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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: A Walk in the Woods

Bears in the Woods
Floyd Frank

I saw a trail up Pompey Peak on a topographic map. It looked like it started at an elevation of 1000' just east of Randall. I decided to check it out. I left Graham early in the morning, drove through Eatonville and south to Morton and then east to Randall. Pompey Peak is the singularly attractive little pyramid at the west end of a ridge above the Cowlitz River. A fire lookout used to be on top of it. Its elevation is 5000' and just the summit block sticks out above the fir trees.

A small residential road off Highway 12 gave access to the trailhead. I could not find any indication of the trail, so I asked a local guy if he knew where it was.

He said oh yeah, the trail goes out of his back yard. He let me park on his property and warned me about the bears. He said I should be packing a pistol because the country was full of them. I laughed and told him that I never carried a gun and that I have never had any trouble with bears. They always left me alone and I always left them alone.
A half mile of logging road, gated and padlocked, led to the trailhead. The sky was clear as I left my truck at 7:00 AM. I carried a small amount of water and food and I used ski poles as walking sticks. I started hiking up the road. I walked five minutes and saw the biggest black bear I had ever encountered.

A hundred feet ahead of me a cinnamon-colored bear was staring at me. Its hind end was in the brush on one side of the road and its front end was in the brush on the other side of the road. My first thought was anger at my bad luck. I didn't want to turn back before I even started hiking! I wondered if the bear might be aggressive. I would not have a chance if it decided to come after me. Then I thought that, since I hated the idea of turning back, maybe I could scare it away. I raised my ski poles in a cross over my head and roared loudly. "Rowrowrowr!!!" The bear must have thought I was very tall and scary. It did a quick 180 and ran off into the woods below the road! Oh yeah! I felt great and grateful. I had done the right thing. I felt relieved and continued walking when a cub ran across the road thirty feet from me. I saw signs that a big mama bear was there just seconds before. Caution replaced relief as I realized that there were, indeed, lots of bears around. I warily continued to the trailhead.

The trail looked as though it had not been maintained for ten years or so. Trees and brush had fallen across the way and progress was sometimes difficult. One section through an alder grove was unrecognizable. I wandered around for ten minutes until I found where the trail left the alders. Snow appeared at around 4000' elevation. Five elk ran off as I began the final half mile to the top. When I reached the summit I spread out and relaxed. I had gained 4000' and felt good about life in general. There was little breeze and the sunshine was warm and gentle. Like a lizard, I basked in the warmth for an hour on the smooth summit rock.

I headed back down. Nothing happened until I reached the half-mile logging road at the trailhead. I started tiptoeing, slowly, quietly, knowing that I was in bear country. Suddenly, a loud crashing noise erupted from the bush close to my right side. I rose up on my toes, shouting in fright with my ski poles raised in the sky. A blue grouse flapped noisily away. "Crikey! I'm tense!" (My actual words were different.)
I stayed cautious until I got to the yard where I had parked. Then I relaxed as I took off my boots and drank the last of my water. Somebody's good advice came to me:
"You should never go hiking alone. Always hike with a friend."
That is so true. You don't have to outrun the charging bear - you just have to outrun your buddy.

© Floyd Frank March 2009
floydgfrank at

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