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Monday, June 27, 2005

The bears didn't go over the mountain

... Or"The way is shut."

My run up Missoula's Snow Bowl ski area this morning was cut short by a couple of black bears — a mama and a yearling cub.

We were at the area for about 24 hours for a wedding and reception, starting yesterday and running through this morning (Charlotte's niece Mattie and Ryan, a nice whippersnapper from North Dakota). After a day off to recover from the South Ridge run Saturday, I took off about 6:30 a.m. on the "administrative road" from the ski area parking lot, and made it to within site of the top of the Grizzly chair, which rises 2,000 feet from the lodge.

I was huffing and puffing pretty good when a chittering squirrel 20 feet ahead got my attention (it seemed more agitated than the usual background noise one hears on a run such as this). Sure enough, about 20-30 feet past the squirrel was a large black bear, really more of a dark chocolate color. It ambled right, a few steps above the road, then turned and basically sat down and looked at me. I stood there watching for probably three minutes, thinking it might move on up the hill so I could continue. Then I heard some brush crashing left of the road, and up popped Junior, who appeared to be a yearling bear. I watched for a moment before common sense told me that this would be a good time to end my ascent and head for the lodge (and breakfast).

Black bears are fun to watch because they're not usually threatening, the exception being when cubs are in the picture. This one didn't seem to be going anywhere, though, and I wasn't really in a position to challenge it for the roadway. It did make for a nice way to start the day, however.

As we left to go home a little later in the morning, another yearling black bear was chewing foliage about 200 yards down from the ski area, and a bad photo of it is below. It's bad because we didn't want to scare him away before others in our party had a chance to see him (or her). We saw the little guy and raced back to the resort to alert the others, and I shot this pic out my window as we left. The others — from San Diego, Boston, the Bay Area and other places) saw him and were excited by it, so our strategy worked, at the expense of the pic's quality.

Anyway, back to my run: After the stare-down, I ran back to the lodge, and the whole trip took less time than I was shooting for. Probably all for the best, however, considering this made three mountain runs in four days, much more than my usual of late. The good news is I feel good.

The route was unrelentingly uphill, rising 2,000 feet in less than four miles. By way of comparison, the Mount Helena run from a couple of days ago goes up about 1,200 feet in a much shorter distance. The grade probably is comparable, but Mount Helena has some stretches that are much steeper than the road I was trotting at Snow Bowl. I don't know the elevation change on the South Ridge run Saturday, but if I get a chance I'll check my topos and report on it later.

This day was partly cloudy, the sun hitting me finally (there's a ridge across the way blocking it until 7 or so) about halfway up. I didn't see any other critters, but the wildflowers were spectacular. Feeling romantic, I plucked up an Indian paintbrush (the PC crowd is calling it simply "paintbrush" these days) and the daisy-like flower whose name escapes me at the moment to bring back to my sweetie. The "vase" tells you a little about our departure priorities.

All told, I'll call today's effort

7-1/2; 7-1/2; 53-1/2 and 416.
Posted by Mose, 4:21 PM


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