Adventures in hiking…

Archive for November, 2014

Encounter with a Grizzly in Glacier National Park – Part 2

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This is the end of a two part story.  Part 1 can be found here:

https://thelatebloomerhiker.com/2014/11/14/encounter-with-a-grizzly-in-glacier-national-park-part-1/

 

We entered an area of bear grass and watched as the breeze caused the creamy white flowers to sway in unison.  Figuring that we had two miles to go, I was ready to hop on to the shuttle and enjoy a nice steak at the restaurant in the RV park where we were staying.  The Piegan Pass – Siyeh Pass Trail had been an amazing hike thus far.   I noticed several piles of huckleberry-laden scat on the trail and slowed to see if it was from a bear.  As I got closer, I noticed steam rising from it.  I froze and raised my arm to signal to my wife who was about thirty feet behind to stop.   Suddenly, there was a rustling to my right and two bear cubs jumped out running across the trail.  Within seconds an adult grizzly appeared and stopped in the middle of the trail, between us.  I spoke in a calm voice and said “hey bear”.  The mother grizzly reared up on her hind legs and let out a snarl that resonated through every bone in my body.  I fumbled for the bear spray in the holster on my hip.

I told my wife to back away and not run.  Time seemed to stand still as the massive bear lowered to all fours and stared me down.  I think that I kept talking to her in a calm voice to avoid an all out confrontation.  At this point, she was probably 20 feet away as I continued to back away.  She was looking at me and snorting while occasionally making glances toward her cubs off trail.  Due to the adrenaline rushing through my body, my ears started ringing.  I flipped the plastic safety off the bear spray and put my finger on the trigger.  Not wanting to provoke her, I backed away and kept talking.   The grizzly rocked back and forth on her haunches, growled took a couple of steps toward me.

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Grizzly mother with cubs. Photo: Britannica.com

 

My mind was racing as I thought about what to do in a grizzly attack.  I avoided eye contact as much as possible since they see this as a challenge.  If attacked with this species, it is best to curl up or lay on your stomach.  Protect the back of your neck and play dead.  It is usually not effective to fight back unless you are being mauled and death is certain.  In the midst of this I prayed a simple prayer – “Dear Lord, please get me out of this alive.  Amen”

I had to put more distance between myself and this mad momma, so I must have done a moon walk or something because she was now 40 feet away.  Suddenly she snorted and charged, closing half the distance in a few seconds.  I raised the bear spray,  squeezed the trigger and swept it back and forth for a few seconds.   It created a cloud of industrial strength capsaicin between me and the angry ursine.

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Mad grizzly. Photo credit http://www.animalsw.com

The cloud of pepper spray floated in the air.  The sow sneezed and let out a roar.  I backed up another ten feet or so preparing to give her another dose.  Everything seemed to be in slow motion again.   She advanced toward me again before suddenly turning and trotting toward her cubs.  Standing there, I came to my senses and started yelling for my wife.  Not hearing anything, I made my way back up the trail, blowing my whistle.  I heard my wife’s whistle and saw her about 100 yards away, standing on a boulder.

We hugged and talked about how we would get back to the trailhead.  Not wanting to back track for ten miles, we proceeded down the same path making a lot of noise.  I even let out a blast of a portable air horn that I kept in my survival kit.  We emerged into a clearing and increased our pace.  Passing a series of cascades that feed Saint Mary Lake, the beauty of the surroundings escaped me.

The remaining mile seemed to take forever.  We passed through one last forest and heard some cars as they traversed the Going-to-the-Sun-Road.  It was surreal as we stepped out on the road and made our way to the shuttle.  Breathing a sigh of relief, we boarded the shuttle and made our way back to the visitor center.  I reported our encounter to the ranger.  He mentioned that this was the second report of a sow and cubs on the Siyeh Pass Trail this week.

Back at the RV park, we went to the restaurant where I had the biggest steak ever.  That night and for many more, I would relive the experience and would wake up in a cold sweat.

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This two-part blog was a work of fiction.  If you have read some of my other tall tales, you probably knew that.  I weave a story together using actual hikes that we’ve done with some creative story telling.   Grizzly attacks are a rare occurrence in the U.S.  Some quick research showed five fatal grizzly attacks on humans in the lower 48 since 2010.   There are probably less than 1,500 grizzlies south of Canada.  Alaska is home to over 30,000 grizzlies.  Sometimes they are confused with equally aggressive black bears.   Bear-spray is probably the most effective deterrent for a charging bear.  Research, experience and statistics show that firearms are less effective than pepper spray.  Understand the risks where you hike and camp.  Take proper precautions and avoid hiking solo in areas with grizzly or black bear activity.  This is a good resource for understanding bear behavior: http://www.bearsmart.com/becoming-bear-smart/play

Hike strong, and for heaven’s sake take out that headset!

Some gear that we use:

Rescue whistle:  Adventure Medical Kits Sol Rescue Howler Whistles (2) , 2 – Ounce

Bear repellent:  SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Attack Deterrent with Hip Holster – Maximum Strength & 30 Foot Range (7.9 oz)

Survival blanket:  Adventure Medical Kits Sol Survival Blanket, Two Person, 3.2 Ounce

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle

 


Encounter with a Grizzly in Glacier National Park – Part 1

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……Within seconds an adult grizzly appeared and stopped in the middle of the trail, between us.  I spoke in a calm voice and said “hey bear”  The mother grizzly turned, reared up on her hind legs and let out a snarl that resonated through every bone in my body.  I fumbled for the bear spray in the holster on my hip.

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Our trip to Glacier National Park was on our bucket list for hiking destinations.   We were on the tail-end of a RV trip through Canada and looking forward to  Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks.  St Mary is a nice village outside the eastern entrance to Glacier.  The RV park was within walking distance of the national park visitor center so we struck out on foot.   It was a mostly cloudy day and the peaks in the distance were obscured by a cloud layer, but we were determined to get some hiking in.  The ranger in the visitor center recommended the Piegan-Siyeh Pass Trail to get the most bang for the buck in a day hike.  He mentioned awesome views and a steady 2,500-3,000 ft. climb.  It was late August, so there was still plenty of daylight for the eleven mile trek.

My wife was watching for the shuttle and motioned for me to come along.  Good thing too, because it was ready to pull out.   The shuttle system in GNP is efficient and covers a large area.  The Going-The-Sun-Road was undergoing repairs and the ride to the trail was slow.  As the shuttle traversed St Mary Lake, I hoped that the trail would not be totally in the clouds.  Our stop came up and we were the only ones that got off.  We found the Piegan Pass trailhead sign and took a few pics – of course.

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As you can see, the clouds enveloped the trail behind me.  We checked our gear, I had the bear spray and my wife the bear bell.  The bell was a last-minute purchase.  I found this joke.  Some background: The hiker was buying a bear bell and asked a store owner how to tell if he was in grizzly territory.  They were discussing bear scat (poop):

…Well, what’s the difference?” asks the hiker. “I mean, what’s different between grizzly scat and black bear scat?” “The stuff that’s in it,” replies the store owner. Getting a little frustrated, the hiker asks, “OK, so what’s in grizzly bear scat that isn’t in black bear scat?” he asks, an impatient tone in his voice. “Bear bells,” replies the old man as he hands the hiker his purchases

The effectiveness of the bell is debatable.  In bear country, it’s a good idea to make some noise while hiking.  We definitely made noise, occasional whooping, hitting our poles together and talking in our outside voices.  We did this so that we didn’t surprise a bear.  They don’t want human interaction so, they typically will avoid the noise.DSC_0487

Making our way through the forest, I occasionally made an “aahroooh” sound just to make some noise.  Funny thing, a hiker coming from the opposite direction said people behind him thought that they heard a moose bellowing.  There you go, I can make moose sounds.  Glad that it’s not mating season.

The weather changed to light snow, reminding us that in Glacier it is so unpredictable.  The wind picked up and we added another layer of clothing.  The trail came to a intersection with Piegan Pass going north west and Siyeh Pass to the east.  We went east and reached the summit where the clouds broke long enough to take some photos.  After a lunch break, the clouds closed in and visibility was 50 feet.  The switchbacks helped us descend fairly quickly, and I could see through a break in the clouds where the trail leveled out and entered a bushy area.

From a distance we could see the flowers of the bear grass.  They looked a little like the blooming flowers of the yucca plant that we have in California. DSC_0554

Next:  Hey bear!   Encounter with a Grizzly in Glacier National Park – Part 2

https://thelatebloomerhiker.com/2014/11/22/encounter-with-a-grizzly-in-glacier-national-park-part-2/

Gear that we use:

Bear deterrent:  SABRE FRONTIERSMAN Bear Attack Deterrent with Hip Holster – Maximum Strength & 30 Foot Range (7.9 oz)

Bear bell:  Bear Bell w/ Silencer

I use a Nikon 3000 series camera and have really been pleased with it.  It is easy to use and takes awesome pictures.  It’s durable and has survived many hiking and camping trips.  Nikon D3200 24.2 MP CMOS Digital SLR Camera with 18-55mm and 55-200mm Non-VR DX Zoom Lenses Bundle

 

 

 

 


16,000 Steps on Mount San Gorgonio – Fish Creek Trail

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October was a busy month, so we took some time off the trail.  Fall weather is gradually coming upon us in southern California.  Fall in So-Cal?  Sure, the leaves change here too.  We even have aspen trees in the mountains! To really experience the change in season here, we head for the hills.   The hills of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Today, we would load up the Jeep and head to Mount San Gorgonio.  “Ol’ Greyback”, as it is affectionately known to locals, is full of diverse trails.  Many of them converge north of the summit.  It is the tallest of the three highest peaks in So-Cal – San Jacinto and San Antonio (Mt. Baldy)   They all have similar eco systems and have desert terrain around them.

The trails on all these mountains are challenging and well maintained by volunteers.  Some of the treks are heavily travelled, especially on weekends.  Mt. Baldy probably sees the most traffic due to its location north of Los Angeles.  Still, it has some of the most beautiful sub-alpine trails.

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Back to our trip.  Ever since I heard about the three guys from San Diego that went missing for three days off the Fish Creek Trail in the San Gorgonio Wilderness in 2013, I wanted to check it out.  Fish Creek Trail is located on the northeast side of the peak.  It’s quite a haul from north county San Diego, but as most avid day hikers know, the trail less travelled is worth enduring the road most travelled.  Yeah, driving through Riverside/San Bernardino is a lesson in patience.  Making our way through Redlands and Mentone, we would stop at the ranger station to pick up our permit.  It’s usually staffed by the friendliest volunteers, most who have explored this area extensively.

Hwy 38 loops around the west side of the San Gorgonio Wilderness and is a popular route for an alternate route into Big Bear.   You gradually climb to 6,000 ft. and traverse the northern side of the wilderness area.  This area is popular with campers in the spring/summer.  In November, only Barton Flats Campground is open.  The road is very curvy and the highway signs reminded us of the movie Pee Wee’s Big Adventure.  We arrived at a collection of campgrounds including Heart Bar and the equestrian camps of Wildhorse which were closed.  Due to the mild weather, the fire service roads were still open.  This would be the second time we took the 1N02 fire service road.  On a previous hike we drove the bumpy, rutted dirt road to the Aspen Grove trailhead.  The road to Fish Creek trailhead is a solid seven miles, easily navigated with a 4-wheel vehicle; it would present a challenge to the average car due to the exposed rocks and deep ruts.  As we pulled into the trailhead lot, there were actually a couple of cars.  Now, that’s determination.  Parking here does not require an Adventure Pass since it is just outside the National Forest boundary.

The signs to the trailhead are decayed and in need of some TLC.  The trail was in decent shape.  It is actually a nice way to hike to the summit.  At approximately 9 miles, it’s easily done by the average backcountry hiker.   The trail starts out at 8,000 ft. and meanders around two ridge lines.  At .7 miles, we came upon the junction to the Aspen Grove trail which goes northwest.  We continued on a rocky trail without gaining much altitude.  The land was semi-arid with chaparral mixed in with deciduous trees.  To the right was a meadow that continued to the west.  The terrain changed to a forest and we crossed a small creek several times.  Recent heavy rains through the mostly dry creek bed caused the plants to lie down.  Nearby, skeletons of California Wild Lilies from an earlier season vowed to return to their full glory next spring.

At 2.6 miles, we passed Fish Creek Camp, an area set amongst the pines below the trail.  The path is mostly single track and varies from sand to decomposed granite.  After the camp, the trail begins a gradual climb of 600 ft/mile.  The view constantly changes as you traverse the canyons over mostly easy switchbacks.  We took a lunch break and had a nice view down Hell for Sure Canyon.  Not sure where they got that name from, but have heard that there are a couple of aircraft crash sites there.  Caught nice glimpses of Palm Desert.  It was tranquil as we made some hot tea.  The sun settled slowly behind Ten Thousand Foot Ridge near Fish Creek Saddle.  Looking at the time, we decided to start back down.

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Hike long enough and you can figure out how long it takes you to descend.  The terrain affects your time, but we do about 3 mph downhill.   Sometimes, the only sounds were the clacking of our trekking poles.  As we descended into the ravines and gullies the cool air enveloped us as it sank to the lower elevations.

We emerged at the trailhead with plenty of daylight left and took one last pic.  Chalk up another great hike.

Tip:  When using trekking poles, shorten them for uphill and lengthen them for downhill.  Using poles is like being on a Nordic Track machine.  You will benefit by getting a nice upper body workout.  Today’s walkabout was about 16,000 steps.  I have these poles and recommend them.  Kelty Upslope 2.0 Trekking Poles, Ano Blue   They are light weight and durable.

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Where You Pitch Your Tent Matters

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Big Pothole Lake on the Kearsarge Pass Trail

It was a quiet night in the San Gorgonio Wilderness.  Saxton Camp filled up with a Boy Scout troop, so we retreated a few hundred feet downhill in relatively flat clearing .  Leary of camping near big groups, they actually were well-behaved and turned in at a respectable time.  Surrounded by conifers, our home for the evening was barely visible from the trail.  This would serve as our base camp for our hike up to the tallest peak in Southern California.  We stowed our bear canisters and hung our packs from nearby trees, unzipping the pockets so the little vermin didn’t chew through them.  Settling in for a decent sleep, I was awakened by a bright light shining into the side of the tent.  What the heck?  Thinking that someone was wandering around our site, I listened for the footsteps.  Nothing.  The light continued to shine, barely moving.  Maybe I left a flashlight in my pack and it came on.  A few minutes later, I gathered enough courage to unzip the door and peek out.   The fullness of the moon lit up our tent as it crested the mountain to our east.

Terrain matters when it comes to pitching your tent.  Setting it up in the wrong spot could be the difference between life and death.   That beautiful spot near the lake could be where the water drains during a downpour.

If you are on a multi-day trip on an established trail, chances are you have a trail guidebook or maybe you’ve read a blog that provided mile markers and campsites.  Those are valuable resources.  Prior to our section hike of the JMT last year, I picked up John Muir Trail: The essential guide to hiking America’s most famous trail.  It is an awesome resource.  I was able to set waypoints on my Garmin 401 and get fairly close.  Or you can live life on the edge, just hike until it’s dark and plop down near the trail.

Many locations in the national forest and parks require you to camp at least 100 ft. from the trail and 200 ft. from water sources. Most of us make half-hearted attempts at this rule.  I mean, the sound of rushing water makes for a great night of sleep.  Hikers are generally good stewards of the land and really try to minimize the impact.  You do this by camping on established sites and avoid vegetation like grass.  Rules vary in each area, so check online or with the local ranger if appropriate.  Camp too close to water and the mosquitoes will torment you.

Once, I was solo hiking in the eastern Sierras and started looking for a site.  I found a granite slab that was 25 ft. from a cliff that dropped off about 200 ft. into a lively creek.  The view was amazing, but then I thought about getting up in the middle of the night when nature called and stepping off into the abyss.  So,  rocks are not a good idea for a tent unless it is far away from drop-offs and you have a way to stake the tent down.  Rocks also are good lightning conductors!

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200 ft down to North Fork Creek. I almost camped here. No, really.

When looking for a site, envision what it would look like in a raging downpour.   Will the water funnel through your site like a drainage ditch?  Will that Fiat sized boulder up the hill come loose and roll over you like a bowling ball?  In the Sierras, those granite covered slopes shed water quickly during rain and can create flash flood conditions.

Widow-makers:  Those dead trees that are still standing.  Pitch your tent under those when a strong wind hits and you won’t know what hit you.   If you do pick a site under trees, make sure it’s not  under the tallest group of trees, nor the shortest.  Go for the medium stand, you will be less likely to get struck by lightning.

Common sense, but find a site that is relatively flat without roots or rocks.   A good sleeping pad helps knock the edge of those little rocks that feel like boulders at night.   If you must sleep on an incline, your head should be at the highest point.  Even the slightest hill may cause you to gravitate toward your tent-mate in the middle of the night. That may be good, or bad.  If you have to pitch your tent on a hill, have your door on the downhill side so water doesn’t come rushing in.

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Camping on the AT in Maine.

Some other tips:

Don’t cook or eat within 50-100 ft. of your tent.  Stow the bear canister or bag the same distance.  If not you may get some late night company looking for food.

Align your tent so the smallest surface area is facing the prevailing wind.  This isn’t always possible, especially if you have a square tent.  🙂    At a minimum, place your opening away from the wind to avoid the parachute effect.

For backcountry camping, shop around and spend the money on a quality tent.  The $20 one in the discount store will not hold up during a gusher.  Use a tent footprint.  It’s like a light weight tarp that fits under your tent.  It is slightly larger than the floor of your tent and will protect the floor from damage due to rocks and roots.  I know, if you are a thru-hiker, ounces count.

Invest in a good set of tent stakes.  Most low-end tents come with lousy stakes that bend easily.  There are a couple of brands like MSR GroundHog Stake Kit that are light weight and sturdy.  These are virtually indestructible.  I usually find a rock and bang them in.  I also carry extras in case they get damaged or if it’s really windy.  Carry some extra para-cord or nylon line in your tent bag in case you need to tie on some extra guy lines.

Klingers:  People who camp right next to you, even though there are other places to camp.  Don’t be a Klinger.

Lightning:  No tent can protect you from 150,000 volts, but it can keep you dry.  During bad thunderstorms, you can do the following:  If you believe in God, pray and minimize your body contact with the ground or sit on your pad, sleeping bag or backpack.  If you are an atheist or agnostic, just curl up in the fetal position, put your headset in, crank up the volume and close your eyes.

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Near a glacier fed stream and under some aspens. Works for me.

In the morning, the tent may be wet from dew or the overnight shower.  If you don’t have time to dry it out before hitting the trail,  use your camp towel to wipe it down.  If you are camping in Washington or Oregon, just resign yourself to the fact that it will never get dry.    Never stow a wet tent at the end of your trip.  It is guaranteed to ruin it with mold and mildew.  It’s a good idea to vacuum out a tent and wipe it down with a mild soap.  I treat mine along the seams with a waterproof sealant that I got here:  Gear Aid Tent Sure floor sealant with foam brush, 8-Ounce.

I like positioning the door of our tent for easy access if you have to get up during the night.  Hey, you’ll understand when you get old.  But the most important thing is a site with a view.  You will know it when you see it.

 

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Thousand Island Lake, John Muir Trail

Do you have some tips or lessons learned about setting up your tent?  Please share them in the comments!   Most importantly, don’t be a Klinger.