Posted by SCG on May 14th, 2013
by Alexander Tolchinsky
We began the following day with a hike up to Two Medicine pass where three valleys opened themselves before our eyes. Mountain goats flanked the west side, a wolverine kept guard over the east while hawks and eagles patrolled the endless sky, and glaciers and lakes for endless miles in every direction.
Before heading out to camp 2, after we returned from the pass, we decided to take a dip in the glacial lake, on whose shores stood our tents. Naked and free we ran into its chilling waters; within a few seconds we felt its icy grip at our throats and bones, and so quickly re-emerged, gasping for breath. But that half minute in the lake shot more life into us than a syringe of epinephrine to the heart. And so enveloped in Joie de Vivre we went along the valley to our second camp at Upper Two Medicine Lake. We stopped often on the way to gorge on huckleberries, and prayed the bears would not gorge on us. Within a couple of hours we discovered that our prayers were answered.
As we continued along the sunny path to our second camp, around a peaceful bend in the trail I heard the galloping of what sounded like horses. I yelled to Sarah to get out of the way of what looked like two horses. Within a split second she was running towards me and I realized they were not horses but two very large grizzlies, now within 30 ft of me.
What I discovered about myself at that moment is that when faced with danger, I stay pretty cool, and, am kind of stupid. I stood there with my bear spray in my left hand as my right was clicking shots off the camera hanging from my neck. After three shots, the second of the two beasts gave me a doubtful look, at which moment I ceased shooting. I looked him straight in the eye, something you are not supposed to do (nor are you to run away from them because they will think you are prey). I wanted to show him that all was well and that I meant no harm. After briefly considering us an aperitif, the two grizzlies disappeared into the bush, and the realization of how lucky we were reverberated throughout our entire being. Nevertheless, for the next hour I walked with bear spray in one hand and my army knife in the other. From that moment, every sound of grass rustling in the wind gave us a start.
Click on photo for larger image
My heart was slowly resuming its normal rhythm as we began approaching our new camp site. Along our traverse we saw a moose emerge from a small lake nearby; at that moment it seemed a perfect scene – our witnessing the natural order and routine of Glacier and its residents.
We reached the site shortly thereafter and found the three girls who camped near us the night before, along with two guys from Chicago, gathered in the cooking area – an unfortunate coincidence of groups meeting in an otherwise isolated part of the park. We were very hungry and the day was quickly drawing to a close, so after quickly breaking camp we joined the rest of our neighbors. Minutes after our food was ready we noticed the very same moose we saw earlier, grazing within 60ft of us. This could have been the beginning and the end of that encounter, however, the gentlemen from Chicago thought it a good idea to approach the moose for some portraits, you know, keepsakes and all that. The rest of the night went rather quickly into the abyss of fear and uncertainty.
At first the cow (female moose) started huffing and pricked up her ears, but the guys did not heed this obvious sign of hostility; by the time they did, she was in full territorial mode – mounting posts and rubbing her scent on the bushes and trees. Then, as we sat nervously watching her and eating our supper, she charged us. If you can imagine for a moment 1000 lbs of territorial tank-like mass rushing at you, against which running, knife, or spray have no chance, then you will understand fear.
We ran so fast – but we knew there was almost nowhere to go, nor could we outrun a moose. We took “refuge” on some logs lying by the shore of the lake and behind some small trees and bushes. These served little purpose other than to give our minds the illusion that at least we were safer there. Breathless and shaking with fear we decided to see if she was still there, so the other two guys and myself snuck up to a nearby tree – she saw us and charged again! This time we retreated for good.
She continued sniffing around, taking her time, all the while it was getting dark and cold in that rapid manner particular to the mountains. We stood around shaking for some time, but soon realized that we must ascertain her intent before it got too late. The three of us again ventured out to see where she was. We only had one good headlamp between us, so we crept slowly, barely breathing, knife and bear spray in hand – knowing full well that they are useless. I looked like a bad combination of Rambo and Elmer Fudd.
By the time we got access to two of three campsites, night was well upon us. By then our nerves were well worn, but staying up was not an option, it was getting very cold and we needed to get to our tents – though they offered no degree of safety, or, as it turned out, sleep. We finally found the moose bedded down for the night – right on the path to and directly opposite the girl’s tents. We decided that we could not risk them sleeping alone in such proximity to the cow, so we formed a four person raiding party to recover their bags and mats. We could not take the path, so we skirted the lake edge and crawled up to the tents with barely a breath between us.
Now we had the problem of figuring out who would fit where. My tent is barely meant for two people, one of the guys had a one person tent – both of our tents are for mountaineering, so when it says one or two person, it means there is no room between shoulder and wall. The other guy had a two-person tent. We managed to stuff 7 people in 3 tents. In my little shelter we had 2 bags, 2 pads and 3 people.
Between the grizzlies, freeze dried food, soreness from hiking, fear of being trampled, and stiffness in every joint and muscle from lack of motion in the tent, we passed the night with moments of shallow drifting and startling at every noise. Around midnight the wind started to howl and we emerged in the morning (alive) to find the mountains covered in a heavy fog with the imminent threat of “weather”.
Thankfully the moose was gone and we were able to pack up and hike out within a few hours. On our way out we saw her, and a few others, again at the smaller lake. Needless to say we did not stop to admire and take photos this time around.
To be Continued…
Watch for Part 4: The Big Mistake
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