10.01.2006

Close Encounters of the Ursine Kind

Ursine: Etymology: Latin ursinus, from ursus bear
1 : of or relating to a bear or the bear family (Ursidae) -- MW online...


I know where the wild things are. According to my GPS, there's a very large bear foraging in a beech stand 5.25 miles from my home. I know this because Saturday was beautiful fall day in Vermont so I drove over to Little River State Park again and went hiking.

I find hiking on established trails to be pretty boring. For example, one could 'hike' on this trail wearing tennis shoes and an Ipod and be completely oblivious to the surrounding forest and the lay of the land.



I had my camera with me (see here) so even on wide smooth unchallenging trails I didn't go very fast because I kept stopping to take pictures. I knew when I started, however, that I was going leave the trail and try and follow a stream up into the drainage under Ricker (Bolton) Mtn. I wore boots and nylon pants & carried food, water, compass, gps, headlamp etc. Even though I was a crummy boy scout in my day the maxim "be prepared" did enter my consciousness I guess.

After I left the trail I was following the brook up the mountainside. It was mostly second growth hardwood forest and pretty open so it wasn't too bad.

As I went higher, however, the streambed was in the bottom of a deep, steep and narrow gully and forward progress was becoming increasingly difficult. At this point I punched out of the gully and got up onto the ridgeline on the north side of the stream (see the google image below).

The ridgeline was prime moose habitat: Lots of cover from young hardwoods interspersed with open swampy meadows. It was quite wet, the picture below doesn't do justice to how swampy it was. There were lots of moose sign about, some very fresh. I was wondering if it was moose mating season yet because I have read that a bull moose in rut is a stupid, territorial and aggressive animal and is actually kind of dangerous to be around (I think it is still kind of early, but I am not an expert on the sex life of moose...)


This area was once cleared for logging/farming and the moose were using an old (very old) logging road as a game trail that ran parallel to the stream, so I followed this. At this point I put the camera in my pack because I'd carried it this far and there had been a couple of times were it was in the way and I had been clambering over stuff and if I fell the camera would have been reduced to pieces of plastic.

Eventually the logging road petered out and it was almost 5 pm and the sun was setting (I was on the east side of the mountains) and I really didn't want to bushwhack out of there with just a headlamp so I was getting ready to head back. I was standing quietly in the darkening woods (stopped to pee) and I heard something... Turkeys or grouse? No. Squirrels or some other rodent? No. About 50 or 75 yards from me was a bear. A big black bear. I'm 5'7" and 135 lbs and even in the twilight I could see that this animal was a lot bigger than me.

I spent quite a bit of time in the bear-infested Adirondacks last year, however, and had some bear encounters (one of which scared the crap out of me, camping alone, large animals that go bump in the night...) and so had done some research on bears. I just watched for a few minutes and then backed out the way I had came. Once back on the moose/logging trail I made good time down the mountain and made sure to make a lot of noise so that whatever was around could hear me coming.

It was quite exciting and worthwhile and I wish I had stayed and watched for more time but I was alone and needed to take care of myself. It would have been really cool to have managed to get pictures of this but I would have had to had the camera out and ready and also set up to operate silently without all its default little electronic beeps. Also it really was quite dark in the woods at that point so I'm not sure it would have worked.

Below is the GPS Visualizer/Google Earth plot of some waypoints from this hike. I went down the north (left) side of the stream. From waypoint "Bear" (end of the hike) to "Trail" was only .75 mile...but trail-less!


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