We set out from the trailhead late in the day, not concerned about the minimal elevation before us. The summer sun was hanging low in the sky, while the mountains cut shapes into its stream of light illuminating all the particles in the air, creating a sort of milky veil. This filtering of light I've seen before, but only here in the high-country of Wyoming and Montana.
The roughly 4.4 mile trail to camp winded around Leigh Lake which was surrounded entirely by pines and firs. This was our first hike since arriving in Grand Teton National Park and the pace was reflective of our excitement for the days ahead.
A few groups of people passed by on the trail as we could hear and see others celebrating the long holiday weekend beside the beaches. By the time we got to our campsite the sun was invisible behind the mountains so we quickly dropped our packs and set up for the evening. Because we had hiked in for only one night we decided to spoil ourselves with a luxury refrigerated meal item: buffalo hotdogs.
With the few campsites near ours all empty, we did not limit our loud conversation and laughter. We ate supper in the twilight among the pines and started getting ready for bed once the stars came out. Within minutes of falling silent in the tent the name of our campsite ("Bear Paw") demonstrated its ominous meaning.
Pine needles and tree bark broke under foot around us as well as the shuffling of light footsteps directed toward our packs, which were leaned up against logs right outside the tent. We also heard movement on the path that led to the bear locker, which was about 50 feet from the tent.
Suddenly, there was a loud snort halfway between the tent and bear box. Silently - and carefully - I unzipped the tent and grabbed the bear spray realizing that our delicious buffalo hotdog dinner had attracted a hungry bear troupe.
Inside the tent we carried on soft conversations to alert the animals of our gross human taste, and I was comforted by the thought that - if needed - we could take cover under the ultra-durable Exhibitionist carbon fiber sleeping pad on which we lay.
Eventually, shuffling around the campsite and scraping at the bear box stopped. I fell asleep almost immediately due to what only could be explained as incapacitation brought on by a complete depletion of adrenaline.
Here are my tips to keep you cool and confident the next time you're going to sleep in bear country:
For more information about Bear Safety from the pros: