Last week I had one of the best hikes of my life. I am still editing pictures and I will eventually post a section here under ........... DENALI !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
This is the best experience of my hiking life, but I will leave the details for later and stay on topic: ..... and then I ran into bear, a HUGE mama bear, with .......... two kids.
Ok, let's rewind 4 hours: I started at 7am getting on the bus to Eielson Center. The plan was to get off at Highway Pass and explore a dried alluvial flow that left the road into some hills one mile away from the road. At the last rest stop before getting off the bus, I asked the bus driver (a nice fellow from Puerto Rico, Manuel, who chatted with me during the ride) to stop at Highway Pass. Then, he mentioned to me that he would have to drop me off one mile for an upcoming "surprise" to the bus ...... bears feeding on a caribou kill. Every single bus was stopping for 10 minutes, watching what was a mamma bear and two cubs (big cubs) eating it. I took pics, the distance too much to be on focus, but when I zoomed one of them when I was editing them, you can clearly see the caribou and the bears on top of it; out of focus, but the point is made. I will publish the pic just for fun.
My luck, Highway Pass is one mile away from the kill and that is within the rules (other rules, 25 yards from caribou, 300 yards from bears ...... spoiler alert: this one rule is getting broken in four hours). He let me off, some people on the bus surprised that actually people get off the bus and then get off close to bears. Manuel's last words to me where "hope I see you again, in one piece, that piece not inside of a bear" .... HA HA HA HA. On the four days that I was there, I was the only one that got off the bus to hike, i think that 99% of the people don't hike in there, what a waste !!!!
I will detail the hike in the Denali page, let's fast forward four hours of FUN FUN FUN .... no trails, bushwhacking, climbing hills, loving all of this, losing my GPS in the brush ................... The hike got longer in distance that I expected and I was getting close to Thorofare Pass (3 miles from Eielson Visitor Center). I had just crossed the creeks in the Stony Hill area and I was getting close to an open area where I had seen caribou the previous day.
At this point, let me quote from a book that I used to learn about Denali in that SPECIFIC AREA: "Watch for bears. While the lower vegetation provides good visibility, there are many depressions and ravines that can hide bears so make noise when you approach these areas. If you see buses stopping for more than a few minutes, determine the reason because by this time in the bus trip, longer bus stops mean bears have been spotted".
I read this part, I forgot this part, I have been hiking for four hours yelling "Oye Oso" since I knew there were bears eating a mile away from me and probably more on the way after smelling the carcass, but now I was close to the end and stopped yelling.
I cleared a small creek, with a few brushes and started hiking fast to go past the flat area and get to the Thorofare Hill in 30 minutes. My rule at the time was to stop the hike in 30 minutes in order to catch one of the last buses. 30 minutes and then stop a bus, no sooner than that. At that point, I noticed a bus stopped on the road (the green ones that I needed to get on); it was early so I decided that was not the bus for me and I did not start walking towards the road (at this point about 300 yards to my right). I assumed they were looking at caribou (25 yard rule) that were there the day before. I kept walking towards them and finally noticed a yellow dot, got the camera and zoomed ........ looked like the ass of a blond caribou sitting down. There are depressions on the meadow, so I had to be at the correct angle to really see (EXACTLY WHAT THE BOOK SAYS).
I kept walking towards it until it got up and I decided to look again, that caribou sure looked fat ............. I saw a bear, a blond bear at about 400-500 yards from me. In hindsight, I realized that I was downwind from the bear, so she would never have smelled me and I would have surprised her. At 400 yards, two more dots got up and then my fear was confirmed when I used the camera zoom (the way of the ground made it difficult to see what it was, it was close but undulations were hiding the animals): it was a GIGANTIC blonde grizzly bear eating flowers, with her two young cubs next to her, napping and getting up and down. At 300 yards the bears became clear to my eyes and the ground looked down on them, so I had no need for the camera zoom, the bears were clear. Still the bear didn't notice me, I think. I decided to get on the road and walk towards the bus ...... the road curved towards, that's right, the bears. I took my bear spray out (lesson learned from the last encounter) and walked towards the bus, constantly and i mean CONSTANTLY watching the bears (they were not going to get the jump on me) and then ............................ the stupid gene took over:
I got to the bus, took a look at my watch and I was 30 minutes early to end the hike ..... rules are rules. I waved at the driver and kept walking on the road. DO NOT FUCKING DO THAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! My Gandalf maneuver on my last bear encounter has made me too confident with bears.
The bus left and then I stopped on the road between 200 and 300 yards from the bears. Sat down, took pics knowing that the next bus was coming in 30 minutes. Enjoying the bears, never looking away from them, until I zoomed the camera on the mamma bear and say her sniffing the air. At this point I was upwind from them, so I freaked out a bit and thought that she just smelled my presence (probably she knew I was there the whole time when I got on the road and I was visible to her). I got up and walked further up the road, giving me another 100 yards away from them. A bus came by, not the one I can get on. The woman driver opens the door and asks me if I want to get on and she can drive me past the bears .......... I realize at this point that she thinks I was walking on the road, saw the bears and they interrupted my hike down the road and I would be too close to them for safety ......... the truth is that I was coming from the area she was protecting me and I realized how close I really got to them. I told her that's ok, I was waiting for the next bus. No need for her to think that this idiot got close to a mamma bear on his own stupidity.
So, 30 minutes later (rules are rules) a bus came by and I finally got on it. The pics that I took are mostly blurry (it was very windy and I had a crappy setting on the camera and forgot to create a focus point on the bears ..... I was using it for landscapes and that is not good for details on moving animals), but about 3 of them are clear enough for me to develop and publish.
So, there kids ............. I can't wait to hike Denali and run into more bears, HA HA HA HA HA