I’m afraid of grizzly bears. Especially at night. In a tent. In the wilderness.
And, as I’ve mentioned earlier, this fear has kept me from backpacking in Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks. It’s frustrating, though — Montana is full of gorgeous hiking destinations, and lots of those destinations are both in grizzly country and farther than I can go in a day.
Half Moon Park in the Scapegoat Wilderness is one of those places. The Scapegoat is one of my husband’s favorite places, and my fear of bears meant that I’d only been able to explore around the edges. So, a couple of years ago I made a decision that I really am quite proud of. I agreed to go on a 4 day backpack with my husband and two other friends to Half Moon Park. My only condition was that we had to bring enough bourbon so that I could have a shot to help me sleep each night.
The route to Half Moon Park from the Crown Pass trailhead usually takes two days of hiking, following Green Fork Creek. But husband Bill and friend Jim had discovered a “shortcut” to Half Moon so that we could get there in one day. One long day. “Shortcut” has since become code for “a pretty darn stupid plan that only men would call ‘short’.”
The trail took us up and over Crown Pass, then along Straight Creek. The typical route follows Straight Creek and then heads back on the Green Fork to Half Moon Creek. The shortcut cuts off that reverse by going up and over a ridge and down to Half Moon Creek, following game trails.
It didn’t escape me that bears would also like to follow game trails…but there were four of us, and we made plenty of noise, so we didn’t surprise any animals at all. Naturally, we got a bit lost along the “shortcut”, which added more up and down. After about 10 miles we came out in the long valley that leads to Half Moon Park. I was getting pretty tired, and wasn’t paying close enough attention to where I was putting my feet, and I ended up tripping in a gopher hole and giving my ankle a painful twist. Luckily I could still walk on it, so I hobbled the last couple of miles to Half Moon Park. Usually I am nicely revived by the reward of getting to a beautiful spot, but on this night, I was simply wiped out. Bears were still in the back of my mind, but the front of my mind was pretty fully occupied with exhaustion and pain from my ankle. So I was in luck!
We set up camp, ate dinner, and stored our food out of the reach of bears:
I didn’t even wake up in the night when a deer was sniffing around our tent. In the morning I could appreciate what a lovely spot it was:
The next day we planned to climb Scapegoat Mountain, and once my ankle was tightly tied in my boot I actually felt pretty good. We headed off along a creek that lead to a ridge. Along the creek we saw plenty of bear scat, and tracks, but no actual bear.
I didn’t make it to the top of Scapegoat, though. My ankle was not feeling too great when we got to a plateau partway up. So Bill and I had a nice lunch break while our friends went to the top. And I wasn’t even too worried about bears up here…there really wasn’t any reason for them to be up here, and we would have been able to see them from a ways off anyway.
We camped a second night at Half Moon Park, and the third day we headed down the Green Fork to our third campsite. This hike was just 5 or 6 miles, and fairly level, so it wasn’t too taxing. Our campsite the last night was not as idyllic as the one at Half Moon, and I was pretty alarmed when I walked down the trail a bit and came upon a very fresh, very large, pile of bear scat. Clearly the bears liked this trail too.
Bill and I had put up our tent pretty close to the trail, but after I found the bear poop I made us move it behind some fallen logs, so at least I’d be able to hear the bears as they tried to get into our tent!
I had my bourbon that night, and do believe I slept an hour or two, anyway. Didn’t actually hear anything even remotely scary.
We hiked out the fourth day, and ended with a lovely dip in the creek at the trailhead. No bears sighted, but as we were getting ready to leave we noticed a hummingbird nest with two baby hummingbirds in it! Truly magical.
Looks awesome! My wife and I are hoping to backpack in Glacier this summer…and my mother is already telling me she’s sure we’ll get eaten by grizzlies!
Looking forward to hearing about your Glacier adventures. And I sympathize with your mother’s worries!
You are clearly much more brave than I think I will ever dream of being! And, have much more endurance. You make what I do seem sort of blah, but I’m enjoying “living” adventure vicariously through your blog.
Thank you for stopping by my blog.
Enjoyed reading about St. Kitts! Thanks for the nice comment.
Yipes! We love hearing stories about conquering fears. So inspiring, and these pics are beautiful. Sounds like an amazing adventure.
Thanks. Loved reading your adventures, as well.
Nice post. I can empathize, especially when I’ve done solo trips.
I hiked a ridge trail in interior Alaska once, in a group of three. I lost count of the black bears we saw over the two days we were there, but there were a lot (12+), in addition to the two grizzlies we saw on the second day.
At the end of day one, we set up our camp where we’d planned. Not too long after the tents were up and we were gathering items to cook dinner (a short distance from camp), we spotted a sow and two cubs on a hill nearby, probably no more than a quarter mile away. With the direction the wind was blowing, our cook area was upwind of them, too (another good reason to cook away from camp). During the evening, we watched them move around. At some point they disappeared, only to emerge in another spot about 90 degrees off from the original, maybe half a mile away. We yelled a bit, though they seemed to act more confused (why are those humans yelling at us?) than scared or surprised. They moseyed down the slope out of sight.
That night I slept very lightly. Probably the one time I got into deeper sleep, I had the most vivid dream of bear cubs running down the tundra. Of course it was full daylight and they were uphill of me… on the opposite side of my bivy’s opening. I fell back asleep and slept well the rest of the night.
In the morning, the sow and her cubs were back in the original spot. They probably never got more than a mile away from us all night, and we never had any problems. That was a really cool experience, the six of us coexisting and doing our own thing. …but I still maintain a healthy paranoia when I’m out solo. 🙂
What a great tale. I can’t imagine that I ever would have fallen deeply asleep enough to actually dream! Thanks for sharing this good story.
That paw print on the log is absolutely enormous! It’s difficult for most people to imagine just how massive grizzlies are. Sleeping a few nights in grizzly country is quite the experience. So kudos to you for conquering your fear! Would you go again? And if you did happen to spot a grizzly during your trip to Half Moon, would your answer be any different?
Sure looks beautiful there.
Well, I’m not sure I’d say my fear is “conquered”, exactly! But yes, I’d go again. If I’d seen a grizzly from far away, I’m thinking I would have been OK. But seeing one near our camp…that would be hard for me to deal with! But it sure is a gorgeous spot.
I loved reading your blog, thanks for sharing! We are going to camp this summer close to Crested Butte. We love to camp and don’t have to worry about bear encounters in Texas. I am excited about camping in Colorado, but my fear of bears has made me think more than twice about our plans. I just don’t want to miss out on camping in these beautiful places because of fear. Thank you again for sharing your story, it’s inspiring!
Crested Butte will be wonderful. And doing something even though it makes you nervous does seem to make it that much more worthwhile, doesn’t it? Don’t change your plans, for sure! Thanks for the kind words.
What beautiful country! Luckily here in the Ouachitas we only have to contend with black bears… and copperheads, rattlesnakes and ticks. Love the story and the blog. Stay safe and keep on hiking.
There’s always something out there….thank goodness!
Looking forward to reading more of your blog.
Gosh, we should backpack together. I never want to see a grizzly on my hikes!
The last time I was in Yellowstone we were stopped at the trail head by a huge sign saying the trail was closed due to “bear activity.” Even though it was officially opening the next day, I had a bad feeling about hiking the trail (not to mention guilt because my daughter was a park ranger and I knew she would kill me if she knew I didn’t follow the park rules!). We got back in the car, and a huge grizzly came sauntering out of the brush not 10 ft from the car. We got some great photos, and a good reminder that grizzlies are meant to be seen from far away.
Have you ever read The Mark of the Grizzly? Fascinating and terrifying, it will keep you up at night!
Sorry about the spam thing – can’t imagine why your comments would be marked as spam, and I never think to check that folder. Great Yellowstone trail story. We’re heading there this weekend, and I know the bears are just waking up, so we’ll see what happens. And no, I’ve purposely never read The Mark of the Grizzly, because I know I don’t need help staying up all night!
I have no idea what happened, but the problem’s been fixed. It wasn’t just your blog either, it was every blog I tried to comment on. As for the grizzlies, I actually never finished reading Mark of the Grizzly because it was so disturbing!
Reblogged this on Colby is Mega and commented:
I love the pictures you take! There awesome!!! 😀
glad you made the trip, I see it was worthwhile…I have a healthy respect for bears and have been frightened but to make the trek-oh, that is so wonderful! I will be on my way to the Canadian Rockies soon…maybe next month and that is not too far away now.Sigh…and thanks for visiting my blog.Jane
Have fun in the Rockies, and thanks for the comment!
Hi Westerner, I so enjoyed reading your fine post. Love the picture of the nest. So happy for you that you got to go on your back-pack trip. That area looks beautiful! Have a wonderful day tomorrow!
Thank you. And I’m so pleased you noticed the nest picture. It was pretty nifty.
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Great to follow your hike with photos to help us see the beauty of the landscape. Understand the need for liquid courage. Hope you can bottle the bravado in a spray can to use in case you encounter more than baby hummingbirds.