I was instantly reminded of Mount Gagazet. Not a real place, but a huge, ancient, icy mass of a mountain from the game Final Fantasy X. I parked just outside the busy Jenny Lake trailhead, clipped my bear spray onto my belt, and set off.
The water was clear. Crystalline, pure, mountain glacier-melted water. Jenny Lake, set beneath those perfectly carved crags and fields of lovely, waving purple blossoms. Pristine, cool weather on a perfect day.
I followed the trail clockwise around the lake, an easy to follow path for once, with the water as my guide. I began to notice the strange looks I garnered from my makeshift bear bell, particularly from two young women who turned around to condescendingly smirk at me fifty feet down the trail. But every time someone looked at me like that, I was reminded that if people can hear me coming, then the bears can certainly hear it too. And no one should ever surprise a bear.
I kept my eyes on the lake, crossed the creek feeding into it at the top of the secluded loop, and came back around the bend. Except, it wasn’t without a near misstep.
The lady ranger came around to warn me, inexplicably appearing out of the dark green trees. She smiled confidently to warn me of the momma bear and cub that had just passed over the trail to the lake’s edge. I grinned nervously, and asked if she thought it was safe to pass. She hesitated, which was all the answer I needed. But she said that the bears may pass back over the trail. She asked me if I had bear spray, and I happily informed her that I wasn’t about to knowingly go marching through bears.
So I doubled back to wait for a larger group of people to head in the same direction as me, and they did finally appear. The ranger talked to them as well, and I tagged along behind their group, my spray in hand. We cautiously passed through the bear sighting area. The trailing hiker in the group in front of me pointedly asked me if I wanted to pass them, as if my presence was a weird and strange nuisance. Not so strange to stick with others when there are bears around, I thought in annoyance, but I took a breath and went ahead of them. Only when I reached the stopped hikers on the far edge of the bear area that asked me if it was safe, was when I could finally relax a little.
Very wary from that point on, I booked it out of that trail. I was spooked, and mentally done with my hike for the day even with three miles to go. I set my walking pace to “let’s the fuck out of here” and gunned it back to the visitor center.
The beauty of the thick coating of purple wildflowers was almost drowned out by my fear of encountering more wildlife. The wavering swathes of them on the hillside by the lake, under the rain-shadowed Tetons, will stand out in my mind forever.
So I’d finally gotten my warning about the bears, almost making good on my imagined scenarios of getting charged by a grizzly.
I got too many snacks back at the general store, very happy to be back at the trailhead. I jumped back in the car.