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Our family started hiking because of one of my husband’s brilliant ideas. We often do new things because of his brilliant ideas.
This one happened on a Wednesday night in August when our son was 7. My husband came home and announced,
"We should climb a mountain this weekend."
"What? Climb a mountain? We don’t know anything about climbing mountains!"
"Well, Rudy takes his kids hiking in the Adirondacks all the time. You know, those mountains are only an hour away. And some of his kids are younger than our son."
"We don’t even have any books on hiking."
"OK, so I’ll call Rudy tonight and have him bring in some books tomorrow."
So by Saturday, I had read the books, especially about Hadley Mountain, the mountain that Rudy had recommended, and we had food, water, some sort of rain gear, a rudimentary First Aid kit, and the book in our packs. We were wearing sneakers, which I knew was not right – the book said that hiking boots were very important. But we didn’t know if we’d like hiking, so we didn’t buy any.
Hiking was a good idea. When we got to the top of Hadley Mountain, all we could see were mountains covered with trees and a lake. I had never seen anything like that before. And I thought,
"I got all the way up here, on my own feet!"
And even though I climbed down rather slowly, I’ve always been afraid of tripping and falling, and took the steep parts on my butt, it was a wonderful experience, which we repeated on other Adirondack mountains.
So it should not have come as a surprise to me when, two years later, while staying in a motel in Yellowstone National Park, my husband woke up one morning and said,
"We should climb Mount Washburn today."
"What? We don’t know anything about climbing mountains in this part of the country. I haven’t even read about that in my books."
"Well, you read your books. I’m getting dressed and I’ll buy us some lunch."
So while my husband was getting ready, I read.
"Hm, Mount Washburn is about the same distance a hike as Hadley Mountain and about the same change in elevation. Hmm, from the top, you can see not only Yellowstone National Park, but also the whole Grand Teton mountain range to the south. Hmmm, there are two kinds of bears, black bears AND grizzly bears. Hmmmm, bears have never been known to attack parties of 5 of more. We’re just a party of 3 – I’ve got to talk to a ranger!"
So I got dressed and went over to the ranger station. There was a line to talk to the rangers behind the counter. But I noticed a ranger over to the side. He was pretty cute, and he had just answered someone else’s questions. So I went over to him.
"Could you answer a couple of questions about Mount Washburn?"
"MA’AM ?!?," I thought.
"I read in my guide book about bears not attacking parties of 5 or more. I’m going to be hiking with just my husband and our 9-year-old son. I know Mount Washburn is a popular hike, so we should be OK. But do you have any suggestions to help us?"
"Well, ma’am, I think you should buy some bear bells for hikers. They’re two big jingle bells on a leather thong that you attach to your backpack. That way, you’ll always be making noise and not startle any bears. Usually the bears go the other way when they hear noise."
"Oh, can I get the bells here?"
"Sure, ma’am, they sell them in the store."
"Is there anything I should get?"
"Well, today, ma’am, I’d suggest you also get some pepper spray, sort of bear mace, just in case."
"Aaah, why the pepper spray today?"
"Well, ma’am, a grizzly bear has been sighted on Mount Washburn, NOT on the main path, but a couple of miles further into the back country. And that grizzly doesn’t seem to go the other way when he hears people. We’re keeping an eye on him – he might need to be captured and relocated to the back of the park."
"Oh, ah, I see. Jingle bells and pepper spray. Anything else?"
"Well, ma’am you could do us a big favor."
"I could? How?"
"Well, ma’am, when you’re hiking, if you find any bear scat on the trail, it would be good if you could tell if it were black bear scat or grizzly bear scat. It would help us learn more about that grizzly."
"You want me to poke around bear scat??? I mean, I’ve dissected an owl pellet with my son, when wearing gloves, but scat ???"
"Oh ma’am, you won’t have to poke around the scat. I can teach you how the difference real easy."
"OK, I guess. So what does black bear scat look like?"
"It has nuts and berries and other vegetable matter in it."
"OK, so how is grizzly bear scat different?"
"That’s easy, ma’am. Grizzly bear scat has bells in it,
and it smells of pepper."
(While this story is true, up until the cute ranger, I found the punch line on the Internet. KED)
Copyright 1999 by Kathryn Eike Dudding. All Rights Reserved.