Absaroka TIM Dispatches from the Field 9/29 Bear Track-ing

I met local Cody wildlife photographer Matt Riebel at the GYC event this week and casually mentioned that I had heard about bear activity on the Pahaska Trail and would like to hike… before I could finish, he says I’m in!

Matt and I met at the trailhead in grey dawn light and set out with giant camera bags stuffed with 600mm lenses, burly tripods – miserable loads for hiking, but worth it if we could find a nice grizzly bear. We traveled the rolling trail above a creek flowing from the Absarokas just south of Yellowstone National Park, calling out ‘hey bear” when rounding blind corners and small rises. Warm morning light dropped slowly into the shaded valley as we made our way four miles into the North Absaroka Wilderness. We spotted a lone bison but no bears and decided to turn around. Bears cover big distances and we thought we may see something on the way back.

The first track really got my heart racing. It was clearly fresh in the dusty trail, pressed over our bootprints. Matt studied the track and judged it to be the rear paw of an average-sized adult grizzly. We followed these fresh tracks for about a mile and a half, bear spray in hand and hyper-aware of every sound along the trail. At a fork in the trail, our bear left a bunch of tracks as if he as trying to decide which way to go. We lost him there and wondered if he watched us pass from tall brush. Although we never saw the bear, the very presence of grizzly bears made for an exhilarating hike, the thrill of traveling the same path as Greater Yellowstone’s keystone predator. Our experience underscores the need to conserve large areas outside of the National Parks and keep this functioning landscape intact – the goal of this Tripods In The Mud campaign with Greater Yellowstone Coalition.