Returning

by Griffin O'Hara


So, I’m still headin back down from Idaho. Spent a night over at Two Medicine campground in Glacier National Park, which has a nice symmetry, since the first place I camped heading up to Idaho was Medicine Bow National Forest. Hiked to the top of a mountain by the Two Medicine campground, met a couple of really nice rangers who worked at the station and were helping me with my backcountry pass. Planned to backpack by myself into the southwest corner of the park, spending a night at the Ole Creek Campground, then hiking to the Park Creek Campground (I think), and then hiking out. Two days, three nights.

I was told that area of the park was among the most isolated, but the trail should be okay. I asked if there were bears about (Glacier is known for it’s Grizzlies and Black bears). Set out early the next morning from the Two Medicine campground, got my backcountry permits, and drove about 45 minutes west to the trailhead. Buckled on my pack, fretted a bit, and left. The trees hung in close, and everything was real green, the kind I’m still not used to, growing up in a drought-stricken Colorado. Hiked right back to the parking lot. Realized I had taken the stock (as in livestock) trail. Dumbass. Hiked in again. This time for real. Crossed the bridge, hung a right and went uphill. Was making good time, I figured. Must be at least a mile in, six to go.

Hucks. Huckleberries everywhere. Started getting nervous. Bears sure like berries. Kept clapping and yelling. Seemed to be okay. Bit more. Something behind that tree. I stopped. Bear. It looked right at me, body tense as wire.  Brown ring around it’s muzzle. Ten feet away, if that.  I fumbled far too long with the bear spray, held it out and stepped off the trail. Fully aware that a tiny canister stood between us, should things get bad. Spoke real quiet. “It’s okay.” Crashed through the underbrush. Not making eye contact with a bear is harder than they tell you. Saw it climb off the tree. Circled and got back on the trail, clapped and yelled with more enthusiasm now. Seemed okay.

Went farther, the same type of terrain. …I don’t want to this this. I want to leave. I knew the odds of scaring another one were good, and that I was lucky the first one took it well. Bear scat, less than a few hours old, full of berry seeds. They weren’t eating anything but berries, but fear is hard to reason with when you’re by yourself. I decided to step off the trail and walk down the creek, rather than risk seeing the bear again (would it consider that aggressive?). The creek would lead to the bridge, which I could leave by.

I knew my odds of spooking a bear on the creek were pretty good, since the water covers up a lot of the sound you make, but I didn’t want to gamble on meeting the bear again. There were lots of things I could have done, in retrospect: continued on, waited a while on the trail before turning around, or better yet, turned back when I saw the first bear (but in my defense, I hoped that the terrain would change, and the berries would disappear).

The creek carried its own odds. I would be far more likely to hurt myself walking down. The creek I was following could have been a different one than the only one on the map (not likely, but would have been disastrous). I hiked about an hour (maybe way more, maybe way less, I honestly don’t know) in, and the hike out in the creek took about five. Resignation didn’t come quickly, but it came. I grew tired.

My shoulders rounded. I had closer calls than I would have liked. Scrapes, bruises, swelling. Hope kind of dribbled out, hard to prevent it from leaving when the next step could be injurious. It shifted mostly when I stopped yelling “Hey” with every other footstep, and started yelling “Hello,” hoping more that I’d attract another hiker (unlikely) than that I’d warn any bears that I was coming. Next would have been “Help,” but I found the bridge before that. Learned something.

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