By Kim Hightower
Your fingers begin to freeze instantly as you remove your gloves and mount the camera onto the lower trunk of the tree. The wind blows and you’re enveloped in a cold, sparkling-white powder as it billows up and swirls around you and the high trees, whispering through the branches. You spend the day trekking, satisfied with having put a distinctive start to this project, and look forward to returning in the coming weeks. As months go by, you check your camera mindfully to ensure that it is still holding on, both physically and functionally, amidst the depths of winter’s grasp.
You return many days later to finally retrieve your weather-battered camera and rush home to see what you’ve caught. Thumbing through hundreds of photos, you finally find what you were looking for. Among countless images displaying the same view, empty save for thick vegetation and marked by changing weather, you spot your prey. You watch it move and change as you pan through the photos, like a character in a children’s flip-book. Whether it’s a common white-tailed deer or an imposing grizzly bear, the excitement of having caught life with a camera trap is all the reward you need for the hours spent outside.
Installing camera traps in the Hebgen Lake area.
Jordan Holsinger is the newest member of the ASC team. He joined us as the Outreach Manager at the beginning of July after completing his Masters Degree in Environmental Science. Jordan personally bridges the gap between adventure and science as an endurance mountain biker and scientist whose previous research focused on the role of snow depth on plant-soil interactions in subalpine grasslands.
ASC guide Jaimie Walton after a long day of paddling. Photo by Jordan Holsinger.
I've spent time around large things - studying elephants and rhinoceros in South Africa, playing in the peaks of the Rocky Mountain West - but nothing makes you feel small like sitting in a sea kayak being charged by a pack of sea lions (video after the break). Splashing and yelling, the 15-headed monster moved right for our boat and I began to wonder what might happen if they didn’t stop. Then the enormous creatures gracefully disappeared under the water, nowhere to be seen. Only one word is needed to explain and describe it simultaneously: ALASKA (which Gregg always insisted on saying in a deep, raspy whisper).
After brushing up and learning a few new skills, like hair identification and scat ID, we were off to the field to put them into practice. Scouring fence posts, tree rubs, barbed wire and berry patched, we fine-tuned the difference between black cow hair and black bear hair, elk hair and grizzly hair. What a skill!! Hiking in the woods will never be the same.
With our GPS’s fired up, each team set out for their daily hiking mission. Our team was to hike up to Baldy Mountain and follow a drainage route down searching for Grizz signs. Reaching nearly 10,000 ft in elevation, we followed elk trails, more like an elk highway, up to the peak. Branching into two groups, we followed the ridgeline West. Whitebark pine was in abundance and producing cones, a fantastic find as it is a grizzly food source. Elks bugling and swarms of magpies socializing on the mountaintops, we made our way across the ridge enjoying the stunning landscape before us.
After mild adjustments and a bit of quality control, I managed a sleeping bag bunged to the handlebars, a red duffel bag strapped to the rack, and my blue day pack secured to my waste. I was off to track grizzly bears in the Centennial Mountain Range.
Ten of us met up in town, a crew who had just introduced themselves. We had an EMT, a second year MSU geologist, a bartender, wildlife gurus, and adventurers of every sort. After loading up the trucks, we drove off into the sunset excited for the adventure ahead.
Trumpeting swans greeted the morning sunrise and I stretched out of my cozy hammock, marveling at what adventures lye ahead. The scenery couldn’t have been more spectacular. We were camped at Red Rock Lake, towered over by the peaks of the Centennial Range: Baldy, Taylor, and Sheep Mountain.
A quick breakfast and some coffee, to get the buzz on, and we jumped right into navigation, tracking, GPS skills, and Grizzly encounters. What do you NOT do if you see a bear… any bear? RUN, that is DO NOT RUN. See a black bear, ya get big, as big Big Foot, and make a lot of noise @#)$&$ $!%&!^*!!!!!!
That should do the trick… unless it’s the big boy, the Grizzly. He’s not so easily convinced by such nonsense. Rather, treat him like the school principal after you got caught doing something wrong. Avoid eye contact, talk in a calm and soothing voice, and slowly back away as if unnoticed.
We need you! Come and track grizzly bears with us in order to protect their habitat. The BLM has said that if we can find signs of grizzly in the western centennial range, we will be able to protect the area. This is an exciting opportunity and you need no experience. It is unlikely that we will actually see the bears so there is nothing to worry about safety wise.
For more information visit the Grizzly Page