Bridger Bears

We’ve had a few walks…one was a new trail for us – Middle Cottonwood in the Bridgers, a couple of weeks ago.  We chose it from the local go-to hiking book – “Day Hikes Around Bozeman, MT.”  It was described as a 2.8 mile round trip with only 450′ elevation gain.  The author pointed out that this trail met up with the Bridger Foothills National Recreation Trail so walkers could extend their outing, which we planned to do.  We figured we’d walk this trail and then hook back around to join up with the Sypes Canyon trail.  We knew the length of this trail and of Sypes, which we’ve walked many times, so the only unknown was the distance between the two.  And that’s what made for an interesting day.

The first mile of Middle Cottonwood was lovely.  It leads through a rich forest and the trail underfoot is often just soft – so nice after the rocks of the Bridger ridge. Jeff and I kept exclaiming about the mass of berries along the trail…white berries that may be snowberry, blue berries that may be Canada grape and rosehips.  Jeff decided to pack up his binoculars and focus on photography and we enjoyed a slower-paced walk.


The first mile of the trail crosses Cottonwood Creek several times.  Sometimes it’s a matter of rock hopping to cross the creek and one time there was the perfect bridge – a flattened log to which someone has added a railing…


The easy underfoot…


…eventually changed into the trails we’ve grown accustomed to here in the Bridgers – inclines with lots of rocks…


…of which I’m not complaining.  We are walking in mountains, after all.  It’s just that we really enjoyed the earlier softness.  Oh well.

I thought this sign was very UKish of the trail system…


As we got closer to where the trail would split and we’d turn south, we began to have a few views through the trees of what lay ahead…


And, then we were at the split – to the north the trail continues up onto the Bridger ridge, I believe and to the south, toward Sypes and The M, the direction we were going.


We were overtaken by another couple here at the junction and I took that opportunity to ask them about the trail ahead, as they were turning south as we’d planned.  That’s when we realized that the little map in our reference book was a bit deceiving as they explained that from that point to where we’d hook up with Sypes was around five miles. Okay, good to know.

We set off and the couple quickly disappeared along the trail ahead of us.  Oddly, we soon caught up with them, but only to find that they were stopped in their tracks, telling us there was a bear in the scrubby shrubs beside the trail!  A black bear, but still…this was the first bear we’d encountered in our entire year of walking the Bridger trails.  It seemed as surprised as we were and it ran off and up a slope, where it stopped and turned to watch us.  I snapped a photo…


…in which it can’t be seen (it’s not the black blob to the left of centre), but it’s there…its head was peaking up from behind the rock in the top centre (well, you can sort of see it). Jeff thought by its size that it was a yearling, which was nice to hear because then we didn’t have to worry about its momma appearing.  I kept looking back at it as we continued walking and it walked along the ridge, watching us, until we got out of sight.  Did we have bear spray? No.  Do we now?  Yes.

And, of course, it was attracted to all those berries!

At this point the trail goes through an avalanche shoot and is a bit steep.  It enters the woods again and this path is lovely…


…even if I did keep looking over my shoulder.

Onward. Our scenery, once we broke out on the ridge, looking north…


The couple had warned us that we’d come to a few Sypes Canyon trail look-alikes and sure enough, we did.  The first time we expected it and even though I knew this wasn’t Sypes, it took a few seconds to convince myself that we hadn’t yet arrived…


Our scenery ahead…


…and I figured that next ridge was Sypes.  Onward and upward..


…and when we turned toward that ridge, we had a lovely view of the Gallatin Valley…


Walking in this section…


When that ridge turned out to not be Sypes either, we decided lunch was in order.  We found a good spot and here’s Jeff, after we enjoyed our usual trail-fare.  Of course, I was well into my Cytomax by now.


After we continued, we soon came to a headland, complete with trail art…


From here, the trail turned quite sharply and began to drop.  This section of the trail, which felt as if we were going in the wrong direction, was long (about .5 mile) and I began to wonder if we’d wandered off the trail.  Just as I was about to call to Jeff, I could see ahead that we were soon to reach the canyon head and we’d turn back around and climb up to Sypes.  Seemed to me to be a great place to have a zipline – to cut off all that down followed by all that up.

Looking back at the long decline we’d walked…you can sort of pick out the trail through the middle of this photo…


…and then, without much going up at all, we were in familiar territory…the ridge of Sypes and our old friend from photos in earlier posts…


From here it was just a matter of walking the ridge of Sypes and then out along Sypes Canyon trail.  I stopped for one last photo while along the ridge – looking back from where we’d come…


We’ve been up here many times, looking at this, but now we’d walked through it.  Nice to know what’s over there!

We’ve had a subsequent bear encounter – on The M trail of all places.  The lower portion of this trail is ladened with ripe chokecherries, which proved irresistible to another yearling black bear.  Sara and I were coming down after a brisk walk up the steep route (which I no longer have to stop on…yeah!) and met up with two women who’d seen a bear on the trail ahead.  We could see the critter off to the side, pawing at chokecherry branches.  A few more women came along behind us and we decided our best course of action was to carry on, making lots of noise.  So, we did and the bears entirely ignored us while gorging on the cherries.  Amongst my nonsensical, but loud utterences, I said: “We’re not afraid of any ol’ bear,” to which a gal behind me exclaimed one word, the one that refers to a male member of the bovine family and an activity it regularly engages in after eating…made me laugh!

And, today, another walk up the steep route with most of the family and Indy. The beautiful wildflowers of spring and summer have long since faded, but the yellows, oranges and reds of fall are beginning to appear.

I’ll enjoy them with much more ease once the bears have had their fill and have tucked themselves in for their long winter snooze.


About walksandrambles

My love of walking began in 2005, when, travelling with my Girl Scout troop to Switzerland, I joined a group of Norwegians for a day, to walk up Elsignenalp. I wasn't at all sure I could make it, but the guide was kind and through her encouragement, started out. It was an all-day affair for me and I was always the last one, but this didn't matter a bit...I'd found my new love! No photos exist for this...the camera went missing on a train...but I remember toasting myself with a cup of tea from my thermos at the was a day of tough work and pure pleasure. If you walk, you know what I mean!
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