Griz gas and porkypines

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A classic George Ostrom column, from June, 1989...

How ironic! It was just a year ago when a sheriff’s officer made headlines by accidentally triggering one of those pressurized bear repellant cans and completely emptied out the Missoula Courthouse.

Last Thursday, the Over the Hill Gang decided to hike over that steep hill between Lake McDonald and the remote Camas Valley of Glacier Park. Twas a fine morning as we prepared to leave out cars at the West Lakes trailhead. Fresh spring aromas of blooming flowers and cedar trees filled that air. We were happy campers.

Son Shannon and I were 50 feet away from the others, lacing our boots, when unexpected chaos erupted. There was sudden frenzied coughing and gagging as seven wise and mature men staggered around like a bunch of drunks. There was no clue as to what the trouble was, so I started towards them. One teeny whiff of something scary sent me scrambling. Shannon later said I actually spun some gravel.

The facts soon emerged. We were headed into grizzly country, including the scene of the fatal attack, and one of the “boys” was worried his repellant might not be working. “Better safe than sorry,” so he gave it a test…just opened the thing away from himself and lightly touched the trigger. He detected no wind at the time, but alas, there was a slight drift.

Now, we all know what emptied the Missoula Courthouse…and why. Compared to bear spray, tear gas is the dainty breath of a honey sipping angel. Some of the gang who got the biggest dose now believe that a person with asthma or respiratory problems might not survive a full blast. All agree when it hits, you instantly cannot talk. I felt it fortunate there were two doctors along to share the excitement. If you ever get bear sprayed, Gilbrest and Palchak can now relate.

Once all the coughing and wheezing had stopped, we had a great 12-mile hike. There appears nothing like a good snort of griz repellant to open up the sinuses and stimulate the respiratory system. Thursday morning’s adventure was a unique experience; however some of the gang members now feel they might rather take their chances with the grizzly than absorb another whiff of that stuff, while others think a small whiff will trigger a “fright recall adrenaline reaction” which will enable them to leave even the swiftest grizzly in the dust.

For those people who have never gone to the upper Camas Valley, I extend sympathies. There are six lakes on the creek, strung like turquoise nuggets on a slivery cord and there are awesome mountains lining both sides of this lush valley above the lowest lake, Rogers. From Trout, Arrow and Camas Lakes, you can view the south face of Mounts Santon, Vaught, McPartland and the back of Heaven’s Peak…viewed by millions on the east but by few on the west. Towering cliffs hold hanging valleys cradling year-round snow fields, high misty waterfalls pour from those high shelves. The mysterious cry of the rare black loons can still be heard echoing through the rugged canyon. The highest lakes, Ruger and Evangeline are jewels sitting in a huge glacial basin dominated by the imposing and dangerous Longfellow Peak, a mountain not many have visited.

Besides the almost overwhelming beauty of the Camas Valley, there is good fishing for cutthroat trout (flies only) and a multitude of big game animals. Other than that, there is no good reason to ever go there. The valleys are often closed because of grizzly bear activity. Their signs are everywhere, from claw marks on trees to big tracks and doo doo on the trails. The only official campground is now located at Arrow Lake. I wouldn’t sleep there if you paid me and I only hike there when I know I can outrun at least two others in the party.

I made the long, tough backpack to Mount Longfellow 25 years ago and will never forget it. While we were camped on the shore of Lake Evangeline, a rustling noise awakened me in the middle of the night. I shined my flashlight around and there was a baby porcupine happily sitting on Loren Kreck’s chest, enjoying the short ride up and down as Loren was lying on his back snoring away. I was afraid to yell at Kreck because he might slap at the sharp-spined beast, so I quietly got out of my warm sleeping bag, hunted around in the cold for a long stick and then pushed the porcupine off.

In the process, I stumbled, stubbed my toe and made some cursing sounds which caused the ungrateful doctor to slightly awaken and grumble about people who disturbed his sleep.

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