Friday, August 28, 2015

Kintla to Bowman, Part 2

Every backpacker we passed our first day told us about the grizzly at Hole in the Wall campsite. 
We had permits our second night for Hole in the Wall Campsite.
Some said they passed close to him on the spur trail between trail and campsite.  Others said he hung around the food prep area at the campsite.  A few said he was a “friendly” bear.  None of this sounded good to me.  I’d rather stay far away from grizzlies.  Twice I have not camped in sites that I had reserved after learning of bear activity there the night before.  But D. was excited about seeing a grizzly and wanted to get a photo.  And we had one more mountain goat survey.

When we descended into camp, we got lucky and the grizzly was far away from the camp and trail.  We met M. who had been watching the grizzly and we were glad to be sharing the site with another camper.  We turned into bed early.

M. had a story in the morning though!  When he’d unzipped his tent at about 6:30 AM, the grizzly was right outside his door.  After a moment of being face to face, the grizzly ran off. 

After packing up, D. and I scanned the valley with our binocs to locate the grizzly before we left camp.  Hole in the Wall campsite lies at the bottom of a hanging cirque lined with huckleberries like a huge berry bowl with the main trail at the rim of the bowl.   Would the grizzly be on the spur trail that we needed to take back up to the main trail? 

“There are two grizzlies now!” I am horrified.  We watch them move closer together, foraging for berries.  They bluff charge each other, and their grunts and growls can be heard all the way across the valley.
Two grizzlies!  Photo by D.
It is like watching a nature video, but it is real and there is no screen.  Boundaries of trail and campsite are an illusion.  Was the territorial behavior causing hormones to surge in their veins?

The other campers all agree to hike out past the grizzlies together.  The five us us form a tight line.  We loose sight of the bears as we drop down into the bowl.  We sing and make noise, bear spray clutched in our hands.  Ever turn is a blind turn.
D. leading the way with her bear spray out on the narrow trail.  She's one brave woman.
And then, there he is, right above the trail behind some small trees, right on the switchback.  JUST KEEP WALKING AND DON’T LOOK DIRECTLY AT HIM.  We hold our formation, tight, bear spray out. 
Of course we were all gripping our bear sprays, so no photo, but the grizzly, like this one, was right behind the small trees directly above the trail. Artwork by Bev Doolittle.
There he is, so close I could reach out and touch him.  The grizzly could reach out an touch us too.  But he doesn’t.  Then we are past.
Looking back at Hole in the Wall Campsite after we made it past the first grizzly.  I remember having a vague sense that the area was scenic and that I was missing the beauty.
Where is the other grizzly?  A steaming pile of scat on the trail provides part of the answer.  I spy him down below the valley below Brown Pass.  Or is it another grizzly?  How many are there?

At our goat survey site, the other hikers hurry ahead.  I scan the cliffs for goats while D. keeps her binocs trained on the grizzly.  He’s grazing for berries and moving in our general direction.  I’m suppose to look for goats for a full hour.  I manage two full scans of the cliffs.  My pulse thundering the minutes ticking by.  It’s only been 15 minutes but the grizzly is now too close.  We abandon the survey and hike on.
Going down Brown Pass, happy to be leaving the grizzlies to their berries.
I don’t understand the people who called them friendly.  That strikes me as disrespectful.  On the other hand, it was fascinating to watch them so long through binoculars across the valley.  To see how fast they ran when they charged each other.  I wonder if it was right to camp there though.  They have so little space.  I felt like I was encroaching on their home, overstepping. 

Moving to Montana, I didn’t realize the ramifications of being in grizzly territory.  I know my imagination probably runs too wild.  Statistically, problems are rare, and I’m still much more likely to fall off a cliff or get hit by a car.  Maybe it’ll get easier over time.  This place is so gorgeous, it feels worth it… at least most of the time.


  1. Stay respectful of the grizzly! No matter how long you are in their home space. They are trying to put on fat for the winter, so eating all the berries they can.

    1. That's so true! They sure do need respect. Amazing creatures. It was a tough year for them, since there were fewer huckleberries due to the weather.