GRIZZLIES, GEYSERS AND A VERY NICE HIKE: On August 16 I reached Brooks Lake, a large lake in the Teton Wilderness, I read signs posted by the Forest Service warning of grizzlies and how to deal with encounters. I was extra cautious while hiking. This included daily practice quick-drawing the bear spray, talking frequently to a possible unsuspecting bear, not cooking in camp and hanging food 300 feet away from my tent at night. Being confident with the potential for bear encounter allowed me to enjoy the mountains, river valleys and mostly mellow trail.
On August 17 I had the pleasure to meet three Wyoming wildlife biologists who are studying grizzly bear in the Teton Wilderness area. Their work involved setting live traps so they can examine the animals and evaluate their health and other attributes, including learning how many grizzlies live in the area. So, yes, the grizzlies are out there, and my biggest fear, as I cooked my supper and the tiny cabin occupied by the biologists, was that I would meet a bear at such a vulnerable moment. Being on my feet with all my gear on my back gives me the option to move and avoid the encounter. I hoped.
The next day, on August 18, the weather was threatening as I set up my tent on a small, forested plateau. I was concerned about the many grizzly tracks and scat I observed right on the trail all day over the 20 miles I hiked. I was really surprised I did not see a bear hat day, given what I saw. That changed in a moment as my heart raced. The sound was unmistakable. I heard the cracking of wood typically made by large animals as they amble through a forest. I looked, saw a large dark colored animal, not yet able to distinguish it between bear, elk or moose. Only 150 feet away! It WAS a grizzly, and I was standing next to a fully set up tent, bear spray quickly drawn as practiced. What do I do now, I thought?
The bear saw me and made the decision for me. Smartly, it grunted and turned back the way it came! Away it went slowly and I somehow learned how to breath again.
Was I going to sleep in this camp? No way was my answer! I disassembled my tent with a sense of urgency not felt since April 18 at the Mexico border. In the increasingly rainy twilight I hiked north on the trail, while thanking the bear for turning back south. In one-half mile I found a “bearly” suitable campsite. Rain, thunder and lightning acted as additional cover from the grizzly in case it resumed it’s ambling northbound and somehow found me again. The grizzly never acted aggressively when in my presence, and I gave it little additional thought. Still, I was thrilled to experience my first grizzly encounter, and a careful smile was on my face as I reviewed the evening in my mind as I drifted to sleep under flashes of lightning. Awesome! Below is one of the tracks:
May the next encounter with grizzly be in a less vulnerable situation, please!
I entered Yellowstone the next morning, and chose another tiny ranger cabin to eat breakfast. Before breakfast I reached a meaningful point, the Snake River. After almost 1800 miles I dipped my hand in water that would eventually flow into the Columbia River in Portland, my home city. This felt so close to home!
I hiked YNP over five days. The CDT route was pleasantly mellow and I hiked pain-free until I tweaked an old plantar fascia injury. Par for the trail, I guess! No worries. The most notable aspect of Yellowstone is the presence of numerous geysers and fumerals, especially in the backcountry where they are not spoiled by the ravages of industrial tourism.
Another animal encounter was led stressful than the grizzly: A bison, apparently beaten in the rutting game, trudged slowly towards me on the trail. I risked taking cover just a few feet from the trail, camera in hand. Being that close to a bison was so unique and memorable.
It was another unforgettable moment on a 2800 mile journey.
As of August 24:
Miles hiked: 1809
Miles remaining: 851