts and that it was easily accessible. (Toward the end of our trip, we were glad we’d checked!)

MORE FRESH SNOW

As we looked back over the trail we’d just ascended, we could see fresh snow now covering Jackson Glacier and even though the warming climate has diminished this once massive chunk of ice, the setting was still gorgeous. Jackson was the grandson of Hugh Monroe, who was perhaps the first white man to explore what is now Glacier. Jackson was a scout for General Custer and served with Captain Reno on the occasion of Custer’s death, along the Little Bighorn.

The dome-like mountain was further dramatized by our immediate surroundings. At our feet carpets of wildflowers flanked the trail and one species in particular attracted our attention-and that was Zigadenus, better known as Death Camas.

DEATH CAMAS

The species was the one mentioned in the book, Into The Wild, and if the book’s protagonist did indeed eat the plant, it may have contributed to his death, for all parts of the plant are poisonous. Another species of camas is blue and it is palatable-and it too grows in Glacier. Elsewhere, Native Americans once flocked to areas to dig for the bulbs produced by this species. And so, in Montana, there is an area near the Flathead Indian Reservation known as Camas Prairie.

Death Camas

Mountain Deathcamas

Soon our trail ascended above timber line and then it began to drop. The peaks here were all covered with snow and it seemed the waterfalls carried with them fresh runoff. Descending now toward Josephine Lake, we found what appeared to be new clumps of subalpine fir, and we wondered if this species was migrating into areas formerly occupied by vast fields of flowers. We had heard from several naturalists that this might be one of the changes global warming might bring about.

GRIZZLY ENCOUNTER

We had departed from the trailhead at 11 a.m. and now six hours and almost 13 miles later were about to reach trail’s end. The trail was now closed in on either side by Doug fir and spruce and because we were tired, our conversation had dropped off. What’s more trail’s end was no more than a quarter of a mile away. Suddenly Matt who was in the lead stopped. “See it?” he said. “It’s a grizzly!”

Earlier we had both made a pact, that if a bear got one of us down, the other was still obligated to move forward and spray the bear, preferable in the face. Anecdotal accounts have shown that to be extremely effective. And so, we both pulled our bear spray from our belts and undid the safety catch-and then we evaluated the bear.

Matt Rigg and fresh snow in Glacier National Park

Matt Rigg and fresh snow in Glacier National Park

The bear was a beautiful specimen with a much grizzled appearance. It was not a huge bear, however, perhaps the size of a black bear, and so we wondered if it might be a cub in the 1 ½ year bracket, still accompanied by a sow-and perhaps another club. That was the precise family grouping Janie and I had seen through our binoculars just the day before. Because that seemed a possibility, Matt and I decided to make noise, for the bear had elected to stand and simply return our stares.

“Yo, Bear; yo bear!’ we hollered out. Then louder, “YO BEAR; YO BEAR!”

SHOUTING GENERALLY WORKS

Our shouting worked, and soon the bear, in absolutely no hurry, sauntered across the trail and disappeared into the woods. Pacing it off, we determined that the bear had been no more than 25 yards away. Even more surprising, we soon came to the parking lot, and concluded that it was no more than 100 yards from where we saw the bear.

That night we evaluated the situation again, and came to believe that our bear had also been exceedingly well fleshed out, meaning that the bears might already be preparing for hibernation, which usually doesn’t take place until late November. But maybe this will be an early winter and a harsh one at that, meaning that we should be paying attention to our Farmer’s Almanac. In other words, we should be chopping wood, storing in our nuts – or preparing our Airstream for an early departure to the south.



One Response to “Yo Bear; Yo Bear”

  1. Kimmy Says:

    I hope it’s bad enough to kill off the bugs this year! We don’t have much of a bitter winter here in West Tn. I want some snow! lol
    I’ve never encountered a bear that close (unless you count the mother and cubs in Cades Cove that ran away before we could get a good look lol) It’s nice to know shouting works. That would be my instinct too.

    I thought Chris died from eating moldy potato seeds?

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