Bear, Deer, and Dogs On The Slocan-Kootenay Lookout

There is a website trailpeak.com that I use to search out trails in my area. Often, the trails posted to the site work out wonderfully. Sometimes not. The Slocan-Kootenay Lookout is a trail near the Playmor Junction between Nelson and Castlegar. Or so the website claims anyways.

I left town mid-morning and drove around near where the instructions said to find the red flagging which marks the trail head. I eventually found it across the street from an auto wreckers. The next piece of flagging was across a fast flowing creek, but there were plenty of rock by which I made my way across. The post which led me to this trail claims that is well flagged. That may have been true once, but it is certainly the case no longer. The remaining flags are few and far between with only bush between. It has clearly been some time since the trail was flagged as many pieces of flagging tape were no longer visible, haven fallen to the ground some time ago. So, leaning on a stick for balance, I made my way up the steep slope towards the next flag, and the next, until there were no more flags to be seen in any direction. I bush-wacked my way up the side of the mountain when I could no longer view the trail until I came upon a well trod game trail. I followed the trail until the trail level off.

I was standing on the top of the hill looking back down the steep slope at the town when I heard a rustling in the trees. As quietly as I could, I moved towards the sound. Through the trees, I could just make out the rear end of large buck. He turned his head to look in my direction. When he moved away, a doe followed him, her movement revealing her to me. I followed in their direction until I was fully surrounded by the trees. I stopped, standing still for a minute in the shade. There to my left were the two deer. On my right one… two more. Movement straight ahead. Four? Five? It was difficult to count the still creatures, hidden in the forests shadows. I watched them move slowly amongst the trees and listened to the quite snapping of twigs. Each minute, some small movement would betray another. It was many minutes before any of us moved. Then, all at once, the herd moved off further into the woods where I could not follow. I tried to count the fleeing animals; there were eight in all that I could see although there could easily have been more. I count that experience as a gift of nature. It was profound and beautiful in every way.

I decided to cut the hike short as I was completely lost from the original trail. I took another course down the mountain, following a steep, well trod trail. I came to a ridge where some unknown animal had built a burrow. In the distance, I could hear a dog barking. I took the trail that led in the dogs direction because it looked to be a little easier. I had hit a full run, descending the trail when two big brown dogs appeared on the trail before me. The barked loudly and took a few steps forwards.

In my best command voice, I yelled back. “Stay. Easy boys.”

The dogs kept on advancing and I began to back away. When I had retreated twenty feet, both dogs went quiet. One circled back but the other kept his eyes firmly on me. He didn’t look like an angry attack dog. There was something bothering him but I got the impression that it wasn’t me. Some small movement drew my eyes away from the dog and up the tree behind him. Hugging the tree, not thirty feet before me, was a young brown bear.The dog’s companion barked again and my hand went to the spray can on my belt. (See, I did learn my lesson from the last trip.) The bear was young but by no means a cub. Having been scared up a tree by two dogs, it was now making a sort of whimpering noise. It was an oddly funny scene to have encountered. I stood there for a while, torn between cautious fear and laughter. In the end I chose both.

“Thank you. Good boy” I said aloud to the dog.

Then I turned around and cut a straight line through the bush towards the river chuckling quietly. I accrued quite a few scratches moving quickly through the bush, but in no time at all I was safely at the creek. What wonderful animals those two were. I had mistaken their warning for anger, but they may have saved me. Only focused on my footing as I ran, I had come within spitting distance of the bear without realizing it and they had slowly backed me away. While most bears will run when confronted with a human, walking directly beneath one isn’t a situation I ever care to be in. I am very grateful to those two dogs. I hope that they are safe at home now. The both deserve a big treat for the caring and bravery they showed today.

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