Recreating a Memorable Experience

Squeak, squeak! Marmots give off a distress call often when hikers pass through. This one seemed different though. We were now about 8 miles in on our 20 mile day hike across Gunsight Pass in Glacier National Park. 

Glacier National Park is one of our family’s favorite places to hike. The “crown of the continent” has spectacular panoramic mountain vistas filled with wildflowers and wildlife.

After 3 botched shuttle boarding attempts, we finally squeezed on the Logan express from Apgar Visitor center (not to be confused with Apgar Village). We rode up the Going to the Sun Highway with other hikers to Logan where we caught a second shuttle going East towards St. Marys (and I discovered I left my breakfast sandwich in the car, doh!).

Despite our morning logistics scramble we made it to the Jackson Overlook Trailhead at 9:40. The first few miles down hill I calculated the pace we would have to maintain to reach Lake MacDonald lodge for the last Shuttle to Apgar at 7pm. Anne constructed a noisemaker bear can with rocks, pop can and duct tape. She shook it through the first brushy miles as I banged my trekking pole tips together. While I was taking the first break to layer down I heard a shriek and spraying sound from the trail behind me. Anne emerged with a bear spray mark on her tights having sprayed a pheasant or bird of some sort that had startled her in the brush. I tasted the pepper on the tip of my tongue.

Openings in the brush revealed sedimentary layered and folded majestic glacial-worn peaks above.

Arriving at Jackson Lake within our target time gave us the luxury of a 15min early lunch break.

Crossing over the second suspension bridge we tested out the new squeeze water hydration system and headed up the brushy traverse to gunsight pass.

Clamoring like a misfit band of percussion and whoops through the brush “hey bear” we traversed into open exposed dramatic sections with increasingly amazing viewpoints.

Checking my GPS I realized I had stopped my tracking at the lake and it had not resumed, so my milage and pacing formula was now off. Peeved at myself for messing up my GPS tracking and contemplating how to figure our pacing to make sure we made it back in time for the shuttle occupied my mind. Climbing out of the ledgy section the trail wove through crumble horn. Areas my dad always pointed out were prime habitat for grizzly bears. This near alpine environment seemed more Barron and less appealing for animals other than goats, picas and marmots.


 Hiking the Garden Wall trail to Granite Park Chalet Hiking the Garden Wall trail to Granite Park Chalet

Far enough in to start flowing with the trail, keying into surrounding observations, weather, winds, contours. A well maintained trail however can dull some of these senses as the route is obvious.

I noticed the smell of freshly dug soil, rich fertile soil. Deep digging. And I noticed the marmot hole in front of me. Wonder if there is some trail work being done? I contemplate at the hole near my feet.

Then I shifted my focus upward to see the ground rising taking the form of a large animal. In the seconds of registering what was happening it felt like time slowed down. I saw a form emerge from a secondary hole not 15 feet away and on the edge of the trail. My mind put together what was happening; I was staring in the face of a surprised grizzly bear.



 Two very surprised - Gunsight Pass Trail Two very surprised - Gunsight Pass Trail

The dark coat contrasting blond streaks on his back, rounded ears, dished nose and distinctive hump. This animal was born to dig. He stood up pulled from the deep concentration of hole digging. I some how deposited my trekking poles on the ground and out came the bear spray flying out of the holster out to the ground in front of me.



Before I could make a sound or other thought he turned and sprinted down the hill to the edge of the denser brush. 30 feet away by now he stopped. Sideways he looked back up at me one more time I snapped a quick photo as he turned and scampered away into the brush like a dog.




Then Anne came along the trail behind me. “Bear” I stammered. Grizzly bear. Incredulously she looked at me. Concerned that there may be another possibly mother near by I told her what happened. Not scared but in a state of keen alertness.

We unholstered bear sprays safeties off and moved along up the trail to the open rocky Gunsight pass above with the image of a moment of connection with this majestic creature deeply forged into my mind.

See photos from the hike here.

More illustration + animations here.

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