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The Beartooths of the Northern Rockies: Andy’s National Sierra Club Trip 2015

August 13, 2015

I love the Rockies. The Northern Rockies.  These spectacular wild places where a beast can easily swipe you head off with a paw. These places where conditions leave you shivering, gasping, aching wondering why you donned a 40lb pack to climb strenuous slopes. These wild places that make you feel the best you have ever felt, your senses acute and tingling, that all is good and that we can do anything in front of us.

My most important request as a leader is that participants consistently think well of each other. Human beings consistently look at Nature as a place of healing. If one has negativity about the situation or another, the protocol is to take it out of the kitchen or fire ring, let it go, and come back as the loving person that they naturally are. The participants of this trip followed this direction scrupulously. Interestingly, two to the participants stated in the pre trip meeting that their goal was to continue their healing journey and to reclaim their natural sense of peace in these Rocky Mountains. Rewarding as a leader that they accomplished what they seeked.

When we finally arrived at Black Canyon Lake, it we stunning

After some invigorating cross country that included boulder hopping, we were stunned by  Black Canyon Lake.

My goal was Grizzlies. Yes Grizzly Bears. For me Colorado, California and the other beautiful Rocky Mountain and Cascade Mountain states seem rather dead, without the Grizz. Kind of sounds silly, stupid, even reckless, but for me it is only the rational. I am a 21st century man and I  I love the humbleness that comes from surrender, the ache of fear that nature can bring to us, the primordial dreadful idea that we may being watched or even hunted.  Now truly the risk in the lower forty 48 is not great, but for me Colorado, California and the other beautiful Rocky Mountain and Cascade Mountain states seem rather dead, without the Grizz.

People love the big mammals. I know this as I observe nature conversations go to the big cat, bear, elk or moose. For me the Abasorka-Beartooth Wilderness just north of Yellowstone represented a place where the Grizz and Wolf could run freely, without being hassled by naive tourist. One of the first documented Grizzly fatalities was an naive tourist who decided to prod a Griz cub in a tree in Yellowstone. Mama Grizz was prompted to devour a hole  in his chest.

September Morn Lake Night 3 at 9600 feet

September Morn Lake Night 3 at 9600 feet

Things were different in the 19th century where the old world ideas of bears and wolves were connected to the demonic world. The big mammals were looked upon as a threat to the idea of Manifest Destiny, the idea of going grab the land if you have more powerful weapons. In fact the demise of the big mammals and native people is also marked by the era of the repeating rifle.  Sounds eerily similar to the way the government and the owing class of the  “Land of the Free” in modern times. Except now we do it in Kenya and Iraq. The corollary to Manifest Destiny is basically the idea that white Europeans could do whatever they wanted to Nature. Millions of Buffalo and Wolves were slaughtered, along with the existing 100,000 Grizzlies. The buffalo and wolves became almost non existent, Grizzlies were reduced to hundreds only in the Northern Rockies. The decimation of the plains Buffalo, along with the white people diseases was the end of the Grizz and Native People. We know that all Native folks weren’t saints, but  we do know that most tribes  were connected to the land and there was serenity and happiness among these folks. In fact the big bear, the Grizz was revered by some tribes as the author of the universe, the English translation goes as something like “the Medicine Grizzly.” And now in our short sighted society, there is so much dissatisfaction and restless in a society that values entertainment and cell phones. Just go look at the numbers…..our ERs are filled with humans that the doctor can not diagnosis and his prescription is therapy. The numbers of people being treated for anxiety is 17%.

View from Sundace Pass Day 4

View from Sundance Pass Day 4

Ray finishing the climb to Sundance Pass

Ray finishing the climb to Sundance Pass

One of my nature heros is  Doug Peacock. Doug was the kind of kid who was all the time in the woods fishing hunting and exploring, only to go to Vietnam to witness horrible and gruesome atrocities. He came back and healed through observing Grizzly bears in Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. From his book “Grizzly Years,” which I used as a reference for this trip,

The bears provided a calender for me when I got back from Vietnam when one year would fade into the next and I would lose great hunks of time to with with no events of people or time to recall their passing. I had trouble with a world whose idea of vitality was any thing other than the naked authenticity of living or dying. The world paled, as did all my life as it had before, and I found myself estranged from my own time. Wild places and Grizzly Bears solved this problem.

Quinnebaugh Meadows, Day 5 and 7

Larry, Jim and Rudy, Quinnebaugh Meadows, Day 5 and 6

Interesting that I feel a sense of connection  to Doug as former Vet and environmental activist, without meeting him. Both of us see nature as a healing modality… which one just has to show up and be respectful. I am indebted to Doug for inspiration and for his efforts to protect the Rocky Mountain Front from the Narcissists that run the oil companies.

So I was enthralled when Deb the Ranger in the Custer National Forest gleefully announced that here were 40 Grizz’ in the Abasorka. Although we never saw a Grizz, it is truly a reward hiking and sleeping in a place that has some semblance of wildness.

Coming Down from Lake Mary and looking down into the Lake Fork drainage

Coming Down from Lake Mary and looking down into the Lake Fork drainage

I must admit that I struggled in this trip. I found myself rather adverse to the whole situation, day by day. I finally woke to the fact that it is tough to lead, be in charge of the food, and deal with challenging mountain conditions. We did get a significant amount of rain, and had a huge storm with snow, thunder and lightning and high winds on the 5th night. Some folks got wet in their tent and one person’s tent pole was broken. The next morning people included me seemed drained. The rewards of the trip was that folks enjoyed the food, had plenty, and they really enjoyed one another. I look at backpacking as a physical challenge, and enjoy feeling like I am a little tougher and stronger when I get home. I knew it going in, that this area is spectacular, and when I saw it,these mountains rivals any other area that I have been to.

I am grateful to the Sierra Club, Roger Grissette and Rudy Scheffer for this wonderful opportunity to experience a place that is warm to my heart, the northern Rockies! Thanks for being a wonderful co leader Rudy! It was great to have you manage the kitchen! Next post will be about food.

A better view and pic from the top of Grass Mountain

A better view and pic from the top of Grass Mountain


Chunks of snow around my tarp last Friday

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Derek Engleman permalink
    April 4, 2016 12:06 pm

    Very nice and inspiratinal letter Andy.
    Thank you

  2. Frances permalink
    August 18, 2015 12:33 pm

    Awesome trip – thanks for sharing.

  3. August 14, 2015 8:40 pm

    Andy, I loved your photos of the sweeping Rockies landscape and your affection for Grizzly Bears!

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