Location- Red Eagle Lake
Elevation- 4,738 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 15.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 57.9 miles
Weather/Temp- 70s, 80s sunny
Injuries- cuts, scrapes, stings
Pain level- low
Wildlife encounters- Black Bear, Moose
Days without shower- 2
Woke up alive again, and in one piece. Unfortunately, I didn’t wake up on my own accord. At around 5:40am, something was tugging on my hammock. I sat up in the twilight to see a huge Doe Mule Deer munching on the straps of my pack, trying to pull it off from where it was hanging on my hammock suspension straps. I yelled, and she spooked off into the forest.
The reason she was chewing on my pack, was to get at the salty sweat. It was basically a salt lick to her. Thinking I was in the clear, I went back to sleep…only to be woken up 4 more times by princess Mule Deer tugging on my pack. On the fifth time, I managed to get a video of her approaching, then attacking my pack before scaring her off. After that, I decided it was time to get up. Funny enough, it tried to steal one of Schweppes’s trekking poles (which was being used to hold up his tarp) collapsing his shelter on him. I’m telling you, this deer was a comedian.
The terrain looked easy, so we slept in knowing we only had to do 15 miles today. As I predicted last night, it was much more challenging than the maps revealed. Ten out of the fifteen miles was quite literally bushwacking. I have never seen overgrown trail that bad anywhere else. There was almost no trail to speak of, as you couldn’t even see your feet as you hiked, for miles at a time. The worst was the semi frequent nettles stinging my legs and arms. At times it was almost pure nettles. They only sting and itch for a few minutes, but when you’re brushing up against one every thirty seconds, it feels like you can’t catch a break. At one point I stepped into a hole and fell hard on my face through the foliage, slicing two nice gashes in my right ring finger. I let it bleed for a bit, then washed it in the next stream and wrapped some athletic tape around it. Good as new.
One of the highlights of the thick vegetation was the “Bear Grass.” It has nothing to do with bears, and is nothing more than a beautiful cluster of white flowers on the end of a long, skinny stalk. Merriwether Lewis gave it that name after witnessing a bear walking through a huge patch of it during their great expedition. The Bear Grass was thick today, and made for some beautiful scenery. Anytime you brush against it, it leaves a thick coat of powdery pollen on you to be carried off and transferred to the next Bear Grass flower.
As a result of the bushwacking, we took a lot of breaks anytime the trail opened up to a slight clearing. This wasn’t very often due to the fact that we were walking along a steep embankment with the large Saint Mary Lake to our left for most of the day. So we were mostly cornered by a steep drop off on our left, and an impossibly steep embankment on our right; not the best circumstance to run into a bear. Speaking of which…
I was leading as we came around a curve to an open straight away of shale rock. At the end of the straight away was a huge black bear who immediately turned and walked around another slight corner with lots of vegetation. Since I’ve never had an issue with the countless black bears I’ve encountered on trail, or in Florida… I pressed forward, eager to take a picture and maybe a video before he disappeared up or down one of the embankments. As I came around the corner to see past the vegetation, the Bear was sitting there waiting just off the trail. I froze and began to record a video as Schweppes caught up behind me. The Bear began to snap his jaws and flick his tongue as he went from a sitting position to a standing position. As he began to take a couple steps towards us, we started to back up slowly down the trail until he was lost to our vision behind the vegetation. I stopped recording and pulled out my bear mace. Sure enough, the Bear kept coming down the trail towards us at a slow saunter. We yelled, whoooped, and flailed our arms. It had no effect until we stood our ground, waiting to deploy our mace. At that point the Bear left the trail and began heading up the embankment of rocks before making a sharp right turn back in our direction. As he passed just above us, we took the opportunity to keep moving forward on the trail, putting the big fella behind us.
It was quite a tense situation for several minutes, but ended peacefully for all involved. I was convinced for a moment that I was going to have to mace a bear, or possibly die on the shore of that lake. So exciting!
So it was more of the same for the remainder of the afternoon. Walking in dense overgrowth on an obscure path. The final 5 miles were all through burnt out forest, the spot on the lake where we’re camped is lush and green. As a bonus, when we arrived, there was a juvenile cow moose (still as big as a horse) frolicking and splashing around in the lake. It was one of the most amazing ends to a day of hiking, ever. We watched the moose prance and graze for half an hour before going to set up our shelters. I can still hear her splashing around as I write this at nearly 10pm.
This trail has been utterly incredible. I can already tell it’s going to be much harder than the AT and the PCT. The fact that there is almost no one else out here will also make it more challenging, but for now I view it as a bonus. Although this trail is posing challenges unique to anything I’ve experienced thus far, the rearwards are so much richer out here. The payoff for your suffering is handsome indeed.
The trees around the lake are surrounded by thick vegetation, so I didn’t hang my hammock; instead in cowboy camped in just my sleeping bag next to Schweppes. If there was ever a night to be eaten alive, trampled, murdered, or pilfered of my salt soaked belongings…tonight is that night. Stand by.
We have another huge pass to traverse tomorrow. According to the Ranger grapevine, it’ll be harder than the passes before it. Only one way to find out for sure. I’m looking forward to my suffering’s reward tomorrow…