Bears will also kill you! Cover photo taken by Ryer Porter of me and Caleb the day of the story below.
South Eastern Idaho, 11:21 pm, 7200 ft., 27 degrees Fahrenheit, 20 MPH North West Wind, no tents, no sleeping bags, no more food, 1/4 bottle of water, and we’re stuck. Can’t go down, no way to go higher as we were at the top. I legit laughed out loud, wondering how this could be. But when your team is pushed to the max, you stay with the team.
HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?
So, how did we get stuck in this predicament? We chased an Elk off the side of a mountain and got entirely too deep in the thick of it as the sun dropped quickly over the mountain behind us. After spending roughly 3 hours hiking up and back down again trying to crisscross our way across the trailhead until we found it, we eventually had to stop. We’d been hiking for over 17 hours, and we were drained physically and mentally. If you’ve never hiked in super steep, dark, downfall (dead trees crisscrossed liked a million pick-up sticks), it’s hard to understand just how difficult it is.
You see, we were on our last full day of hunting and knew we needed to make something happen. In that pressurized situation, we made an incredibly impaired decision to fall off the ridge (where the trailhead to the bottom was) in pursuit of a Bull Elk that was going bananas, the first time we’d had this encounter in over 5 days of constant hiking and hunting.
We arrived on Friday evening, and the first thing you see when you get off the plane in Jackson Hole, WY, is a Bear Spray Rental station. Being a STUPID East Coast Hunter, I laughed at this and kept moving. After seeing one at almost every place we stopped and talking to friends in the area you think it would have clicked that maybe this is something that we needed to get, but… we didn’t. Besides, there are NO GRIZZLIES IN THE AREA (per all reports and everything I could read about grizzlies). Right?
Back to the top of the mountain.
FREEZING Cold. We stopped, sat down, and did a gear dump to see what we could use. Matches, space blanket, 1st aid kit, Sitka Tarp, one extra jacket, one packed of tuna, 1/8 bottle of water, and a lighter. As the realization settled that we were going to stay, everyone started to process what we needed to do to try and get some shut-eye.
Step 1- set up a sleeping situation. Since we didn’t have a tent, I figured we could use the tarp to create a shelter. We “sealed” most of the tarp edge by trying it and then throwing pine boughs on top of it to keep the wind out. We place the opening at our fire pit with the low end into the wind. That instantly made it warmer.
Step 2- We built a rough fire pit and got a fire rolling. I don’t know if you’ve ever been outside camping, cold, wet, exhausted, scared, etc., but a hot fire almost instantly always cures all of those ailments. There’s something primal in that fire that comforts the lizard brain that controls the fight and flight reflex.
Step 3- Settle in for a long, cold night. After we got our “sleeping” spots figured out and got the fire under the edge of the tarp, things began to look up a little bit. So one of the other guys decides to open up the last packet of tuna. He shares a bite with me. We sit, laughing as we tell our account of the wild ass day we just had and thankful to be warm and able to get off our feet.
And then we heard it. Crunch, crunch, crunch…. faster now, crunch, crunch, crunch. Ryer sits up a little and looks at me, smiles are gone. He turns to me, and half-jokingly says, “I can’t believe an elk would be feeding up to us that closely.” I wryly respond… “Yea, crazy,” with a bewildered look in my eyes. I KNEW it wasn’t an elk. A few minutes pass with no more noise.
And then 4-5 steps in quick succession are getting closer and louder. Now, we’re on full alert! The blood is pumping, something isn’t right. And then we hear a lough nose clearing blow and several quick snorts. If you’ve ever seen a movie with a bear in it, you know what noise I’m talking about. At this point, everyone knows what it is, but we think it’s a little black bear. No worries, right? Well, it’s still coming. We all stand. We get out the big flashlight. We are peering into the dark. 4-5 more steps, and then Caleb squeals, “BIG BEAR!”
We start clapping, yelling, I grab a large stump with and throw it in the fire. The hungry flames leap up to 4-5 feet, casting a bright orange light on our face and a giant shadow on the trees and tarp behind us. We look enormous, THANK GOD!
The bear stops, looks dead at us, 20 yards away. His eyes are at least a foot apart. He’s a massive bear. He lets out several growls and snorts testing us. The adrenaline has dumped. We are SCREAMING! “HEY BEAR, GET OUTTA HERE BEAR!” Stomping, clapping, doing anything we can to make noise. As suddenly as he came, he turns and starts circling us. He goes about 40 yards to our left and then disappears into the dark, never to be seen again. THANK THE LORD!
We all three stand there in disbelief at what just happened. We’re looking at each other, mouths agape. Wondering what had just happened. Saying a thousand things at once without uttering a word. And then it was over. We sat down. I wasn’t able to speak. I had lockjaw.
So we did what any good east coast (unfamiliar with bears) hunter would do and put on a 90’s country playlist. I knew there would be no sleep. Every noise for the rest of the night jolted me with a shot of fear again at the unknown. As I laid there, tending the fire, checking my watch for the time almost every 5 minutes until the sun came up, I could help but think how differently that could have gone.
ATTACK, ATTACK, ATTACK!
I began to think about my life. About all the times I stood, faced an immense fear, and went after it. Almost any REALLY good thing that has happened to me had come from taking massive action, not playing small. Some of the best things that happen in life are generally just on the other side of your biggest fears. I also thought about the times I didn’t and how that has negatively impacted me. Now, I’m not sure if that’s what you’re supposed to do with bears, but it worked out this time! And yes, I’ll be buying bear spray next time.
So is fear holding you back? Don’t play small. ATTACK it and crush it.
GO, DO & GROW!