Late morning, I drove out to Dog Gun Lake, on the Blackfeet Reservation, hoping to follow a valley into the Lewis and Clark Wilderness. Unless you're an enrolled tribal member, accessing the National Forests through the reservation is discouraged, but I figured this early in the season, nobody would pay me much mind, or else, I could plead my case with a photo ID showing I live near and work at a Blackfeet school. Either way, it didn't turn out to be a problem. I never was hassled.
Anyway, the road here ended short, piled over with drifts. So, I put the truck in park and hopped out.
A little uncertain about the prospects of this hike, as I imagined following the road much further, I was nevertheless encouraged upon looking toward the sky. There riding the warm winds gusting into the valley was a red-tail hawk, like a spirit, urging me onward.
And there was this animal spirit to consider too....
Nika is half Great Pyrenees, one quarter Border Collie, and one quarter German shepherd. My girlfriend and I picked her up from one of my student's farms, flea-bitten, worm-bloated, and pin-pricked from a porcupine altercation. She's come along way in the last few weeks we've had her. A loyal hiking companion and anxiety reducer while alone in big predator country, her presence was especially appreciated toward the end of this trip.
Here she is again.. a Sikohkiyo, Blackfeet for "little black bear."
Nika and I hiked maybe four or five miles, mainly following the road, the snow-covered mountains of Glacier National Park always towering in the distance. At one point we turned a corner and I saw two Red-Tails this time, both of them screeching, soaring high and tumbling over the valley. It was here I also spotted a nest, possibly theirs, built at the top of a lodge pole, and so, seeing it was a fitting place for them to make camp, I decided it would also do for me.
Initially, I set up a tarp but soon decided I'm done with tarps. Even after tying and staking the thing every which way, every time the wind caught, the pristine sounds of nature were drowned out by its incessant flapping in my ear. This I could not abide. And besides, I had a sleeping bag for my bivy, rain gear for me and everything else, and in the future, if I know there's a chance for heavy rain I can bring a small tent. Moreover, without a tarp, I can strike camp in a fraction of the time...just roll up the bed roll and lash it to the outside of my already packed Alice.
A nice and tidy camp. Coffee on the fire, Danners drying out, and not a bad view. Along the way, I found some elk poop and spent a good amount of time glassing the slopes hoping I'd see something. I heard songbirds, the wind blowing through the leaves, and what sounded like, way in the distance, the dull roar of an avalanche.
Then, there was this bum...Probably snoozing off the sizable portion of my ground beef and noodles I cooked and ended up serving her. Psshhh.
We spent all afternoon sitting there and exploring the surrounding area--a very nice retreat. Then, whatever biological nerve causes animals to become restless around dusk seemed to have struck me too. I broke camp and decided I'd pack out that night. I was also a little worried about where I parked my truck, and I suppose a Pacifico and lime at the end of the night sounded good too. I've spent plenty of nights in the woods and will spend many more.
I'm glad I did choose to pack out when I did. Around nightfall the landscape changes. Things awaken. I found fresh deer scat and tracks. Birds flitted around the brush chirping wildly. Everything feels a little eerier and a lot more enchanted. Maybe this tree was presaging the spookiest yet to come...
Picture below is the view back toward the lake. The sun had almost completely set. We rounded the corner at the far end and my hair stood on end. What looked like a white shadow, or ghost, floated from the waters edge to our right up the slope to our left. I couldn't believe it. I thought, foolishly, it was tumble weed, as I tried to make sense of it, but then on a ridgeline, it stopped, its figure made clear. It was some sort of canine, though clearly not domestic.
I drew my .45 from the pouch on my chest and racked back the slide. Whether wolf or coyote, I couldn't determine, and while I didn't really fear for me, Nika's safety was another story. I commanded her to stick close by as we edge along. Then, I turned back over my shoulder and the evidence became more conclusive...these were pack animals--wolves. Imagine four heads here peaking over the ridge, as I saw them, before they vanished. It was awesome.
After this incident, we made it back to the truck, or at least I did at first. Nika who followed the whole way, knew I was going to throw her in the bed, which she hates, so she took off, and I spent all of 10 minutes looking for her with a headlamp, before deciding I'd drive off some and see if that worried her enough to follow. It did, and she came moping toward me. Little booger. The hike must have broken down my resistance, because then I relented to her whimpering and let her ride up front, which means I'll be spending a while today scrubbing the seats with upholstery cleaner. Oh well, the Pacifico tasted great. I feel sore but good.