I kept the banger, pepper spray, and a knife handy by the tent door.
The next morning dawned gloriously clear. As the first rays of sunlight crept over the high ridge behind us, I felt the tensions of the night before melt away. The wilderness surrounding us was idyllic, the dancing green river, the rolling alpine hills. The forest no longer seemed dark and dangerous. But the relief was short lived. Less than an hour after leaving camp Ferg spotted another bear, an enormous grizzly ambling down the path directly towards us. He was quite a distance away, and I raised my camera in order to take a better look through a telephoto lens. Just as I focused, the bear leapt up and began sprinting directly towards us. My heart raced, but before I could react, he halted again, flopping down squarely in the middle of the trail and beginning to nibble at a soapberry bush. For a brief instant Ferg and I instinctively considered yelling and banging our poles, but we quickly decided it made eminently more sense for us to get out of the bear’s way, rather than try to force him to get out of ours. Crashing through the thick willows that enclosed the path, we entered a spruce bog. Quietly leaping between slippery boulders and hummocks of grass, we stopped every few seconds to listen for any motion on the nearby trail. All I could hear was the pounding of my heart. Eventually we gave up the hope of keeping our boots dry, and waded straight through the knee-deep waters of the swamp, bear banger and pepper spray in hand until well past the point we had seen the bear.
Moving quickly on, we climbed out of the Ekwi River valley, over a low pass on the flanks of Mt. Burrell. Dropping into the Godlin River valley, soon we arrived at the Ram’s Head Outfitting Camp of Stan and Debbie Simpson, the only habited outpost on the trail. Two small bush planes sat beside drums of fuel. A narrow runway had been hewn from the brambly bush, and beyond sparkled the blue waters of Godlin Lake. Two dogs burst from the rough hewn cabins, barking loudly and running forward to nuzzle our legs. Stan Simpson, a broad shouldered man whose rough hands told of a life in the bush, met us by the gate, inviting us to stop for a break. The dogs returned to the porch, exhausted from their outburst, oblivious to the litter of kittens that happily crawled all over them and inquisitively licked their noses. Debbie arrived with steaming mugs of coffee. We turned down an offer of freshly baked chocolate squares, but a hunger in our eyes betrayed us, and at Stan’s insistence we devoured an entire plate.