Some vehicles were stopped in the middle of the road. This can be pretty typical national park behavior. Like in Walmart parking lots, people sometimes forget basic driving skills when they enter a park. However, the people in the cars were gazing intently into the woods. Memories of my former career as a park ranger began to surface. This could only be one thing: a bear jam!
Sure enough, a cinnamon colored bear was eating happily a few feet from the road. Rudely interrupted by the cars, it loped off into the woods, leaving me to continue uneasily toward the trailhead. Was this a sign? Would my hike be overrun by bears?
Gathering my gear, I spied a woman preparing to set off on the trail. "Do you want to hike together?" I asked, ambushing her. In effect, this really gave her no choice unless she wanted to come across as kind of mean. Luckily, she turned out to be easy going and seemed happy to have a companion.
A. was training to climb Mt. Adams; although the trail gained more than a thousand feet a mile, she moved out rapidly, not bothered by little rolling rocks and snowfields. We discovered we had worked in some of the same places; she had been a firefighter in the past. I had found a new hiking buddy!
I don't think you can ever have too many hiking buddies. My schedule is erratic in the summer, making meetups difficult. Trail friends go on vacations, have obligations, or get injured. It's always good to have plenty of people who can join a hike, especially in bear country (four is supposed to be an optimal group size).
We paused at the top, the site of an old fire lookout, before the downhill slog. Glacier lilies dotted the hillside. The peaks in the park were still coated in white, but winter had lost its grip at last. Fire season will be late here, but I don't mind. After thirty years of fighting fire, I'll take the mountains and trails (and new friends) instead.
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