Bear hangs in the wilderness are like anchors at sea — it’s what let’s me sleep comfortably in the middle of the woods.
I made this connection during a solo journey into the Rattlesnake Wilderness the first weekend in August. Rob was busy driving a forklift and playing with power tools, helping our friends build a cabin in Southwestern Montana. So, I seized the glorious summer weekend, threw some gear in a backpack, threw a trailer on my bike, and headed out the front door at 3pm after work.
I ride my mountain bike up 5 miles of pavement, and then 16 miles of bumpy trail along Rattlesnake Creek, towing my heavy pack. Around 7pm, I reached the Wilderness boundary, locked the bike to fir tree, and strapped on my backpack. I hiked up Wrangell Creek about 5 miles, and reached Little Lake, a gorgeous high mountain lake, just as night fell. Which meant I had to HURRY to set up camp, make dinner, and then get dinner hung out of the reach of hungry bears and curious critters.
For me, I have to hang a rope right away, so I know my food will be out of range of hungry bears. That way I can sleep more soundly, especially when I’m all alone in the middle of the woods. Plus, I suck at throwing, so I figure I should get the dreaded (but critical!) chore out of the way first.
I finally found a good snag halfway around Little Lake (high elevation areas = subalpine firs = tiny branches that don’t hold the weight of my hefty food bag). Whew. Food safe for the night. I settled in my sleeping bag to read, and fell asleep as a lightening storm gave way to gentle rain in my cozy tent.
The next morning, after retrieving the food from it’s bear-proof spot, I decided to hike to the next lake, Glacier Lake. The first day alone in the mountains I’m usually jumpy, clapping and singing to scare away lions, tigers, and bears (and moose).
But then I settle into the rhythm of silence. By day two and day three, I almost forget I’m not a part of the forest, and rarely make noise. Maybe this is just because I feel slightly invincible by not getting killed on the way in.
On the second night, my comfort level was tested by 5 mountain goats that interrupted
the silence of sunset as the scrambled over a sheer cliff about 100 yards from my tent. Awesome creatures.
On the hike out, I catalog what I forgot in my rush to leave my home for the headwaters of my backyard creek: a compass, a utensil (good thing twigs make good chopsticks), a bandana. And what I was most glad to have with me: a fly rod, my bear hang rope, and a good book.
The reason I love backpacking–and sailing, for that matter–is that you must live in exactly that moment. You’re only mission is to survive, to plan the next meal and find the next shelter. There’s a beauty in that, a simplicity and a purpose that leaves me satisfied…and ready to do it all over again.