The Iphone says four thirty in the morning. You hear car engines start and idle in place. There’s one, now two, three and four. What gives? Is there a radical place to go watch the sunrise which does not crest for another two and a half hours? You listen, you wonder, you snuggle in a little tighter to that sleeping bag and then you decide if you don’t head to the outhouse, the outhouse is happening inside the snuggly sleeping bag.
Zip, Zip, and CRACK! What in the world?
Oh, that’s a layer of frost that is so thick across the flap of your tent that it sounds like glass shattering and along with the shattering is your warm snuggly feeling now left inside the double layer sleeping bags. My friend Pat said, take my bag just incase it gets really cold.
Thanks Pat! It got really cold. Iphone said 19, but 11 according to my car. At that point, it’s really just splitting hairs—frozen nose hairs! After a quick run to the bathroom, I was faster than a jumping jack-in-the box packing up my tent and supplies. Truly, the cold did not feel that bad. I have this theory—nothing is as cold in the dark as it is in first light. As long as I could get packed up before the sky lightened I was golden…or perhaps lightly frost white.
I headed south out of Yellowstone, not even needing to slow for the elk who were lying in lumps along the fading grasses as they shared body heat. I was down and out of Yellowstone within three hours and pulling into the Teton Mountain Range. They don’t call it the “Grand Tetons” for nothing. These babies are stunning. Carol checked me in at Signal Mountain Campsite and said, “Go grab site 15. They just left and, honey, it is the best site around.”
Oh, I grabbed site 15 and when I returned to pay Carol, I told her I might never leave.
“You have squatting rights ’til the 18th, then we all have to go.”
I paid for two days and went back each morning for the next three days to pay for another.
The picture I sent my brother garnered the response: I think you have the best camping site in America.
Why, yes sir, I think I do.
For all the beauty and majesty and even mystic of Yellowstone and the geysers and wild animals, it was also overwhelming (and did I mention COLD?). Hiking paths not only held bison and bear prints, but they were not very well marked. In the Tetons I had paths galore and signage that could lead the most challenged of rambler on his way.
Of course, there are wild animals in the Tetons as well. The one national park feeds right into the other and each afternoon returning to my campsite I was greeted by a deer or two, and by the bathroom there was a bull elk. Call it stupidity or call it chutzpah, but my greeting became: “Get on with your bad self.”
Would I say that to a bear? Um, no.
One evening I read about a bow hunter in from the midwest for an annual trip to spear some elk. The man’s story went like this:
I was so tired of not seeing any wildlife—I mean none at all, so I said to the group that night—I want to see something even if it’s a grizzly.
I imagine he and his nine inch gouge are not singing that same tune now. The next day, which for bow hunters apparently starts at 12am, he met his match with a momma grizzly protecting her two cubs. Fortunately, he got away with just a good swipe across the midsection.
As for me: One, I am not going out anywhere but to the well lighted communal bathroom at 12am and, Two, I am not saying anything so wisecracking to the universe. No, Universe—hear me loud and clear: I’m perfectly grand with the chipmunks, squirrels, and the far afield lumbering bison. I do not need to see a bear to say: Now, that was a trip of a life time.
The bear signage is rampant on the hiking paths of Teton range. I left early to complete a 13 mile hike through Cascade Canyon. I wore my bright orange jacket (I am in Dick Cheney hunting land) and for safety, I attached the bear spray—which I’d be hard pressed to say I would know what to do if needing to use. I also texted my friend Tara—in Boston—to let her know where I was. Nothing says: I’ve got you covered like a friend more than 3,000 miles away.
When I asked the ranger about the hike a day or two before, he said– “Oh, that’s a good one if you want solitude.” I didn’t need a bus load of tourists but solitude might have stretched my needs. This is bear country after all and yes, I am hiking alone. Shock! There aren’t buddy systems down at the trail head to match you up with those two other hikers—the ones to help raise the hiker survival statistics.
“How solitude is solitude?” I innocently asked.
“Well, after the first two miles, you hit Inspiration Point.” (My mind immediately went to Happy Days and I thought Richie Cunningham and nostalgic good times) “This time of year, you might see another group or two after that.”
I saw no one going up. But, thankfully, I did not encounter anything more interesting than some kind of pigeon—maybe an exotic fowl of some kind. He skirted along the path as did the pika which is cute and noisy with its squeaks.
My whistle was my companion and at moments when the forest floor grew dim I sang Love, Love Me Do. I mean what bear doesn’t want to be serenaded off the path by the Beatles?
It was only on my way down that I came across others and the repeated question, “Did you see the black bear?”
“No,” was my befuddled answer.
“Yeah, the group you just passed told us they saw a bear.”
The group was three folks with a lot of hiking equipment. Where I take off for a 13 mile hike with a fanny pack, they each had backpacks, hiking poles, and serious—don’t mess with us—looks on their faces. They did not even return the trail friendly “Hiya!”
With miles to go before the finish, I ruminated about these hikers. A) they were trying to scare other folks off the path by making up a bear encounter story; (not a very generous thought) B) they saw me as an experienced hiker and knew I’d never fall for their grandiose malarky; (a very unlikely thought) Or, C) they saw me—the lone hiker (minus the recommended additional 2 hikers) with a mere fanny pack—and figured: Why offer her anything, she’s bear feed no matter what. (Most likely thought).
Regardless, I finished that 13 mile hike with no bear encounters, but one far off sighting of a bull moose. I quickly sent up my gratitude to the bear gods. Then I headed back to the campsite for the full moon eclipse. Carol greeted me as she worked the check in area. “Hi NC, you remember we close on the 18th, right?”
I smiled…yep, time to move on.