Sunday, September 21, 2008

She'll be comin' 'round the mountain when she comes, when she comes . . .

So, Mary Lou . . .

The highlight of a visit to Many Glacier is the Grinnell Glacier Trail, which starts near the Many Glacier Lodge and winds alongside Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine, up to Grinnell Lake and, if you are fortunate, all the way to the Grinnell Glacier. It's a beautiful trail.


We started hearing from hikers coming back down that they had seen a grizzly on the trail. We heard subsequently that the bear had gone down toward the lake, but could still be seen on the hillside, eating. With this in mind, we continued talking loudly and making noise as we were instructed we must do, even though this goes against everything we've ever learned about preserving the wilderness experience for others. In this picture, Adam has gone ahead of us and is approaching the corner around which he will disappear momentarily. The picture I only wish I had is of him hotfooting it back around the corner a minute later, elbows bent and arms swinging at armpit height like a Saturday morning cartoon, going, "Oh, hell no! I don't think so!" I asked him if he saw the bear, and he said, "Saw it?!?!? I almost ran right into it!" He had turned the corner only to find himself face to face with the griz, which was sitting in the middle of the trail, munching on who knows what. He said he jumped, the bear jumped, and they took off in opposite directions.

I was thinking, damn, I wanted to see the bear, when over the ridge it came. It was moving at a pretty good clip approximately parallel to the trail, and we did as we were also instructed, which was to be quiet and slowly retreat. The bear kept its eyes on us with what I imagined to be an expression of friendly curiosity, and then turned sharply downward, hit the trail and started coming our way, its curiosity now seeming a little too friendly. I was having this little conversation in my head, with one voice wanting to wait until it got closer to get a really good picture, and the other voice reminding me that this is what stupid people do.

So we turned and continued down the trail at a worried pace but not running, which is known to create a predator/prey dynamic that doesn't generally turn out well for the prey. Isabel was in front of me, suddenly more motivated to get moving than she had been all day, and I kept saying, "Don't run, honey; don't run," as calmly as I could. But every time I looked back I saw that damn bear, following us at maybe 40 feet, not charging but definitely matching our pace.

When we turned a corner where it couldn't see us, I said, "Now run! Quietly!" We continued this way, walking when we were visible, trotting along when we weren't, until we were pretty sure the bear was no longer following us.

We passed several small clusters of people on their way up the trail, and warned each of them that there was a grizzly right behind us. They reacted with a mixture of alarm and curiosity, but not even the most unnerved among them actually turned around; they wanted to see the bear too! After a while we figured they were providing plenty of distraction for ole Smokey and we no longer needed to worry.

Here's the griz just coming over the ridge:

Here's the picture I really wanted:

Just kidding! Credit:

Here's our $47 souvenir, purchased later that same day:

Makes a nice trophy, no?

We wanted to try the trail again the next day, but by then it had started raining and blowing and we decided to move on to Rising Sun, where we caught one quick glimpse of the mountain lion frequenting that area, but no more bears . . .

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