Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Monday, 13 August 2007

Close Encounters of the Bear Kind

Goat Haunt, Montana

We walked the ten miles along Waterton Lake about 13 years ago. This time we decide to walk south from the town site of Waterton, Alberta, down to the lonely ranger station at Goat Haunt, U.S.A. and then take the boat back. I tie a bear bell to my right boot.

Right now the average bear is preparing for winter by eating 100,000 berries a day, to take in about 20,000 calories. Rasberry seeds are 70% more likely to germinate after passing though a bear. The whole ten mile trail is solid rasberries, but we leave them all for the bears.

The first five miles are continuously up on tall ridges and back down to the lake. The last five miles, after the international border, are fairly flat. We pass three hikers during the day traveling north.

We run into an inquisitive ground squirrel at a lake campsite, on the Canadian side, after about three miles. He attacks our backpack and Mrs. Phred gives it some cookie bits. At one point he stands on my boot looking for more food. I’m guessing that the four ham sandwiches in the backpack have an irresistible odor to ground squirrels.

We descend to the lake and pass though a thick patch of raspberry bushes. Suddenly we see a black bear in our path less than ten feet away. It runs into the bushes. I can see over the bushes to a rockslide. The bear does not reappear on the rocks, so I know it must be very close.

The bear begins to peek out of the bushes and I snap several pictures. It climbs up on a rock and I recognize the hump that distinguishes a black grizzly from an ordinary black bear. It’s a dismayingly large bear.The bear is only 30 feet away and it advances toward us. I stop taking pictures and start yelling at the bear to go away. The knowledge that my big brain makes me the most dangerous animal on the planet is not all that reassuring just now.

They say to play dead when a bear starts biting you to see if the attack is defensive in nature. After two minutes, if the bear is still biting you, you should fight back because this is an indication of predatory behavior. I make a note to check my watch.

Mrs. Phred picks up a three foot long piece of driftwood and holds it over her head to appear taller. She stands beside me and begins to talk to the bear with that tone of voice that says, “If momma’s not happy, nobody’s happy”. The bear slows his advance.

Mrs. Phred begins to slam her driftwood on a piece of rock and then she leads me in a slow strategic retreat away from the trail to the lakeshore. For a few minutes, after we regain the trail, we look over our shoulders to see if the bear is still following.

At the ranger station they check our passports carefully and stare into our eyes to verify our eye color. Mrs. Phred has to remove her sunglasses. It’s all dead serious. Who knows? It’s only 100 miles of brutal wilderness to the first small town in Glacier National Park. We could have anything in our backpack.

We talk to a young man who just finished walking the 100 miles alone though Glacier. He took seven days. He says he has done the whole Appalachian Trail.

Back in Waterton, I spend my last Canadian Loonies on a bottle of wine, but I'm too tired to drink it.

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