“You have bear spray right?” asked Eric.
In unison we replied that we did not, but we had a bear banger and besides we run in bear country in Ontario, heck we even have a black bear knocking around the swamp at the cottage.
“But do you have Grizzlies?” He asked
Well no, but how much different could it be, sure they are a bit bigger, but isn’t everything in nature essentially supposed to be more scared of us than we are of it? Still Eric’s questioning did get us thinking. We went to check out our bear battling options, which was pretty easy as Eric was an employee at REI, a major outdoor retailer based in the US, and we were stood in said retailer.
For $50 bucks I decided that it might be cheaper just to be able to out run Heather, then I realized I can’t out run Heather, which buggers up that plan, but that is the price of an aweful lot of beer in this state (see pic), we decided to hold off for the moment.
We got onto the topic of bear spray in the first place while Eric was giving us a run down of local trails and interesting camp spots. As well as being a great source of local intel he is also a talented wilderness photographer with a rather odd travel companion*
It seemed everyone we met was an active outdoorsy type. Our waitress for happy hour at the Top Hat in Messoula was no different. We supped our $2.49 pints and chatted to her about the local area and the trails, she regaled us with her running and fishing stories, and of course finished with, you have to carry bear spray. So in a happily drunken smog we decided to descend upon the local walmart, two things became quickly apparent, one, this is where you don’t find all the outdoorsy types, this was our first glimps of the prototypical American. Secondly despite the first point it is where you find cheap bear spray**.
In possession of our new WMD we were ready to tackle the Montana trails, well after Heather read and re-read the instructions. Oddly enough I am the one that carries it, don’t tell Heather, but I haven’t read the instructions, if I can’t work it out when the situation arises I plan on throwing it at the bear and reverting to my original plan of running away.
We started with an easy and very photogenic hike in the Kootenai Canyon, nothing overly strenuous and I discovered the bear spray fitted in my pocket nicely, which A) made me look like I have a large package and B) I don’t look like a total tool carrying it in a holster.
That night we found a spot at the Charles Waters campground. On his nightly rounds the camp ranger stopped by to wish us a happy Canada Day, which was most unexpected, turns out his wife is a Canuck.
Not only did he wish us a happy Canada Day he also suggested that we were in the right vicinity to bag a peak in the morning, so long as we had the obligatory bear spray. This of course “peaked” our interest, so the next morning we found ourselves on a slightly overgrown jeep road, picking our way to the trailhead, I put the first scratch in the Hulk and the camper as I failed to dodge some overhanging branches, but scars are cool right?
When we finally arrived at the trailhead we were met with a spectacular view of the valley below, as well as Little St Joe, our peak for the morning. “It looks along way away, did the guy say how far it was?”, “I didn’t ask, did you?”, “nope, but it can’t be that far”. We set out and very quickly started to climb and climb some more. We eventually hit the snowline, this time however we did not turn back, we could see our peak still so scrambled onwards, my Boy Scout training kicked in as I started to break branches on trees so we could easily find our path down. As it turns out there was not much snow when I was a Boy Scout, otherwise I would have realized that following your footprints in snow is also a rather good way of retracing ones steps. After a solid slog we were rewarded with our hardest fought summit of the trip thus far, along with a stunning view. The walk down gave our quads a thrashing, but at the end I treated myself to a Simple Shower overlooking the valley below, yep I got Starkers on a mountain, it certainly was a shower with a view for Heather.
The final destination for the day was a Bannack, a gold rush ghost town, but not before we hit up a couple more Montana microbreweries, a running theme of the trip.
We arrived at the ghost town pretty late so decided to camp up and explore the next morning. I will mostly let the pictures speak for themselves, and add that I bored Heather immensely taking them, until the boredom became irritation as she was eaten alive by mosquitos.
To sooth all those bites we wrapped up the day at Norris Hot Spring, which is the closest these two Overlanders have been to a bath in along time. The following day we stopped at Bozeman to get supplies before heading to Yellowstone. Of course before we actually got to the park we made a stop at the Neptune microbrewery.
So to sum up Montana is pretty cool, one night turned into five in a blink of an eye, and oh yeah the sky really is big here.
* consider this your teaser, now go check out his website.
** On the grand scale of the trip one may argue that scrimping on an item that will stop a bear eating you is rather foolhardy.