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Backpacker Magazine – October 2008

America's 10 Most Dangerous Hikes - Huckleberry Mtn., Apgar Range, MT

Fatten griz for winter

by: Kelly Bastone


The Hike In Glacier National Park, you could spit and hit a grizzly. Well, almost–the park features the highest bear density in the Lower 48. One recent study counted 563 individuals, and researchers suspect the actual population may be even higher. That's .35 bears per square mile–or one bear within a one-mile radius of every backcountry campsite. Come summer and fall, aptly named Huckleberry Mountain becomes a magnet for hungry grizzlies, which are commonly found foraging the plump, purple fruit that ripens along the Apgar/Huckleberry Lookout Trail. "Large numbers of bears congregate there when there's a bumper crop," says supervisory ranger Gary Moses. In high huckleberry season, rangers often close the trail to dayhiking–but backpackers may still complete overnight trips in the area.

Exhibit A On May 20, 1998, rangers searching the trail near Appistoki Falls discovered a ghastly scene: The mauled body of 26-year-old Craig Dahl, a park concessions worker who'd been tossed into the bushes after a griz had noshed on most of his body. Three days earlier, Dahl had hiked into the Two Medicine area–and never returned. Bears have killed 10 people in Glacier since 1967, and an attack or two occurs each year, typically during the spring (when snowmelt uncovers the carcasses of winter-killed animals, which bears protect ferociously) and in fall (when berries ripen).

Survival Plan To avoid crashing a grizzly smorgasbord, don't linger around food sources like carcasses and berry bushes. Note the wind: Bears smell better than they see, and if you're walking into the breeze, you might surprise one that hasn't caught your scent. If you do startle one, avoid eye contact and back away slowly. Should the bear charge, drop to the ground, crouch in a fetal position to protect your vital organs, and clasp your hands across the back of your neck. Then, pray.




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Dave Smith
Oct 12, 2012

Doug Peacock--author of several outstanding books on grizzlies, worldly inspiration for George Hayduke in Ed Abbey's book the Monkey Wrench Gang, and a fire lookout on Huckleberry for several years, had no bear spray or firearms on numerous trips up and down the mountain. His main "defense" was a government GI style 1-qt. plastic water bottle in a canvas case worn on his belt. He'd leave the water bottle 1/2 empty and thunk on it when he came to blind corners on the trail.

Anonymous
Sep 27, 2012

Kelly Bastone is a moron. 3 different areas and acts like its all one trail...

Wildernesshike
May 24, 2012

I carry two large cans of bear spray and a .357 Magnum loaded hot with Buffalo Bore hardcast 180-grain ammo. A .44 Magnum, .454 Casull, or .50 Magnum would be better, but I take what I have. I will use the bear spray first and only use the handgun if I have to. So far, bears and mountain lions have run away after staring at me for about 45 seconds.

Dan - Two Medicne day 1998
Aug 31, 2011

A buddy and me were the other hikers that went out that morning after Craig had left the trailhead. We followed his tracks in the snow until we saw the evidence of that tragic day. What we all need to understand is that being smart and following proper protocol in bear country is ALWAWS the way to go. BUT you are also always at risk and need to be prepared in bear country for the unexpected as in this situation Craig did nothing wrong at all. That bear stalked him. I feel so sorry for him and his family and I hope people undrstand the wild is just that, Wild... and you cant always do the "right things" and be ok. Bring bear spray and if you know how to use it a large caliber hangun for the last resort and be ready as though quite rare bears don't just attack in self defense. Some are predatory towards humans.

mike
Aug 11, 2011

there's no way i would go into a fetal position. if a grizzly attacked me, i would put a bullet or two in it.

Elizabeth Mason, Cambridge, MA
May 11, 2011

I spent a summer in Glacier and the only time I ran into a grizzly was on Huckleberry Mountain.

Elizabeth Mason, Cambridge, MA
May 11, 2011

I spent a summer in Glacier and the only time I ran into a grizzly was on Huckleberry Mountain.

will dill
May 07, 2011

yes, making noise is your best bet. shooting your GUN is the best way to make noise and is guaranteed to send a bear running. Having encountered grizzles with cubs and black bears I have never had to discharge, but if one came up on me, Iama buck a few rounds into a tree to scare em off.

Bucky
Jan 01, 2011

I read this article as I was intrigued by the information or rather misinformation. It disturbs me that there could be such a "misinformed article".I have hiked & backpacked in Glacier since I was 6 yrs. old. There is no "Apgar/Huckleberry Lookout Trail", There is 'A' Huckleberry Lookout Trail and 'A' Agar Lookout Trail - so which is BP Mag. trying to refer to. There are no backcoutry routes on either of these trails unless you are undesignated camping. As far as which trail/area in Glacier would be considered more dangerous I would appoint the Many Glacier area as a "run-in" with a bear is more common. As well, while I am not opposed to those who wish to carry a firearm in the backcountry, a firearm is not much use if the person carrying it is not familiar with shooting at a fast moving, living target and which must be an accurate shot to be at all useful because once you shoot at a bear you better make sure that you kill it or it will kill you and if it does run off injured rangers will now have to called in to kill it. Therefore, bear spray is a much more effective and safer deterrant for all trail users. And as a final note, dogs are great warning systems if they are leashed, however they are not allowed on Glacier Natl. Park Trails. I have had numerous bear encounters and mountain lion encounters and it has always ended peacefully by using common sense. The best deterrant to both predators is to make noise.

polebridge
Dec 31, 2010

I live in West Glacier, at the south end of the Apgar Range. I can see Apgar Lookout from my deck. Huckleberry is a few miles north, at the other end of the range. I don't know why the editors of BP keep running this story. They've got this trail mixed up with another, probably the DawPit trail t Oldman Lake over at Two Medicine on the east side of the Park. As others have noted, there are no backcountry sites on the Huckleberry trail, it joins no other trails, it goes to Huckleberry Lookout, about five miles, and back. I've mentioned this before, and in an email to the editors, but they just wait a few months and run the story at us again. If they would just stop talking about Huckleberry and start talking about Two Med, or the Grinnell trail, or Granite Park, then the article would be a lot more credible.
BTW, I always carry bearspray, even in winter. I carry two cans. One lives on my pack's hip-belt, the other inside the pack. I've encountered bears in the park, but havn't had to use the spray yet. Someone pointed out that if i ever had to use it, then i'd be in the backcountry without bearspray. That's when i started carrying a second can.

Anonymous
Dec 31, 2010

no wonder a few people get attacked every year there are so many ignorant comments on this site nice job budy base the fact that there are too many bears in the park from a rancher who claims a bear killed a few calves, when you walked 85 miles and did not see a single bear wow

Anonymous
Dec 30, 2010

I agree with Pocketlint, this article is unhelpful. For example, it says rangers sometimes close the trail to dayhiking, but backpackers can still complete overnight routes. I've never hiked Huckleberry Lookout, but I know that it's not in the middle of any backcountry route unless one got a permit for an undesignated site, which would make no sense in that part of the park (low elevation forest, not on the way to any passes or mountaineering). Also, what does the example of Appistoki Falls have to do with anything? That's on the opposite side of the park. That doesn't prove anything about how berries on Huckleberry Mtn make it any more dangerous than any other trail in Glacier. Finally, the article advises to stay away from carcasses. That's obvious - the rangers will close the trail if they find out about a significant carcass present.

How about making noise, the best way to prevent problems? I've hiked well over a thousand miles in Glacier, much of them in the grizzly-heavy Many Glacier area. I've only had 7 or 8 sightings of a grizzly or group of grizzlies in my years of hiking, which I attribute mainly to making a lot of noise. Haven't had to use my bear spray yet.

Anecdotally, if I had to pick one trail in Glacier that is most dangerous due to bears, I would go with Grinnell Glacier.

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