Respecting Wildlife When Least Expected

Glacier National Park, MT: It’s so easy to say, “respect wildlife” when heading out into the wilderness. Most of us want to keep wildlife wild and respect their home, by practicing Leave No Trace. Sometimes though, wildlife happens. They aren’t always seeking us out but we are visitors in their home and they are used to romping around where they please. This is exactly what happened to Steph and I this past August while visiting Glacier National Park in Montana.

Between our time educating and sharing knowledge with the public, we have been very fortunate to explore the places we visit. In glacier, there are many ‘must-do’ trails. One of these twists and hugs along the sides of steep mountains above a narrow valley, eventually leading to the infamous Grinnell Glacier. One of the most popular trails in the park, the Grinnell Glacier Trail hosts thousands of hikers each busy season. Its popularity however does not mean this trail isn’t wild. The national park is home to some serious megafauna; black bears, grizzly bears, mountain goats, eagles, elk, moose, wolves, and even bighorn sheep.

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Our friend Kelly, Steph and I woke up early in the morning getting excited for a day full of hiking and taking pictures. We filled our packs with whistles, bear spray, and the essential items we would need to be prepared for the hike. Driving to the trailhead, excitement buzzed in the car and talk went on and on about glaciers and bears. Looking at the map and consulting the trailhead kiosk we set down the path. Relatively flat at first we continued into the mountains. The higher we hiked the steeper the fall line increased going across the trail. We began walking on sections of the trail directly above and below huge cliff faces. What an adventure! The views and weather were fantastic and we seemed to have hit it on a day without too many other hikers.

We continued along the trail, turning a blind corner where we almost ran into a massive animal blocking our way. Just a few short feet in front of us, there stood a bighorn sheep! Needless to say we were startled and our instincts wanted to take control, “run!” our minds fleeted. Staying calm, we thought about what we teach people nearly every day, “stay calm, stay cool, and avoid sudden movements”.

With Steph in the lead we moved together walking backwards on the narrow ledge of a trail to find a place to get out of the ram’s way. Ten yards behind us on the trail was a place where we could get above the path to let the ram pass should it want to. We made it to our spot, perched above the trail and waited to see what would happen next. The bighorn sheep, unfazed by our presence, continued trotting downhill along the trail and passed us without regard. Counting our lucky stars, adrenaline kicked in and we continued up the path with a new story to tell.

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By sharing this story, we hope it will inspire you to keep a calm head and be aware (to the best of your ability) of your surroundings. Without our previous personal and professional experience, we may have acted very differently and this story could have ended in a completely different way. Be safe out there friends.

Adventure on!

 

Steph and Andy –

Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Team East

Leave No Trace’s Steph Whatton and Andy Mossey are part of the 2016 Subaru/Leave No Trace Traveling Trainer Program that provides free, mobile education to communities across the country. Proud partners of this program include Subaru of America, REI, Fjall Raven, ENO, Deuter, Thule, and SmartWool.