Scouting for Spring Bear

Today after Terrik’s soccer game, which they won by the way, I headed out to do a little scouting for spring bear.  I drew a tag for the high Cascades.  I know there is still a lot of snow up there, but wanted to find out if the bear in that area are still denned up, or if they have come out yet.  So I thought I’d go look around for some sign.

I was hoping to scout 3 different places, all of which had lots of bear sign in the fall.  I knew I wouldn’t have time to check out all 3 in one afternoon, so I decided to scout the place where I saw the huge bear last year first.  But it’s about a mile and a half in from the nearest driveable road.  I got to the turnoff a few minutes before 2 pm.  It was 39 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  A perfect day.  The snow on the road into the area I wanted to check out was about 4 feet deep.  I climbed over the snow plowed burm and tried to take a few steps.  I sank to the top of my thighs every step.  This would have been horrible, actually impossible, if I hadn’t brought my snowshoes.

So I strapped on my snowshoes, put on the backpack, shouldered my rifle and headed out.  It was so much easier with the snowshoes.  I only sank a few inches with each step.  Here’s a photo I took on the way in.  You can see what an incredibly gorgeous day it was.

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It was still tough going though.  I don’t know if snowshoeing is just harder than I thought it would be, or if I’ve just gotten fat and out of shape.  I suspect both are accurate.    After an hour of slowly climbing (I never realized that road climbed the whole way to the lake) I could feel every muscle in my lower body.  It took me an hour and a half to go 1.5 miles.  There is some old growth around the edge of the lake and under the trees I was able to take off the snowshoes, strap them to my pack, and walk in snow that was only a couple feet deep.  Here’s a photo of me in the old growth working my way down toward the lake.

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And here’s a photo as I arrived at the rim overlooking the lake below.  The snow on the lake was so bright it doesn’t show up well on the photo.  The lake is that bright spot in the distance.

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Up to this point I had only seen rabbit and coyote tracks.  Lots of rabbit tracks crossing the road, and a couple sets of coyote tracks, but nothing else.  I was beginning to think it was still too early in the year for bear to be out.  I stood and glassed the lake for about half an hour.  Not a sign of anything.  I almost turned around and headed back home, then figured, I’ve come this far, I might as well hike down and check along the stream.

Here’s a better photo of the lake.  I took this photo as I was about half way down a very steep slope that leads down to the lake.  I had put my snowshoes back on because the snow close to the edge was much deeper than it was up in the old growth and I kept sinking to my thighs.

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Shortly after taking this photo my snowshoes turned into skis.  I’m not sure how that happened because they have claws on the bottom.  I think it’s because it just got too steep.  Down the hill I went.  I hit something at the bottom that stopped my skis and I pitched forward.  I had a heck of a time getting back up.  I couldn’t push with my hands because they sunk to my armpits in the snow.  So I managed to roll to one side, get my snowshoes out from under the submerged limb they had caught on, and got turned so my feet were pointing downhill again.  From there I was able to stand.  Then I had to find my rifle which had slid down the hill under the snow.  I found it.   Everything looked good.  And I was at the lake.  I checked the stream first and didn’t see any sign.  So I decided to check around a bit further downstream.  As I hiked along the bank I noticed something in the snow on the other side.  With my binoculars I was able to see that they were bear tracks!  I hiked along the bank opposite the tracks until I found where the bear had crossed.  I backtracked on his trail to see where he had come down the hill, crossed the lake, jumped in and swam across the creek which is about 30 feet across and about 8 feet deep, climbed out the other side and headed up into the trees on the far side of the creek.  Here’s a photo showing where the bear had climbed out the other side of the creek.  Unfortunately the snow is too bright for the tracks to show up.

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The tracks were very large leading me to think they were from the huge bear I spotted down here last year.  But as I thought about it, I could tell that the tracks were enlarged a bit from the snow melting, so now I’m not too sure they were from the huge bear.  They were about 9 inches long and about 7 inches wide, which is very close to the size of the ones the huge bear made.  But if we account for meltout, the original tracks could have been an inch or so smaller on each dimension.  But either way, I had evidence that bears are out and about in the high Cascades.  The tracks had probably been made either the night before or early this morning.  I looked around for a way to cross the “river” but couldn’t find anywhere where it wasn’t several feet deep.  I climbed back up into the old growth where I had a better view of the whole area and glassed for another half an hour.  Didn’t see anything.

At about 5:30 I decided I should probably start heading back to my truck.  I figured I still had an hour and a half of hiking.  I found out two things, 1) walking in previously packed down tracks is much easier than walking in the fresh, soft snow, and 2) a slight downhill grade makes the trip much easier as well.  I got back to my truck in 45 minutes.

Here’s one last photo.

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Overall it was an excellent adventure.  I was very excited to see large bear tracks back in that area.  If the weather stays good I will try again next week with Tony, and possibly Ed. Now that I’m home I can already tell my lower body is going to be quite sore tomorrow.  Several hours on snowshoes is quite a workout!

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About the Author

Tory Allman

Tory Allman

Tory Allman is General Manager at Cent-Wise Sporting Goods & Hardware in Redmond, Oregon.