A Bear Story

I did something I’ve never done before: I went hiking alone in Grizzly country.

I took my camera and, with no other hikers pushing me onward, my hike was pretty much doomed. Rather than hiking the 5 miles I’d planned, I spent about 3 hours loosing myself to photography without covering much ground.

At one point, I found myself panning with a flower that was whipping around in the wind, shooting a fly acting shockingly like a bee. I suddenly realized I’d been sitting there for more than 45 minutes.

That’s when I decided I needed to make some tracks. No sooner than I’d gotten some momentum going, I ran into a man hiking the opposite direction who told me he’d seen a grizzly about 10 minutes back on the trail (or 2 hours in photographer time).

I was both excited and worried. I was alone and had no bear spray. Neither condition is recommended in grizzly country. But, the man said the bear was far from the trail and distracted by the huckleberries that were in peak season.

I went on. Minutes later, I encountered a couple singing loudly. A sure sign of a bear sighting! Sure enough, they too had seen a grizzly a few minutes back. The moment they shared this information, I looked up and said, “Oh, look, there’s one now!” A grizzly had just crested the ridge above us and was headed in our general direction, although still 200 yards away.

I immediately did what any photographer does and grabbed the camera with my longest lens on it and started firing. Except, I was so excited I failed to read my meter and had to readjust and shoot again. As I fired off 3 more shots at good exposure (but with a heck of a lot more motion shake than usual), the bear started running towards us.
“And now he’s running towards us,” I said to the couple. The woman immediately asked her husband if the safety was off their bear spray can. I suggested we start backing up slowly.

The bear was closing the distance at a pace fast enough to scare the life out of anyone experiencing a grizzly running towards them for the first time.

We moved slowly for a few steps, and then more quickly, soon walking at a fast clip while glancing over our shoulders and talking loudly. When we passed trees that were between us and him, we lost sight of him (which was almost scarier).

We never saw him again. I suspect he was running towards a huckleberry bush that happened to be in our direction. However, it was scary enough that I decided to hike out with the couple and call it a day.

It took us 20 minutes to cover the distance that took me 3 hours on the way in.

My only regret is that I didn’t stay long enough to get a better shot.

Meet Up

Surely this is Olympus?

Surely this is Olympus?

Today was full of nostalgia.  It started off with a visit with friends.  One of those friends is a young woman I’ve known for 23 years now–since she was 7.  I didn’t realize I’d known her for 23 years until we sat down and figured it out over breakfast.  But there I was, flipping back and forth in my mind between the 7 year-old Karen the day I met her and the 30 year old wife and mother sharing breakfast with me.

Karen and Chris

Karen and Chris

It was the first time I met her new daughter, just born in March.  She’s a happy baby.  Smiling and cooing and doing cute baby things.  I will have photos from today eventually, but I need to get them downloaded and post-processed first and I forgot my card reader–I’ll have to find one tomorrow.

Since I don’t have new photos to post, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane from the last time I saw my friend and her husband.  It’s hard to believe it’s been 3 years since I last saw them.  We went hiking with them in Montana when Pat and I were out for a visit.

IMG_8111One of the things Pat and I did while we were in Montana was take a helicopter ride over Glacier National Park with some other dear friends who accompanied us on part of the trip.  We flew over the mountains, above the clouds that surrounded the peaks.  I think of these photos whenever my young friend talks about her job.  She’s a paramedic and flies on life flights over the same mountains I paid to see.

I sometimes visualize her in an emergency medical chopper over these same mountains.  I am part jealous and part afraid.  Such beautiful sights so often, and to get paid to see it to boot!  On the other hand, it seems like such a dangerous thing to do, rushing out into this unforgiving landscape in a tiny helicopter to try to save someone.  I am impressed all over again every time I think about it.

Sun breaks through

Reconnecting with this friend and her extended family (4 generations were at breakfast together) reminded me how wonderful family is.  I found myself missing my own family as well as this adoptive family I was able to spend the morning with immediately upon leaving.

I started winding through history, remembering cute things Karen and her twin sister and younger brother did when I spent 2 summers babysitting them.  I also remembered all the hard times having this group of people in my life helped me through.

I managed to slip back into the present moment enough to enjoy one of the nicest parts about meeting the whole family:  getting to watch Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa, Great-grandma and Great-grand dad all making faces at the newest addition to the family.  They were all adorable in their face making approaches.

No--we are not climbing that

Snow Surprise

Because I am taking a learn to row class 5 days a week and recovering from said rowing class the other 2 days a week, I have not been doing a lot of shooting lately.  As such, I have returned to my photos from our 2010 trip to Glacier National Park.

We stayed at Glacier Park Lodge a couple of nights at the end of our stay in the park.  Getting to the lodge is not difficult.  It’s an easy drive from West Glacier.  What is less easy is the long drive up the East side of the park to St. Mary’s Lake.

The memory of one early morning drive up the East side of the park still haunts me.  Montana has a “fence out” rule about livestock–if you don’t want them on your property, put up a fence.  Otherwise, they’re free to range.  While I don’t know enough about the advantages and disadvantages of this approach to argue for or against, I do know that it resulted in two dead horses spread across the road at about 7AM one morning.  As we drove past, my stomach lurched and I hoped they died quickly.  We were debating who one is supposed to call when there are two dead horses on the road when, a couple miles down the road, we passed a front loader headed at full speed toward the gory scene.  I had to look away.  The thought of the horses being scooped up in a front loader was a little too much for me.

But, on to happier thoughts.  When we awakened our first morning in the lodge, we discovered an unexpected snow had moved in overnight.  While Pat slept in, I wandered around the lodge looking for photo ops.

A red jammer was parked in front of the lodge loading up a group of senior citizens for a tour.  I perched up on a walkway above the scene and started shooting this historic vehicle.  About then, the snow started sliding off the roof of the hotel in enormous chunks.  One tiny lady (the top of her head is just visible through the window of an open jammer door if you look closely in the photo) got pummeled repeatedly by chunks of snow before someone ran over and shielded her.  I felt a little guilty standing there shooting, but I was quite out of reach.

When Pat got up, we drove to the small town nearby (Browning) in the Blackfeet Indian reservation (and yes, it is called “Indian” and not “Native American” there for whatever reason) where we found a trading post that sold rubber boots.  Pat bought a pair and we proceeded to go take an easy walk around a lake before driving up to St. Mary’s.

On the way to St. Mary’s, we encountered many cows on the road.  We also had to pull over so I could shoot some of the scenery with snow.  It might have been unseasonably cold, but it was beautiful.

The Long Walk Home

We decided we had to hike the Grinnell Glacier trail while we were in Glacier National Park in 2010.  However, given that we weren’t exactly in top hiking condition and the trail gains 1600 feet in about 3 miles, we thought we’d better take a short cut by taking the Glacier boat across Josephine Lake, cutting a little over a mile and a half off the total distance.  While the part we skipped was a flat, easy hike, I knew my knees would thank me by the time we descended the 1600 feet on our way back.

We made our way gradually up the trail.  Pat hiked in rubber boots he’d bought at the Indian Trading Post the day before.  He was wearing these boots because, for whatever reason, he hadn’t packed his hiking boots and the sudden fall of about 5 inches of snow made his running shoes impractical for hiking.  So, we’d taken a detour to the trading post and gotten him some socks and muck boots.  He said they were the most comfortable boots he’d ever hiked in.

My boots were not feeling so comfortable.  In fact, they were feeling a lot like lead weights designed for use when you need to drown someone and concrete isn’t readily available.  But, the scenery was so beautiful, it was easy to ignore my boots on the way up.

As we hiked, the sun came out, the temperature rose, the snow melted, and we worked up a sweat.  Pat stripped down to a cotton T-shirt (don’t get me started on cotton on the trail!) and shorts.  But as we made our way up higher, the temperature dropped, the wind became fierce, and the ground was once more snow covered.

People coming down the trail gave Pat looks as the passed us in fully zipped winter shells with hoods up.  I stopped to pull out my warm winter hat, put on mittens, and add a fleece under my rain jacket.  Pat kept putting off adding more layers.

When we reached the top of the trail, the wind was so strong, I had to brace myself against it to keep from losing my balance.  Pat finally pulled on a jacket.  We didn’t spend a lot of time at the top because of the bitter cold, but the entire hike was so spectacular, we didn’t feel cheated.

We had to make double-time on the way back down to catch the last boat back to the hotel.  This downhill trek was the first time I ever experienced sharp stabs of pain in my knees with every step.  By the time we got to the ferry, I could barely walk.  This was our 4th hike in 3 days (and, more problematically, also our 4th hike in about 3 months).  I would not have made it without my trekking poles.

In spite of the sore knees (which did heal for the most part), this was one of my all-time favorite hikes.

Above Infinity

Now that the heat has returned to Chattanooga, it seems like the perfect time to re-live part of our trip to Glacier National Park a couple years ago, where it was cool enough that it even snowed.

We started in Portland, visiting my dad, jumped on a train to Seattle where we met some friends.  Then, we went on across the continent (or so it seemed) overnight until we arrived at the tiny West Glacier train station.

Deposited at the depot so early in the morning that it wasn’t open yet, we stood on the asphalt area that served as a platform. surrounded by our rolling luggage.  We looked around in wonder.

By the time we discovered our rental car hadn’t been dropped off for us, got picked up by the rental company, and were outfitted with a four-wheel drive vehicle that was twice as big as anything I’d ever driven, we’d seen enough to be reminded why we love the Rockies.

But these Rockies seemed . . . rockier.  More rugged, bigger, bolder somehow than the Rockies of Colorado or Alberta.  But then again, I think I feel that way every time I return to the Rockies, no matter which part.

Our friends were only staying a couple of nights and then they were heading back without us.  Since they weren’t hikers, we took advantage of having a couple of non-hiking days to adjust to the altitude by doing things like driving to overlooks and walking on gentle paths around lakes.  There was an amazing amount of beauty to take in without pulling any muscles.

When we drove past a helicopter tour place, we girls were determined to get the guys on the copter.  I have often skipped helicopter tours opting to spend my money on a nice dinner with a decent bottle of wine instead.   But I always regretted skipping the helicopter tour in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park.  This time, I wasn’t about to miss it.

I laugh as I remember how hesitant the guys were to join us.  I really think they wanted to save the money.  I don’t think either one regretted having spent it by the time we landed.

There is something so spectacular about mountains.  To see them from above, with clouds nestling below their peaks . . . I imagine scenes from Greek mythology of the gods having a meeting or perhaps playing chess.  If I were immortal, this is definitely where I would hang out.

I cannot logically explain the effect mountains have on me, but I think it’s a common experience.  That sense of awe, grandeur, amazement.  The sudden stillness that follows the feeling of inspiration.  Feeling part of something bigger than my imagination. Perhaps a sense of being part of something infinite–the world seems so endless from a mountain top.

I wish these few photos contained that feeling.  Unfortunately, these are very low resolution versions of the originals (which, I hope, are stored away in an archive somewhere).