Close Encounters

The longest day, the first day of summer, was treacherous coming into possible contact with hantavirus, large back country bears, and after returning to the front country and sitting at a picnic table at the Ranger Station was disturbed from enjoying a celebratory beer by bears yet again. A great friend visited from the east and we decided to head into the back country to a patrol cabin in the upper Slough creek area the previous day.

After a hearty breakfast near the original campground of Teddy Roosevelt, we prepared for the journey north into Montana on foot and near the Park boundary to warn hikers of bears and experience the vast valley that is thick with wildlife. Due to a mischievous bear, some of the camp grounds have been closed and had just reopened after concluding that the bear was only curious about a tent and had not gotten into food. Last year some foolish hikers abandoned their campsite, food and all, and in a panicked frenzy hiked out to tell us that a large grizzly forced them to leave. The bear turned out to be a 174 pound cinnamon colored black that had to be destroyed due to contact with human food. The bear’s brother was left alive and hidden in the mountains. The theory is that the brother a few weeks ago collapsed a tent out of curiosity and not food, therefore the camping is open yet again. Dropped off at the trail head by the boss, we escorted some hikers through bison only a couple feet away. Farther and further on up the trail we encountered less and less people until we were the only ones in miles. In the distance a moose sprinted into the creek and swam across to the other side. Sandhill cranes safely worked on their nests. We kept in mind the necessity to remain bear aware as we proceeded north past the unmarked state boundary. Within another hour, we reached the patrol cabin with a brilliant view.

Inventory went well, but a mouse and what it left behind in the storage shed brought fears of the virus they carry. The records in the cabin revealed the details of the 1988 fires that surrounded the area with hundreds of smoke jumpers attempting to tame the flames. “Mars aint the kind of place to raise your kids.” A bear was keeping an eye on us and evidence of its presence near the cabin were fresh prints, scat, and even hair pulled when it likely investigated the outhouse. Fire at night with stars and conversation of jokerman kept the encroaching bear at bay whilst we played music through the phones to assist our presence ability. The idea is to let them know that we are human beings. We are not meant to be eaten, although often are over the years. The bear may not identify us as human unless we ensure our resounding beingness. Let ’em know you are alive and kicking and stand your ground if the bear decides to charge. “Prepare for glory!”

In the morning the cloudless sky and sun turned the valley into a resort. The still snow covered mountains in the distance conflicted with the 70 degree temperature. A research plane flew over and back tracking something. Some hikers did pass by the cabin and wondered how we did what we were doing. We just talked bear information and set them on their way. “Time to start moving.” Filter water. Finish inventory. There was food that had expired a decade ago but the cabin still was strong with enough stocked wood, emergency gear, and even a solar panel for some sort of water filter that I did not understand. It did have a lighter outlet that allowed the phones to remain fully charged. Other than that, no power, just brute long term preparations. An hour or so later we packed up and headed out abandoning the plan to explore the private ranch north of the Park where rich celebs hangout.

Career debate ensued on the trail back and even though we kept the noise high, it did not dissuade a very large bear from walking farther away from the trail when we came upon it. Most likely a cinnamon black bear, it was looked over 400 pounds and the lighting from the sun gave it a texture that at first glance came across as a grizzly. We were within 10 feet of the beast when I spotted it and backed slowly with some words directed at the bear meant to let our presence be known. The bear did not react to us and even started walking on the trail toward our retreat. Fifteen or so minutes passed before the bear was far enough up the trail to continue on. Too close.

The last few miles of a hike are always surprisingly difficult, especially if it is a descent. Picked up at the trail head by another ranger, we made it back to the station just in time for a cookout near the creek. An hour into the cookout three black bears ran through chasing each other in an apparent mating pair with a jealous third. The food was transferred indoors as we chased the bears away up the hill behind the horse corral. The previous evening a large one eyed pirate black bear was chased out of the compound. This black bear had a reputation for pushing grizzlies off carcasses. The three bears disappeared into the darkness of the trees as night approached.

The longest day of 2011 was over.

Mission Statement

A book is near. The book will not be that thick, nor will it contain all of the details. The point will be made and just to be clear, I’ll outline it here and include it in the preface which is the part of the book that does not have page numbers, but instead has the little roman numerals. The purpose for writing the book is to give friends and family the ability to see the big picture of the story and know.

“There are so many awesome people on this planet.” This was said by the service station manager who I buy my energy drinks from. The point is further reinforced on a daily routine if you pay attention to the details. Many young people are graduating college these days and finding unemployment as their reward after finishing years of seemingly over the top study of expensive manuscripts. The university is destroying us all one tuition statement at a time and must be abolished (or at least reformed). There is so much more education found through experience and nearly everyone agrees that what they learned in school did not adequately prepare them for the “real world.” (Before I continue, I must argue my point that we should cease the use of the phrase “real world.” Not only is the MTV show enough of a reason why the pointless terminology be terminated, but it makes a mockery of whatever it is used to make an allusion to. I only use it because school is an allusion, not an illusion of grandeur as many university presidents making millions of dollar state.)

The book is about an unexpected journey that revealed a shockload of truth. Every once in a while opportunities knock on your door. These days, you must get rid of your doors and take perception to the next level. The core of our existence is at stake and we must not wait for life. A new way of going about achieving what you want is required if you expect to succeed. There are more people than jobs and not enough seats and the dinner table. This was bound to happen and the fact that we were not prepared for its consequences is enough proof that the way things are done is not correct and needs some changing. The president promised change, but in reality was just a political strategy in a billion dollar campaign. Still, the point was good enough to attain victory. After a couple years at the helm, very little has changed. The government is not easy. We can change much faster then them and must if we are to survive. I’m not going to detail all of the troubles out there due to the fact that there are just too many and I’m in a good mood this morning listening to Tiny Dancer and drinking a fine cup of coffee. We have the abilities to achieve basically anything we dream of. Individually we see how difficult it is to succeed, and far too many people give up before the day is up. Seriously? You aren’t even going to try? Circumstance dictates most of our lives and is not negotiable. You get pregnant. Your best friend dies. A lightening bolt disables your feet. War comes to your door. You fall in love. Other than that, you can do anything you want. Let what you want be great. Life is far more enjoyable when you reach the mountain peaks and gaze upon the greatest of lands. We have the chance to turn it all around and save ourselves from the fate of inaction.

Through a tale of adventure and taking advantage of rare opportunities, the book will contain ideas on how to better live so that happiness is maximized. And most of all, it should convince you of the necessity to change. Expected to be available for all by Christmas 2011.

the united states is Not soundproof

“the bully comes in – kicks the newsboy you know where – & begins ripping away at the audio repairman’s shirt…the column of faces – all together know – a munching chorus “DONT GET KILLED NOW” – repeat – “dont get killed now”
-words from Dylan’s Tarantula

Three looking for America

Three looking for America

Mystery, the word now has new meaning. The night ended exhausted with rains spraying around in the moonlight. Darkness on the back country trails is quite interesting. Pitch black at time to conserve the emergency blue flashlight, climbing the switchbacks became increasingly difficult and reassurances to my companion were meant to curb fear as well as make enough noise to avoid surprising a bear. A few hours earlier, things seemed on a totally different course.

The precursor was a black bear. Visitors too close near the general store deluded themselves into believing that the Yellowstone bears are docile and approachable. After assisting the bear in its goal of crossing the bridge by yelling for amateur wildlife photographers to get back, I was forced to pursue and chase the bear away from the campground which became an hour long affair.

Anze from Slovenia was waiting at the picnic tables of the store after his shift to decide upon a day hike. We met the previous night at the Roosevelt bar where we talked of status quo and his desire to learn about America. The porch outside the restaurant and bar served as a good spot for jive and fine spirits which before being cut short inspired an idea for a great hike. “This is Teddy Roosevelt’s country and I’ll show you around soon.”

The morning came and the plan was to meet on the porch again for coffee and game face preparation. Anze in sneakers and one of his coworkers at the general store who was taking the summer off from Los Angeles were in for a good workout. The Garnet Hill loop is a little over eight miles and has small elevation changes along the way. Packed simple for the hike with an ounce of water for each mile. A light rain hit our backs as we made our way into the trail, passing elk carcasses in the sage brush and the raging Yellowstone River. Little ground squirrels and distant pronghorn were the primary wildlife sightings even though bears were reported on the trail and one according to a visitor bluff charged.

At break Anze mentioned three Americans who were on walkabout from San Francisco to New York City. “Met them yesterday. They carry all they need and started back in March. Said they were going to hike the loop.” With only a mile left, we had to carefully avoid a couple bison and hop across minor creeks and rabid marmots before making it back to the road and civilization on the porch of Roosevelt. Just as I took my boots off, Anze pointed out the walkabout Americans. Slightly exhausted, it did not seem prudent to approach them with conversation. A chug of some energy drink changed that and I jumped off the porch and walked on over to them.

The three of them were taking turns using the shower that is provided for the rental cabins of Xanterra resorts within the Park. Two from Hawaii and one from Napa, California had just finished their time serving their country in the Army. The website to learn about them is www.thegreatamericanwalkabout.com

“We served this country and now want to see what we were fighting for, so we will walk through it all.” The journey has not been easy according to the young former medic. His hair was long and had a chill quality that is common of those who serve in the segment of the military that does not require crew cuts. While walking through a town of pampered ignorants they took a shortcut through a country club, an older gentleman hit golf balls at them and struck the veteran. “What the heck man?” They approached their assailant cautiously and were met by an enraged golfer in typical costume who had his driver ready to swing and said, “you long-haired faggots better get out of this club before we fuck you up!” They quickly made their way out and spent the night in a shed as similar to Easy Rider were not welcomed by a town that flew American flags in hypocritical fashion.

How many roads must a man walk down?

How many roads must a man walk down?

I tried to change the subject to opportunities within the Park for them to enjoy. They were under the impression that camping in Yellowstone required a $20 permit and did not look forward to that prospect as they were limited in funds. I reassured them that whoever told them that was lying and after saying goodbye to my earlier hiking companions led them to the ranger station. At the back country office we gave them proper permits and direction on the trails to Mammoth Hot Springs which of course was free and welcoming news for three Americans looking to experience Yellowstone National Park which was established for the enjoyment of all people. I wanted to go with them. “Americans. Americans. Americans. I must join them immediately!”

Soon after the thought came to mind, I decided I would hike to the Hellroaring Patrol cabin to intercept them again and hear more about their adventure. I rushed the paperwork for the overnight patrol cabin visit and packed the necessities as well as a few amenities to give to the walkabouters for when I would rendezvous with them in the back country. I needed to find a ride to the trail head and asked the new SCA intern for her help. The rangers were busy with a wagon crash on the cookout trail so she seemed to be the only person available and I had to move quick if I was going to get to the cabin in time. I asked if she would like to accompany me and she readily agreed without much hesitation and we started for her car but instead found a ride with one of the off-duty rangers who pressed me to be cautious with the newly arrived intern.

The hike went well all five miles to the cabin with a detour around bison and conversation about many things. Soon after arriving to the cabin, the intern requested that we head back to the ranger station because she was not feeling well. It was not an ideal situation and just then the walkabouters showed up. I considered asking the medic to evaluate her, but did not want to take a chance with the new intern and possible admonishment from the rangers. After a quick talk with them and giving of the amenities I hiked in with, I said goodbye and wished the Americans well on their journey. It was an opportunity missed to entertain them at the cabin with Jack Daniels and laughter, but it was my fault for not ensuring that the intern was ready for an overnight stay in the back country. There was not much daylight left and I was certain we would have to hike through darkness which is quite dangerous due to possible encounters with bears and bison, not to mention mountain lions. The rangers were going to give me hell regardless.

We attempted to beat the darkness by hiking double quick but with over a mile to go, all we had was moonlight and an energizer flashlight. Upon a small hill there was just enough reception to call the ranger station to inform them of our predicament and request a pickup from the trailhead. Another forty minutes up switchbacks in the darkness was left before we’d get to the hopeful pickup. I reassured the intern that everything was fine even though I was just as uncertain and made as much noise as possible through loud talking to ward off and wildlife in the area while strobe light scanning dark shadows. The switchbacks were hell and gave the Hellroaring trail another memorable meaning for me with heavy breathing and lightheadedness. We finally reached the trail head where one of the rangers was waiting.

I could not tell if I was in trouble or was soon to be, but sitting in the back of the law enforcement vehicle did not provide any relief. The only thing I knew for certain was that I was exhausted. Too much hiking and not enough caloric nourishment. We were dropped off at the residential area and after I wished the intern goodnight and reassured her that everything was alright headed into my trailer to reflect on the outrageous day with some good drink and Pineapple Express on the iPod.

Yellowstone River before the Hellroaring Mountain

Yellowstone River before the Hellroaring Mountain

Lesson: do not rush adventure.

Fire and Avalanche Watch

The back country office (BCO) is a small building near the road at Tower Ranger Station. Duties start with raising the flag, then reporting on the weather by measuring the rainfall from the previous day and temperature ranges. Visitors stop in for fishing permits, hiking advice, and other questions related to their day. After lunch break, the BCO was closed for an hour so the fire engine could be tested through the Roosevelt cabins and other areas nearby. An old engine passed down from what must have been a station from the sixties.

Near the end of the test lightening strikes started sounding closer and closer, then an assault of hail began that infuriated the bison and irked the horses and scared the wranglers who were at risk of being bucked off. Returning to the Ranger Station we backed the engine into the garage and I jogged back down to the BCO to catch the last hour of my shift. The weather began to pass and the rains danced away in the distance through the Lamar Valley. A small car then pulled up to the BCO and four teenage Idahoans rushed into the small room and breathing heavily said that there was a fire. “We took a picture! Look at it, the smoke. Just down the road. Where’s your bathroom?” With that, one of the girls grabbed the keys from her friend and sped off to the rest area adjacent to the station. I reported the fire sighting to the district supervisor who I’d just finished driving the fire engine around with. My roommate, retired fire chief from Massachusetts and current Yellowstone fire watch ranger, must have heard the report through the radio and took off in his personal vehicle toward the location of the lightening strike. Firefighters from Mammoth Hot Springs were dispatched. At the end of the shift, I lowered the flag while keeping an eye on the thunderous sky, then went to see for myself this wildfire. A mile up the road, firefighters in yellow were attacking the fire and put it out before it expanded to other trees. Fires are natural and benefit the ecosystem of Yellowstone but its proximity to the road made sense for it to be extinguished. A moose watched from the distance as a confident child approached my vehicle and demanded to know whether it was a bull.

The day had ended in good form. Earlier in the morning the road through Dunraven Pass officially opened after being deemed safe to drive through. Snow still covered most of the mountain, but the peak began to clear after several days of warm temperatures and the danger of avalanche finally passed. Inspected a few days earlier, the threat of snow slides was declared slim and the decision was made to finally open the last closed road in the Park.

Rangers inspect Mt. Washburn's potential for avalanches

Rangers inspect Mt. Washburn’s potential for avalanches

Yellowstone is now officially open with the Grand Loop finally accessible to all visitors.

Wow

Three wolves attacked a coyote den today and ate all the pups. The coyotes could only howl in despair while tragically seeing all their offspring wiped out. After finishing them off, the wolves proceeded to harass buffalo calves. The mothers were not about to give up and formed a circle warding off the would be assailants. The wolves lost interest shortly after and ran off toward some elk. Sensing the threat, the elk charged the wolves and sent them sprinting off into the tree line. In the shadows of the lodge pole pines, the wolves regrouped before calling off the hunt to rest and digest.

Bearmuda Triangle

This deceased tree marks the center of the Bearmuda Triangle.  However, the center changes with time

This deceased tree marks the center of the Bearmuda Triangle. However, the center changes with time

Bears. Grizzly bears. Black bears. Sow with cubs. Yearlings on their own. A black took down a young elk this morning. I dragged the carcass away from the road once the bear was full. Still heavy, this bear was not starving, a good sign for those who stay bear aware. Yesterday I witnessed the birth of an elk, still alive today I sense, yet nothing is certain. Later that day, three black bears took down an elk nearby and ate it up with the coyotes feeding on the scraps. Grizzlies dot the Lamar Valley and one meandered through the residential area of the ranger station last week, their dens up the mountain to the south. People who practice common sense are nearly guaranteed safety.

Ways to increase your chances of bear attack: hike/camp alone, hike quietly with iPod, surprise a bear, approach cubs, compete with a bear for food, and stink from not staying showered up and clean.

Still, the fascinating beasts have their fans and it is the job of the rangers to keep the paparazzi free from maimings.