Monday, June 15, 2015

Dayhike to Wildcat Lake

I am further north than I was for last weekend's solo overnight trip, at the Strawberry Lake trailhead in the Jewel Basin of northwestern Montana.  I venture north and south along the Alpine Trail #7 for as far as I can get until the snowy traverses keep me from getting any further.
Still snow up here.
I’ve got everything I need to stay overnight at Wildcat Lake, and yet, I end up going back to my car and driving home at the end of the day.  Physically, I want to keep hiking.  But I’m tired of thinking about grizzly bears.  I’m tired of shouting around corners.  All the noise stresses me out.  Some people say to just not worry about it.  But I’m not there yet. 
Wildcat Lake.
When I get home, I resolve to spend time doing more research about grizzlies, and reaching out to people I can trust about solo backpacking in Montana.


My backpacking mentor reminds me to build on what I do know, and gave guidance on mental aspects (thanks Stacy).   Yet, I still have questions like how do you look at a bear long enough to tell if it’s a black bear or a grizzly bear but yet not look it in the eye.  Also puzzling is whether to camp where lots of other people are present since grizzlies tend to avoid people, or to camp where there are few people where bears are less likely to be attracted by food smells and be further from habituated bears. 

My supervisor lends me an education video called “Staying Safe in Bear Country."  She shows me the skulls of grizzly and black bears, and talks about differences in their evolution.  Also in preparation for an educational program, she shows me key differences between the skulls of carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores.  I run my fingers over the carnassial teeth and sagittal crest of the wolf skull, and study the orientation of the eye sockets in the deer.
Nothing like some comparative anatomy to put things in perspective.
A lifelong reluctance to studying mammals is replaced by curiosity.  Just because I have focused my life on studying botany and entomology doesn’t mean I cannot start now.  This attitude adjustment is a huge start.  

I knew moving to Montana would bring my backpacking skills to new levels, I just didn’t expect it to be this tough.  Sifting through and digesting the advice I’ve been getting about hiking solo in grizzly country takes time.  I have to be patient with myself, take the long view.   It will be worth it.
Lupine and the long view.
For more information on these trails in the Jewel Basin:
Strawberry Lake Trail
Alpine Trail


  1. I'm behind on posts. I can empathize with you on the bears...I was totally freaked to be out by myself when I was in Montana. You'll get there, time will help.

    1. Weird thing is that when I moved here, I wasn't scared of the bears. I had to first learn to be freaked out, and now unlearn it. Yes, time is helping lots. Also, talking to more experienced backpackers.