May 6, 2006.
The plan for today included searching for another firetower, this one just 100 yards from the main trail. According to the Sullivan guide, that meant a 4.8 mile walk. No problem. This time I’d even bring snowshoes. I was ready for anything.
The trail first climbs through a dense, shrubby understory dwarfed by tall evergreen trees. The skies were overcast but enough light shone through the canopy to brighten up the environment. I walked along, admiring the newly blossoming wildflowers and identifying the small handful of plants I could. Among those included Oregon Grape and the beautiful Calypso Orchid. Each flower was so tiny and so perfectly shaped. I wondered what teeny insect evolved so specifically to reach the nectar enclosed in this flower’s guarded reservoir.
I also began to wonder where all the snow was. Yesterday I could have used snowshoes for most of the hike. But here, it seemed, winter had loosened its frosty grip some time ago. I pushed on, feeling all the extra weight with each step. I enjoyed the distractions of giant slugs, delicate flowers, and charming streams. I even glimpsed some small critter that quickly disappeared under some brush before I could identify it. It moved like a fish but was on land and shaped like…well it was hard to tell. Like a mouse-newt hybrid. Black. Small. And darn fast.
No one’s here. The Terwilliger Hot Springs are just a few miles up the road. And there are plenty of great fishing spots along the South Fork of the McKenzie River. With so many choices, it appears that few people venture out on the summer trails out of season. That’s one reason why I like being out here. The only tracks in the snow are mine. Or rabbits, deer…
Just when I decided to put on snowshoes to cross a wide snowfield, I came across a line of tracks leading uphill. Bear tracks. Suddenly a rush of thoughts overwhelmed me. Neurons were firing like crazy. What do bears eat this time of year? Where’s (s)he going? Am I better off in an open field like this or back in the woods? If I encountered a bear, how would I react? How would the bear react? What if I get attacked? Would I even make it back to my car alive? Black bears are smaller than grizzlies, but they’re unpredictable. There’s no one around for miles. My mind kept racing back to the images of bear attack victims I recently saw in an online article and on a Discovery Channel show. Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have watched that show. Now I’m paranoid.
I couldn’t possibly enjoy the hike if I continued on any further. So I made this my turnaround point. I quickly strapped my snowshoes to my pack and retreated the way I came. No food break, sorry, it’s time to go.
I had to get my thoughts off of bears. Every dark, misshapen tree trunk I saw looked like a bear. Every unfamiliar smell: bear. This is ridiculous, I thought. I started clearing downed trees and brush off the trail. There was plenty of blowdown on the trail from the fall and winter. Doing this work helped make some noise and gave me something to do as a distraction. I then acquired a nice big stick to walk with, which doubled as a brush clearing device and a ferocious bear weapon 🙂 I seriously think I was losing my mind.
Needless to say, I emerged from the woods just a few hours after I began, unscathed. Since I had most of the day ahead of me, I took the long way home. Along the way, I stopped to eat lunch along the McKenzie River, watched swifts dart through the air at the Cougar Reservoir, and did a tourist stop at Sahalie Falls. It turned out to be a lovely day.