Getting Grizzly in Glacier National Park

July 1-3, 2011

A thunderhead grows above Glacier National Park.

I’ll start this post with a little humor, because it gets a little grizzly later. Here are some choice listings from the Whidbey Island (a suburb of Seattle, Washington) police report. I stayed at Whidbey with my cousin David’s home.

These are accounts of 911 calls:

“10:17 pm. Caller reports a male, 20’s, 5 foot 9, asking caller for Styrofoam.” Danger! Danger!

“3:51 pm. Caller advising he met a girl online. Met her at a hotel, gave her $1000 and now she has left with it.” Calling the police because your prostitute stiffed you? Hmm. Dumb enough to give a girl $1000 before services performed=dumb enough to implicate yourself in prostitution. Makes sense to me.


“9:25 pm Caller advises: Female acting crazy in Madrona Manor parking lot.” If I had a nickel…


“9:32 am Caller reporting a garage sale is creating a SERIOUS parking problem.” I wish my garage sales did that…But 911?


“2:48 pm Caller advises: A couple is lying next to the bathroom, male and female, lying on top of each other.” FYI, this call comes from a residential address. Jealous boyfriend or peeping tom?

“1:25 pm Caller advises: A man came to her home, asked for paper towels.” Styrofoam and paper towels…hmm…WAIT. I KNOW WHAT HE”S DOING! He’s…He’s…?

Now, my personal favorite:

“3:02 pm Caller advises a 13 year old male slapped his 13 year old son.” Whichever reader comes up with an explanation of how this is possible gets a prize.

Alright, now that we are done let’s get back to the wild. Last time I wrote, I was about to embark on a three day trip into Glacier National Park. The park is one of America’s last true wildlands, and home to grizzly and black bears, moose and elk, mountain lions, and hippies. I spent the day after leaving my friends (the bikers and the moose) buying three days worth of organic food, and preparing to enter the wild. I’ll write about the days that followed like this:

Near the Camas road entrance, the pines introduce the mountains.

Day 1: The night John feels like a cowboy

I refuse to pay to find somewhere to sleep. Glacier, for all its greatness, is a bit of a ripoff. $25 entrance fee, then between 15 and 25 per night to camp. That means I would have spent $100 just to spend three days there. I waitress I met had recommended one free campsite in Western Glacier, so that would be my first stop. So I drove about 20 miles down a dirt road into a heavily wooded forest, and, unable to find anywhere to sleep, ended up parking myself on a plain created by burning trees.

(Forest fires are actually intentionally started here because the seeds only open at certain temperatures.)

I set up camp, layered myself (30 degree nights in Montana) and set about making a fire. According to the little journal I kept for the week, I “looked forward to the next few days immensely!” I likely did, having found both a good spot for fossil hunting and arrowhead hunting earlier that day. More on that later.

My camp: My fire, my horse(power), and my tent.

I read for a while, roasted a gigantic marshmallow, and thought about cowboys spending their nights out on the plains with a fire for warmth, a horse for travel, and not much else. My Camry is not much of a horse, but it gets me there. I imagined that they had similar thoughts to mine all alone in a field somewhere.

The table ruined the shot. It helps to have someone there to take pictures.

Day 2: John causes a landslide and swims in freezing cold water

I woke up at 5:30 am. My feet were freezing, my legs were freezing, my ears were freezing. Aware that sleep was over and that lying there would only make me colder, I got up and made breakfast. Two eggs, two pieces of Canadian bacon (ham, basically) fried in honey, and an apple. The eggs and ham were cooked on a little stove made from a ginger-ale can and a penny. Preeety cool. The meal was great, but the penny didn’t make it.

Pics: bkfst, penny, stove


The penny stove, sans penny, and my non-stick frying pan from a Eureka hardware store.


After breakfast, I went to my hopeful fossil site. It was just a hillside covered in medium sized rocks really, but I thought I find some cool fossils. Unfortunately, I had done no research, so I had no clue that the earth there was Pre-cambrian. In laymen’s terms: before everything live that is not algae. So I looked, and looked, and found some really cool rocks. Determined to find fossils, I scaled up the wall, dimly aware of the physics at play. I start moving sideways, but find no sure footing. I figure: “what the hell?” and step over anyway, clinging to a tree branch.

Bad idea. The rocks start moving underneath me and tumble down the hill. Rocks below followed. Rocks above followed. The only thing separating me from an undignified early burial was the tree branch and fast footwork. Clinging to the branch, I tried to jump above the sliding rocks. It worked, sort of. I rolled my ankle on the moving targets, but the slide eventually subsided, leaving me covered in dirt and dust, but otherwise unharmed. That was lucky.

The rocky hillside, after I caused my little rock-slide. Read right to left.

No more fossils for me. I got back in the camry and headed into the park. Avalanche Creek is a little river that runs down the side of a mountain carrying the melted glacier into the valleys below. A hike to the Avalanche Lake, a lake way up in the mountains where the glacier pools left me tired, but a swim in the frigid lake left me wide eyed and waking. I picked up meditation from a Zen Buddhism practitioner in Sheridan, Wyoming, and have since incorporated it into myself to remain in the present. Twenty minutes spent meditating while sundrying next to beautiful blue water and snow capped mountains is an experience I count among my most cherished.

On the way back down the mountain, I passed a wounded deer and a group of kids, who, I gather because of my outlandish outfit, called me “marker man” and raced each other down the hill. When they rested, I’d pass by and then they’d race to catch up shouting “Marker man! Marker Man!” I said hello to everyone I met both ways on the 8-mile hike.

A pause to thank the good people of Montana: The bag containing my computer was left sitting next to my car, and the passenger door was wide open. Nothing was stolen. Go Montana.

Reads left ro right, the cascades of Avalanche creek.

Avalanche Lake, with the surrounding glacial mountains, the icy waterfalls, and frigid basin.

The shades of blue in glacial lakes are even more vivid in person.

So I ate some lunch—a roll with horseradish cheddar, prosciutto ham, garlic, caeser dressing, mayonnaise, and honey. It was pretty dang good. Then I succumbed to nap by another nearby lake. The rest of my day was spent driving. I drove to the other side of the park, at the Two Medicine entrance next to the Blackfeet Indian reservation. Along the way, I stopped at Goat Lick, where white mountain goats with collie-esque fur lick the limestone for nutrients.

It was getting late by the time I made it all the way over to Two Medicine, so I found an abandoned campground next to a creek, and settled in to make dinner. Tonight’s menu was a stirfry with onions, green peppers, garlic and ham cooked over a flaming fire. Very tasty. I camped out creekside, and fell asleep fast, thoroughly exhausted.

My stirfry.

Day 3: John narrowly escapes death for the third time this week

My final day in glacier began only slightly differently than the previous one. Instead of just cooking eggs with cheese, Canadian bacon, and eating an apple, I put in all in a butter fried bagel. Mmmmm. The cooking adventures one can have with a frying pan, a ginger ale can, and a penny.

After breakfast, I made my way to the Two Medicine entrance in eastern glacier, and spent the morning in a little electric motorboat on the deserted glacial lake. I guess my beard grew long enough that I looked like I belonged, because a boat of tourists passed by snapping pictures of me. Other than that, reading Robbin’s Cowgirls and drifting back and forth across the lake could not have been better.

In your head, turn this shot from my boat on Two Medicine lake 90 degrees to the left.

Another Two Medicine lake shot, taken while in my little eletric powered boat.

Another Two Medicine Lake photo, note how the blues change based on the lighting of the shots.

After lunch at a nearby river, I went to the last entrance to Glacier Park, where I had heard the most wildlife could be seen. Upon arrival, I found myself alone. No rangers, no tourists. Everyone was in an amphitheater, listening to an aged ranger tell bear stories. I listened for a while, but grew pretty tired. I do remember one thing I heard:

“A bear has no friends. He fights with other bears over territory and food, and mates only briefly before moving on.” The ultimate loner. Complete freedom. Something to think about a little later.

So I left Many Glacier, hoping to be a moose or a goat. No such luck. I set up camp at another abandoned campground, and started into the woods for firewood.

A chasm off of Going To The Sun Road looks like the entrance to an Andean palace.

I was picking snapping off a difficult branch when I heard something else snap. I slowly looked over my shoulder, peering in the 5 o’clock dimlight at the mane of a grizzly bear. About forty feet off, the bear was muzzling the ground. Careful to control my heartbeat, I reached into my back pocket for bear spray (concentrated pepper spray) and slowly laid down on the ground.

I had just heard a story of a ranger who had encountered a mama grizzly. I lay down, dead silent, not moving. The mama walked up, stood over him for a while, and walked away. I decided that was a good plan. Then I saw the cubs.

Three year and a half old bears cubs were following mama through the brush. Bear spray in one hand, camera in the other, I laid down next to my difficult branch, now quite glad it had been difficult since the snapping would have alerted her. The grizzly’s walked on by, not giving me any notice. I had the camera shooting a video a few feet from my face, and I was able to catch one of the cubs as the family walked by.

The brown ball of fur in the top right quadrant is a bear cub. Best I could get from where I was.

So I survived. Shockingly. I waited for ten minutes or so, then walked back to camp. I cooked myself a premade Army dinner, which was pretty tasty, and curled up and went to sleep, pleased at having had such a cool experience.


Hold up. I just went to sleep? Yep. That’s what happened. I don’t know if I was stupid or in shock, but I just went to sleep. I did not really think much about it until today (July 7th) when I found out that a man was killed in Yellowstone Park by a mama grizzly with cubs.

I can’t help but feel like something is wrong here. Two people, same situation, drastically different outcomes. Why? Maybe he did something differently from me, but I’ll assume he was just as safe. Maybe he startled her, but maybe I could have. Yet, here I am. Just a day apart, two encounters with a mother grizzly. One ended in death, the other in “just going to sleep.

I’m feeling what I guess could be called “Plane crash survivor syndrome.” What in the world made it ok for me to survive, and him to die? I have no idea, and likely never will, but at any rate I realize how lucky I am to be alive, something I did not even notice before today. My trip through glacier went wonderfully, but my thoughts end here on a sad note. I am happy for myself, my parents, and my friends, but very sad for his. I’ll never know why the bear paid me no attention, but it is something worth thinking about.

Anyhow, I am glad to still be here writing for the forty-five or so people a day who read my blog. I’ll try to keep it that way.


My three days of food!


2 responses to “Getting Grizzly in Glacier National Park

  1. All I can say is WOW! A memorable three days in every way. Many things to ponder. Growing cooking skills! dont even want to think about what coul dhave happened. The pictures continue to amaxze me. Each one so clear and gorgeous. Testement to the air quality. Everyone i talk to says Montana is unbelievble and truly our last frontier as a country.

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