Let’s talk about the bears for a minute... this area of the country is FULL of them. Black bears and grizzly bears make their homes in Yellowstone Park and the Tetons, and they have been particularly active this year, with several attacks on hikers, campers, and residents. So we were extra cautious and also brought the recommended bear spray, which looks like a mini fire hydrant and is supposed to ward off an attacking bear so one can escape. But enough about a potential bear attack...
We arrived at the trailhead in the late afternoon sun and packed up our gear for the night. We hiked through the most beautiful scenery on the way to the lake. The sun was beginning to sink low behind the Teton range and lit up the aspens all around us which were turning gold, orange, and red. It was only about 2.2 miles to our campsite. It could not have been a prettier spot. It was situated right on Bradley Lake with a view across the water of the Teton range. We set up camp and made our dinner and sat back and relaxed, watching the sun set over the mountains and listening to two elk bugleing back and forth to each other somewhere out on the peak.
Then the craziness started.
As soon as it was too dark to see across the lake, we heard a huge splashing, crashing, bumbling noise from right around the shore bend. Dear God, what is that! It sounded like one something HUGE or a lot of somethings that were mildly huge. We couldn’t hear animal noises so we weren’t sure what we were dealing with. We decided that it must be a moose, since we had read that they really like this particular lake and because it really did sound unbelievably clumsy. After a while the noise stopped, which only meant that the something was now in the woods with us. But, we figured a moose would probably not bother us. We packed up our food in the bear canister and walked together with our headlamps to store it away from camp. On our way back, Tom suddenly sprayed the area with bear spray! Turns out it was accidental, but man that sure got my heart going!
Once we were back in camp, we stopped and looked at each other. Tom asked, “Do you smell that?” And I sure did. You could smell that something large and beastly had recently walked right through our camp. We started scanning around looking for the culprit, but we couldn’t see anything. Eventually the scent began to fade, but we made the mutual decision that it might be best to hike back and camp in the Westy. We decided to leave our food, tent, and sleeping bags and carry the rest of our gear back to the van. In the dark.
The hike back to the van was pretty awesome. Tom had bear spray in one hand and a large stick in the other and I was carrying a sizable rock in each hand, ready to brain whatever animal might spring on us (mountain lions are nocturnal, I remembered as we walked along). We talked loudly and I sang every hiking song I had ever learned in girl scouts to try and scare away whatever was on the path ahead. We each had a headlamp and were constantly scanning left and right and sometimes behind us, checking for wildlife. And man did we ever see some wildlife! We saw giant toads hopping across the trail in front of us, small nocturnal mammals up in the trees with their eyes shining when they were caught in the light. And as we walked back along the creek, I turned to my left and saw, no more than 3-4 feet from my shoulder, a proud 6-prong mule deer buck. I could have reached out and touched him. He stood there with a look that said, “Why are you two so loud? Don’t you know it’s the middle of the night?” We all stared at each other in silence for a few seconds and then we went on our way. After that we calmed down a little and even turned off our headlamps for a few minutes. The stars were unbelievable on a totally moonless night, more than I have ever seen in my life. We even saw the headlamps of a few hikers way up in the distance who must have been camping up towards the Grand Teton. We made it back to the van and slept, even though we were jazzed with adrenaline and even though we had left our sleeping bags in the tent.
The next morning we woke up and ate a quick breakfast and got back on the trail. From the trailhead, it was a 6.5 mile hike up to Amphitheater Lake, with a stop by our campsite to check things out. The morning was chilly but warmed up quickly. By midday it was close to 75 degrees and bright sunshine, perfect hiking weather. On our way to the campsite we saw the same buck grazing in the moraines. We also heard the elk, still bugleing, but it sounded like it was right next to us, just over a ridge. Tom wanted to go see it, but I protested, since we had read about how aggressive and territorial they are in the fall and that the bugeling is to warn other bucks that they are there (I’m such a party pooper). Our campsite was intact and undisturbed when we got there and we headed up the trail to the lake. The Amphitheater Lake trail gains 3000 feet in the last 4.8 miles up the face of the Grand Teton, which makes for some strenuous hiking, but the view along the way and at the top were worth it. We even saw a bald eagle in flight at the lake. On the way back through camp to pack up our things, we finally saw the elusive bathing moose across the lake. He was huge, just like we thought.