Ranger Kathryn's Arches

September 1, 2016

The demise of spontaneity?

Filed under: camping,photo albums,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 9:24 am
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The dashboard clock read 0423 as we rolled up to the entrance of the Many Glacier campground and its 109 sites. In the inky pre-dawn of mid-August, we waited sleepily for rangers to show up several hours later to assign the available first-come-first-served sites, of which there are typically 15-20 daily. We were not the first car there.

It has come to this because demand far exceeds supply. Reservable campgrounds exist, but spontaneous souls who long to snag a last-minute campsite in the heart of Glacier must forfeit part of a night’s sleep to occupy a place in line. (I might add that this arrangement is far superior to the more typical “Campground Combat” method of circling for hours, pouncing on folks as they emerge from their tent, and hovering nearby the site until it’s free.)

We heard some vociferous complainers in line, demanding to know why they couldn’t ‘just get a site’ as they did in other places, forgetting that our national parks were created in an era of far fewer visitors. The answer is not as simple as building more campgrounds; you then need even more parking, toilets, grocery stores, gas stations, ice, showers, laundry, employees, etc. No easy solutions exist but I’d love to hear your thoughtful suggestions in the Comments section.

Truth be told — with a grizzly encounter, iceberg-strewn lake, thimbleberries galore, with smell of boreal forest, with bright starlit nights over alpine lakes… it was worth losing a few hours of sleep. Many Glacier will always be a brilliant gem in “The Crown of the Continent.”

August 25, 2016

In Latin: Ursus arctos horribilis

Filed under: trouble,wildlife — Kathryn Colestock-Burke @ 8:12 am
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Alpine lake with glacial flour coloring it turquoise — Grinnell Glacier hike


“HEY-O! HIKER COMING THROUGH!” Experts ask you to use your voice — not bear bells, not whistles — to alert animals to your presence as you hike. As we trekked in the heart of Glacier National Park on a sun-splashed August morning, Chris and I concocted many variations of hey-bear-we’re-here-and-we-don’t-want-to-surprise-you. The bear spray canister was at the ready on his belt, but we had no desire to have to use it.


This is my kind of trail!

Thirty minutes into the arduous ascent to Grinnell Glacier, we rounded a bend to find ten hikers huddled in a clump. A crashing in the near underbrush drew my eyes toward a large figure loping swiftly downslope in a characteristic ursine gait, brown fur glinting with golden highlights, sheets of muscle rippling beneath its sleek coat — five hundred pounds or so of surprised beauty. My heart rate instantly spiked.

From the huddle’s center, one woman’s voice betrayed the complete panic gripping her. “Susanna! Go down! GO DOWN NOW!!!” came a tight, compressed, choked scream/shout. A moaning whimper escaped from someone else coming face to face with risk and decidedly not liking it. I wanted to sidle over to Panic Woman and hold her by the shoulders and quietly say, “Breathe. Breathe again. You are in the wilderness, where your survival depends on your remaining calm in the face of danger.” But I couldn’t take my eyes off the fleeing grizzly, who looked hell-bent on getting far far away. And, besides, I was kind of tasting a metallic fear taste in my mouth, just a tiny bit — mixed with a large dose of healthy respect for this wild and free animal.


Refreshing waterfall cools us on this hot August day

It was a rare and glorious moment, sixty seconds of a six-hour hike. No, no photos. Grizz got away from the humans and undoubtedly resumed gorging on berries. The woman and her group abandoned their march, undone by their wildlife encounter. Chris and I decided not to let fear rob us of seeing a stunning glacier, so we slogged vigilantly upward, shouting amusing offerings such as “We’re not tasty!” “Too many bones in us!” or, my favorite, “Let us be, let us be” sung to the tune of the Beatles song. This was more for our sake, perhaps, than for any bruin’s.


This gorgeous trail was closed the day after our encounter. Bear rangers will re-assess in three days to see if it is safe to re-open to hiking.

Barry Lopez, in Arctic Dreams, observes that “we have irrevocably separated ourselves from the world that animals occupy.” Do you agree? What would be different — in this scenario or in countless others — if we did not cut ourselves off from the creatures with whom we share this earth?

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