We started up the trail. We both had a smile on our face that even Goof Off couldn’t remove. Overhead, the sky was blue, and in the distance, the mountains towered above. The thing about the mountains in GNP is that they get vertical fast. Very fast. I’m talking like straight up. We had been hiking for maybe an hour when we stopped to drink some water. I was standing behind Jared looking up the trail. He was facing me, and we both had Nalgenes in our hand. That’s when it happened. A bear ran across the trail in front of us. “Jared! There’s a bear!” I hissed under my breath. He gave me a wry smile. He knows me pretty well. “Yeah…right.” He said, unimpressed. “Jared!” I hissed again.”Look at my arm! There’s a bear!” My arm was covered in goose bumps, and when he actually looked at my arm, he whipped around. I wasn’t lying. It was the 1st bear I had seen in the backcountry. I’ve seen a couple bears from the car on occasion but this was completely different. It was a black bear, and he was very large. I’m guessing at least 500 lbs. Lucky for us, he was scared spit-less. He came up the hill from below and stood on the trail, looked at us, then rambled on up the hill. The bear was probably 50 or 60 yards from us, but it was an experience I won’t forget. One of the most amazing things was watching him run up the hill. The hill was covered with trees, bushes, rocks, logs–you name it. It didn’t matter. It took him less than 5 seconds to run 30 to 40 yards up the hill which I’m guessing to be at least a 30 degree slope. I don’t know which was more amazing, that, or the fact that he didn’t make a sound. Until I experienced this, I never really appreciated what an amazing animal the bear is.
When we had composed ourselves, we resumed hiking, and pretty soon it started to go up. And up. And up. There were exactly 2,300 switchbacks on the way up the pass, and Jared had to call out “Swiiiiiiitch-back!” on every one of them. He has done that on every trip since. I smile when I hear him say it. Because that means we’re on another awesome adventure. A mile or so from the top of the pass, we passed a creaky-kneed old-timer also on his way up. The poor fella’s gear looked to be from the 1600’s, and his pack was just enormous. It towered above his head, and had one odd thingamajig after another in every crevice he could find. It’s a wonder he didn’t start drifting back down the hill. By this time, we knew we had to be getting close to the top, and what do you know, we were. Finally. 6 miles and 2000-some feet up we found where we’d be staying the night. Might I just say the view was awesome. BK