Gunsight Lake

I love hiking in the mountains, and I was determined to hike the Gunsight Pass Trail. I talked Dennis into another attempt, this time from the east, and we borrowed Jock and Marian's tent, complete with rainfly.

The eastern trailhead is on the Going to the Sun Road east of and below Logan Pass. It starts at a higher elevation than the western trailhead at Lake McDonald, but drops 500 feet before climbing up steadily to Gunsight Lake at 6500 feet, about the same elevation as Sperry Campground. When we reached the campground at Gunsight Lake, there was a threatening mass of gray clouds swirling around Gunsight Pass about 600 feet above, but we settled in for the night secure in our upgraded accomodations in Jock's tent.

We woke up in the middle of the night with the roof of the tent just two inches above our noses, collapsed by several inches of heavy wet snow.

We considered pressing on, but we were, again, unprepared. The hooded sweatshirt I am wearing in the picture was the best I could do for cold weather gear. We again packed up to turn around and hike out.

Bears are common is Glacier National Park, and over the years I've seen about a dozen. Mostly black bears, which, unless you get between a mother and her cub, are rarely aggressive. Grizzly bears, present in Glacier but in fewer numbers, are another story. Usually they are very shy, and if they hear you at a distance they will almost always move off.  If you startle a grizzly bear, though, the bear may stand its ground or even rush you. Every year at least one person gets killed by a grizzly bear somewhere in the park.

Many hikers wear bear bells that tinkle as you march along. Dennis and I took a more direct approach: when rounding a blind corner on a trail we'd just yell:

"Look out bears, we're coming!". "Hey bears, watch out!"

Worked like a charm. Never saw a bear except at a safe distance as long as we yelled. But we did see a bear, a grizzly bear, just as we started out on the hike down in the snow from Gunsight Lake. I saw just a flash, but Dennis got a good look:  a grizzly bear with the characteristic hump and golden fur, first in the stream near the campground, then fleeing into the woods when it spots us. We returned to the campground and warned the remaining campers, then set out on down the trail, yelling with extra gusto as we rounded the turns.

When we were most of the way down we encountered a young, and as we learned, inexperienced, ranger hiking up the trail. He was pale, and he had a big pistol on his hip. I had never before or since seen a ranger wearing a gun. He stopped us and told us his tale.

He was on his way to the campground to make sure everyone was OK in the snow and cold. He had nearly reached the campground. He was not wearing a bear bell, had not been blowing on the whistle around his neck, and as he rounded a turn less than 20 yards from him a grizzly bear was busy digging up a root, oblivious to his presence. His gun was where it usually was, buried in his pack, so he chose the only weapon at hand, his whistle!

He gave it a blast (not a good idea) and completely startled the bear. It turned, rose up on its haunches, and roared. After several more frantic whistle blasts, the bear though better of it (bears that attack humans are hunted down and killed), and turned and ran up the trail towards the campground, where Dennis and I spotted it probably just a few minutes later. The ranger then decided the firt thing to do was close the trail, but being unable to make radio contact with the base from where he was, he had hiked down past where we met him to call in. When we met him he was on the way back up to close the campground.

He was a very frightened young ranger. He had learned his lesson about making noise on the trail, and he wanted us to come with him and help create a deafening roar that would scare off even the most hardened, brave bear. And we looked at the pistol on his hip and saw good company. So we dropped our packs and yelled our way back up to the campground without incident, and then hiked on out, stepping over the trail closure sign at the trailhead you see in the picture.

The next summer, in 1979, Dennis and I again travelled out to Montana and successfully hiked over Gunsight Pass. The pass itself is one of the most stunning places I have ever been, with a view down one steep dropoff to Gunsight Lake, and another view down an even steeper dropoff to lake Ellen Wilson on the other side. But not long after that, in 1980, Dennis and I got caught up in a 4 cornered love tragicomedy. First I rented a room from, and later bought and shared a house with a woman, Georgia Reay, that I was never romantically involved with. Shortly after Georgia and I bought the house, I became romantically involved with a woman named Linda Ellingsworth. Linda, who I became engaged to but eventually had the good sense to not marry, hated and was extremely jealous of Georgia. I moved out of the house to make peace with Linda, but Dennis, who was also a friend of Linda, struck up an affair with Georgia. Inevitably my relationship with Linda fell apart, and soon after that Dennis dumped Georgia and took up with Linda, and eventually they married. And as they built their life, and as I built a very different life with Diane Kjervik, we drifted apart. I haven't seen him in over a decade and have lost touch completely. But whereever he is I wish him well, and I keeep fond memories of our good times and adventures together.