In A Mountain Camp"
it happens, this story is true. A night of terror in
a lonely mountain camp.
was reared on a Montana ranch adjacent to the Beartooth
Mountains. The property line of the ranch shared the
boundary line of the Beartooth National Forest Reserve
and I spent hundreds of hours of my childhood with thousands
of acres of mountain and forest to roam and explore.
foot. On horse back. With others. Alone. And if I thought
work was in the offing, you know, like ranch work, I
would slave like a fiend getting my chores done in the
early morning dawning to hurry and head for the mountains
work started. Being a cowboy did not impress me.
Sometimes I would be gone for two or three days at a
became rather good at mountain travel. I could find
the right spot in a stream to build a rock dam and then
go down stream and chase fish. Beating the water with
a pine bough I had cut, herding the fish into a frenzied
escape up to my dam where they would try to jump over.
Several missing the bend in the stream I had deliberately
selected, jumping up on the bank instead
an alternate menu, the mountains were thick at times
with the fools grouse. A silly bird in some ways. You
could almost walk right up to one and with a swift stick,
or a well thrown rock, have fowl for dinner if you were
tired of fish; or even better yet, fowl for dinner,
fish for breakfast.
mountains didnt have much in the way of berries
and such. At least the area where I usually roamed.
Which was probably a good thing. There were bear, but
not all that many. The lack of berries for food kind
of kept them on other slopes of the mountain range.
story started at one of the times when I was grounded.
No horse. That was my parents idea of grounding me when
I was a wee one. So, I took up the back pack I had made
for myself and told my Mother I was off for the hills
and would probably be gone a day or so. She was accustomed
to that, encouragement of independence was part of my
early education, so all was fine. Fine, except that
I had no idea what fate had in store for me that particular
wandered back into an area I used to like to explore.
Many massive rocks to play mountain climber. Lots of
fresh snow water in streams everywhere. Days of brilliant
sun and warm gentle breezes. Nights with stars that
came down and twinkled beside you as you slept. A huge
yellow moon to talk to, be a friend and listen to the
fantastic tales I would tell it as I created them in
was alone that time. Enjoying that special freedom that
only a kid can enjoy who is out and totally free in
this world. Watching a caterpillar edging its way up
a tree. Watching alge waver in the eddy of a stream.
Deer or elk grazing in a meadow. Beaver building a dam.
had killed a couple of grouse earlier in the afternoon
and that evening lolled around my little camp fire roasting
them on a spit. Watching the night gradually deepen
as it came. Probably thinking of myself as Natty Bumpo,
Davie Crockett, Daniel Boone, and the hero of whichever
novel I was reading at the time all rolled up into one,
or perhaps Will James. My favorite author at the time.
grouse had kind of a gamy and wild taste, but I had
never been a fussy eater. It tasted fine to me. I saved
a portion for breakfast, then built up the fire and
watched the night come on. Doing as I often did. Living
a separate life in my mind.
surprised me after I let the fire die down and got ready
for bed that the night was so dark. In fact, more than
dark. It was black dark. I knew there were some trees
about a dozen feet from me, but I couldnt see
them in shape or form. I had spread my little bedroll
not far from a stream and after the night became too
dark to see anything, crawled between my blankets. Falling
into the sleep of the innocent, to the sound of gently
no idea what time of night it was, but somewhere in
the midst of it I could hear breathing. This however
was not just casual breathing. Very nearby, huge and
powerful lungs were pulling massive breaths of air in
long and deeply inhaled suctions. Catching my scent.
Expelling it in a pent up burst. Clearing its nostrils
for its next attempt at catching a scent. Judging by
the sound I felt it was probably about ten feet from
me, whatever IT was. That I couldnt tell, I could
not see a thing.
yourself. Thirteen years old. Miles back into the mountains.
Alone. Having seen deer, elk, moose, bear and even a
cougar very near at hand. And now this huge creature
stalking you. None of those animals, except perhaps
the moose, had the lung power to breathe the great sucking
breaths I was hearing. This was something new.
started coming closer. I could tell by the sound that
it was moving toward me. Slowly. Ever so slowly it came
forward. Its breathing became even deeper.
tried to control my panic. Oh yes, I was scared. I was
terrified. I could not imagine what this
thing could be. I
only knew it to be large with a great deal of lung power.
My imagination ran wild thinking of the fangs in the
mouth that would go along with those lungs. And what
an imagination I had.
steeled myself. Somewhere in my pack I had an old flashlight,
if I could find my pack, maybe I could find the light.
What had I done with the pack?
had taken my bedding out, dropping the pack on the ground
as I spread out my blankets
.. on the south
side of the pack. The pack would be north of me. Ok,
where in the hell was north?
was black out. Totally black out. About as black a night
as I had ever spent. I didnt even know which direction
I was facing. No sign of moon or stars. No dipper to
get a direction from. So from where I lay I frantically
started patting the ground. As far as I could reach
on one side, then oh so very quietly, roll over and
pat the ground on the other.
the meantime, IT was coming closer. And yet closer.
I could actually feel the wind of its breath wash past
my sweating face. Smell the fetid odor. I imagined giants.
H. Christ, Grizzlys! Theyre big enough!
They have the lung power! Theyre in these mountains!
How in the hell could I just forget
about Grizzly Bears?
bones of the grouse. The smell of roasted food. A delight
to a grizzly. And a thirteen year old kid to chew on
when the cast away bones of a tiny little grouse didnt
provide it with quite enough of a meal.
was almost crying when my hand hit the edge of the pack.
Snatching it to me I dug down and pulled out the flashlight.
was within about two feet of me by then. IT was snorting
right into my face. I felt the wind of its breath blasting
me in the face. I could feel the heat from its body.
Or else the heat I was generating in my fear.
pushed the button on the flashlight and prayed. Bears
were afraid of fire. I hoped it would think the flashlight
a fire and the sudden light would scare it away. And
that the light even worked.
shined the light right into the eyes of a cow. Thats
right. A COW. Some rancher was grazing his cattle in
the mountains and one had chanced upon my little camp.
And wondered what that thing was lying beside the place
it wanted to go to for water. Using cow caution, coming
up smelling and snorting to see what lay in its path.
forest is surprisingly silent at night. The whispering
of a stream. A tree limb cracking in the distance. Something
passing. But rather far away. Probably that cow. Still
running and wondering what in the hell it had come on
to with that singularly bright and shining eye.