Date- July 21, 2019
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 7,264 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 26.2 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 586.2 miles
Weather/Temp- clear, 70s
Pain level- none
Spirits/Morale- Cloud nine
Wildlife encounters- Mountain goats x 3 / Bears x 4
Days without shower- 3
Days without laundry- 3
Hunger/craving- greasy food
As I predicted, it got really, really cold last night and I woke up around 2 am to put on some more layers. True to form, I didn’t start hiking until just after 9 am this morning.
The trail today reminded me strongly of the Sierra Nevada in California. Beautiful valleys, rocky peaks streaked with snow, high mountain lakes, cascading streams, meadows, giant boulders, and trees spaced out enough that you could count them individually. It was a candy shop for the eyes and ears all day.
The only southbound thru-hikers I’ve seen for the past 3 days are Jetpack and Woodchuck. We haven’t hiked together at all, but have been camping together every night.
I passed Woodchuck in the late morning on a steep 1,100 ft climb. I never saw her again for the rest of the day. Miles on, while sitting to take a short water break at the base of a rocky 400 ft climb, I heard the sound of a boulder crashing over other boulders for about 3 seconds. This isn’t all too uncommon over this type of rocky topography, but every so often it’s an animal that’s knocked it loose.
I scanned below the ridge where I’d heard the sound (for maybe a minute) before spotting the movement I was looking for. Waaay up on the mountainside, a couple hundred feet below the ridge-line, I saw three white figures moving between some small conifers – they were mountain goats. I watched them for several minutes, picking their way with ease over the steep and rocky terrain. I’d be climbing up that way, but a few hundred yards to the west. I never did see them again on my way up the ridge.
For the most part, it was an uneventful day. I met a few Nobo hikers and we had some short conversations, but nothing groundbreaking. No riveting news or information.
After finishing my last 1,000+ ft climb for the day, it was nearly 6 pm and I still had around 9 miles of mostly downhill hiking to reach the day’s goal. I spent this time practicing the poems I’d already committed to heart, reciting them out loud, going through them all one by one, again and again – sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes flat, and sometimes with great feeling and theatrics. I want them committed forever, and I don’t want to ever trip or pause while reciting them. The true test will be reciting them in front of people. Eeek!
It was around 8:30 pm and I’d moved on from reciting poetry to composing haikus. As I walked, I wrote down in my phone what I managed to come up with, solely based off what was in front of me or what I’d been through today.
As I was halfway through writing down my second haiku, I looked up to see what appeared to be a brown bear-like bulk behind a trail-side conifer, about 15 yards ahead of me. Now, I see about a thousand black and brown bear-like objects every day, and only a handful of them will give me pause. This one made me pause, and I watched for a second, two seconds, three seconds… and then a head swung around the tree and a huge brown bear strode onto the trail in front of me.
It hadn’t noticed me yet, so I began to silently fumble for my phone in order to record it. During this fumbling the bear became privy to my presence and froze, staring at me. As I began to bring my phone up to record, two black cubs ran out of the trees and onto the trail by her side. “Fuck!” I immediately said out loud as I quickly torqued my arm behind me and pushed the bear spray out of my pack’s side mesh pocket and dropped it smoothly into my waiting hand. I undid the Velcro harness and popped the safety off.
At this point I hadn’t confirmed grizzly or black bear. My initial observation had been grizzly due to the size and color, but the jet black cubs put me more at ease. Not much ease, but a… “not a grizzly bear with grizzly cubs” kind of ease.
The situation was immediately tense because neither the mother nor the cubs retreated once my presence was known. I didn’t like this, and I wasn’t in some National Park where every bear has seen a million humans in its life. No, this was wilderness, as remote and people-less as it gets.
They all stood looking at me from the trail ahead. I yelled several common bear epitaphs – but the mom didn’t budge… One of the cubs started climbing a tree next to the trail. “Nooo!” I thought. “She’ll never leave if her cubs get in the trees and don’t come down!”
I yelled some more, and when I said, “Go on Bear!” She started to move away and the cub came down and joined her. As they slowly moved to the left of the trail, the two cubs kept intermittently beginning to climb trees and then slide down. Then I lost sight of the cubs and heard some crashing closer to the trail, but in the opposite direction from where the mother was headed. I began to swear again, thinking that one of the cubs was going the wrong way and separating itself from the mother and its sibling. The way I saw it, this would make the situation exponentially more precarious if she thought one of her babies was unaccounted for.
She was still moving away as I was moving forward, trying to get around the bend in the trail that would send me in the opposite direction from her. As I kept my eyes on her through the slender tree trunks, I noticed there were now 3 cubs! The crashing I’d heard was the third one running up a small berm to join the rest of them.
The mother stopped 20 yards from where I first saw her and turned around to face me. Two of the cubs were standing on their hind legs next to her, not even reaching her shoulder – looking like toddlers in little black onesies. Even as tense as the situation was, I couldn’t help acknowledging how adorable and curious they looked. What an ordeal this must have seemed to them too. The third cub was back in a tree, just above them.
As I continued my attempt to get around the bend while the mother stared me down, she took two steps in my direction, prompting me to freeze and begin walking slowly backwards. I started yelling and whistling again. After another minute she began to move off again with the third cub still in the tree and I made for the bend, home free this time.
The entire ordeal lasted more than 5 minutes. I’ve never had a bear act that stubborn about moving off or giving me enough room to pass. Albeit, I’ve had a bear act more aggressively than that, but it didn’t drag out for this long. That mamma bear just didn’t want to give me the road for whatever reason. I think her cubs being up and down the trees had a huge part to play in it. They didn’t just move off altogether. I imagine she probably felt like she was herding cats. Regardless, my bear count went from 1 to 5 in nerve-racking fashion.
Now I’m camped less than a mile away from the encounter – with Jetpack. She was already set up when I got here. Woodchuck never showed up, and is probably several miles back. Today was a tough day for her to get this distance, and her knee has been giving her trouble.
I think we’re looking at pushing a 32 mile day tomorrow due to a 19 mile dry stretch. The terrain won’t be easy, but I think we’re going to give it our best shot. I’m cowboy camped on the edge of a meadow right now and the stars are positively glowing. This is the first night I’ve seen them like this – hopefully the first of many…
As a bonus, I’m going to post the two haikus I had written before and during the bear encounter. Plus I’m adding one I wrote just after the bear encounter. They’re posted in the order and exact words I composed them this evening. They are not good, but they were written in good humor.
There is a rock there
It looks extremely heavy
I think I’ll leave it
This climb is so steep
My legs are fire burning hot
I hope there’s a view
There’s a bear over there
It’s not moving off the trail
I hope I survive
You can read my current and past posts, and see my photos by clicking this link and going to Boundlessroamad.com