Michelle & Brian’s Bear Encounter – Mt. Rainier Wonderland Trail, Aug 2012 22 August 2012

The approach to Curtis Ridge on Day 10 took us up a long, narrow, beautifully lush ravine about 30′ across at the start that was heavily forested on each side, with a creek running down the bottom next to the trail, and boulders and flowers carpeting the floor of the ravine. Hiking alone on this beautiful, warm, sunny day at the back of our group – maybe 5 minutes behind Patricia, I was keenly aware that this was BEAR country. So about every 20 feet, I was yelling out ‘Hey Bear, hello Bear!! I’m just passing through!’

As the ravine started to open out, I noticed a big rockslide to the left and Brian and Michelle’s backpacks parked just off the trail in the boulder field. A quick scan of the hillside found them perched on a living-room-sized boulder high up in the slide. I waved and yodelled, and still alone, continued on up the trail, which hugged the right side of the ravine and weaved in and out of the trees, giving up fleeting views of the massive Carbon Glacier, Willis Wall, and the Liberty Cap summit above. After a few minutes I looked back and could see Brian and Michelle almost back down to the boulder field. The view up the trail suddenly opened up into a verdant green meadow about a mile wide, filled with wildflowers in white, yellow, pink, orange, purple, and fuschia, with sun-bathing marmots whistling to each other. Another forested ridge to be climbed rose on the far side of the meadow, and glimpses of the head of the glacier and a spectacular waterfall could now be seen to the right. It was just breathtakingly beautiful, and so quiet between the marmots’ whistles.

The trail now crossed toward the left side of the meadow. Even more hyper-aware now, I kept calling out to any bears in the neighborhood. Near the far side I came on Patricia and Kate sitting on a small flat-top boulder eating lunch, bare feet dangling. I climbed up with them, shed my boots, and we just sat, mostly in silence, enjoying the extreme, wild beauty of the scene. After a few minutes, we could see Brian and Michelle catching up quickly, and as they arrived, they exclaimed excitedly “you have your boots off, and there’s a BEAR!!”

Just after I had seen them coming down the rock slide, when they reached their packs they sat down for a snack about 10 feet from the trail. While they were munching, a trail runner in red shorts and sneakers passed by heading up the trail in my direction. [We were about 9 or 10 miles from the closest trailhead at this point.] They joked sarcastically between themselves about trail runners in general, and then only a few minutes later, the runner was coming back! They again joked that maybe he had already made it to the top, but as he approached he shouted to them “THERE’S A BEAR COMING DOWN THE TRAIL…I wish I had worn my brown shorts!” Brian and Michelle invited him to join them as they moved back away from the trail onto a big boulder, but he declined and said he’d rather go home! Michelle pulled out her camera and sure enough…it came along moving at a brisk pace, as if on a mission…only minutes after I had passed by ahead of the trail runner!