So, here’s the bit about the black bear that I ran into a couple weekends ago. I had just spent the better part of a Thursday (July 3) hiking into the Goat Rocks Wilderness (probably about 17 miles round trip) and climbing a fantastic scramble up 8201 ft Gilbert Peak. I was tired and thirsty and in full-on “head down, lurch back to the car” mode, cruising back on the trail, when I came around a small bend and looked up to see an adult black bear no more than twenty feet away from me.
The bear had its back to me, was on all fours, and was munching on a shrub. It was stunningly unexpected and I froze for half a second while my brain accepted what the shape in front of me was (“Hmm, that kind of looks like a big version of Taylor. Oh wait, that’s a gigantic bear.”) and began rummaging over my imminent mauling. I took two short steps backwards (trying to tuck behind a tree) and whispered something to the effect of “Holy sugar muffins,” (except the shorter version of sugar muffins) while reaching for the digital camera in my pocket. Just as quietly as you can possibly say it. Just a little hiss of air.
The bear snapped its head up at that same instant, looked me in the eyes, and grunted/huffed something that sounded a little like a bear being startled while munching on a shrub in the middle of a woods. “Hrrrumpf?” Now I don’t know anything about bear behavior, but in that heartbeat of a moment I set my course of action. When the bear certainly charged I would get off one picture then grab my ice axe and start clubbing the bear. I remember feeling a little sad about having wallop on such a beautiful piece of nature, but in hindsight the bear probably wouldn’t have been the one that needed pity.
But he didn’t charge. Or didn’t charge at me at least. He finished our brief stare down than bolted off in the other direction, his shoulders rising up and down as he crashed into the woods. I read up on black bears later and this is the normal course of action when confronted by a human.
I stayed frozen for another second, weighing whether to step forward again to try to get a picture of the fleeing bear or whether to run like the wind down the trail. In the end I decided that since I had no idea if this bear’s less timid buddy was going to pop out from the woods behind me that I had better just get a move on. With a shot of adrenaline absolutely sizzling across my skin, I started a light trot down the path. I spent the next hour of hiking with nerves firing on hire alert, jumping at every bird or squirrel movement in my periphery.
In the end I am incredibly grateful to have seen something like this in the wild. It was a gorgeous creature and moment I won’t soon forget.
This past weekend didn’t have any bear drama, though this goat gave me a bit of a chasing (no, unlike the last one, this picture is not photoshopped). I spent three days hiking up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, easily the most beautiful area I’ve ever hiked through. Granite mountains and mountain goats galore. I’ll have many, many more pictures up in the near future. Prusik Peak pictured in the background.