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[pct-l] Scree bears

At a particular elevation among the mountains of the PCT, ill-defined on =
any map I've seen, the densely wooded montagne dominion of the black =
bear begins yielding to the rarified air and rocky buttressed realm of =
our grizzled little friend, the scree bear, or marmot. I dub these =
extra-large rodents "scree bears" because they really do look and behave =
like miniature bears, like Ursus Americanus of the high hinterlands.=20

Most PCT hikers first reconnoiter with little one while traipsing =
between the turrets and alps of California's High Sierra. Hairy, stout, =
bear-brown, and olfactorally well-endowed, the communal yet ruggedly =
individualistic marmot is most frequently seen perched atop his favorite =
rock, defending a subterranean lair, or perhaps is spotted in transit, =
comically throwing his stout girth about in search of a particularly =
savory plot of alpine garden harvest. And what taste could be finer than =
that of a midsummer's clump of scarlet pentemmon? Why, Kraft Dinner, of =
course, as many an unsuspecting hiker has discovered, perhaps in the =
vicinity of Guitar Lake among the vibrant evening shades of Mt Whitney's =
neighbors in twilight. Given the opportunity, the marmot will attend to =
the task of procuring an unnatural, easy meal with the singlemindedness, =
stealth, and cunning skill of Yosemite's blackie, and what he lacks in =
physical strength he handily compensates for in teeth. Armed with a =
savage overbite, the marmot employs his incisors in conjunction with a =
hit and run campaign to wrest food from its many hiding places, =
shredding packs and rooting into paraphernalia, all the while casting a =
wary, some say loving eye toward his victims (you and me).=20

Mixed feelings abound. I cried when I lost a ziploc bag full, once. I =
laughed long and loud while hurling stones - he was cornered, nowhere to =
run. While laboring to gather boulders into a makeshift suit of chain =
mail about my pack, I cursed. Atop Mount Whitney, high point of my life, =
I worried. Returning to find the pack intact, I felt grateful. It was no =
different than when God spares hiker from deadly bolt of lightning. =
Blessed redemption. Scree bear struck an easier target.

One time in the Glacier Peak Wilderness, I happened upon a marmot den. =
Not a difficult thing to do in a place where marmots populate the =
countryside with the fecundity of an ant colony, where the earth itself =
is undermined with a subterranean interstate freeway system's worth of =
tunnels, rest areas, and exits. (Even the occasional cloverleaf, no =
doubt.) This was opportunism at its finest: a yawning cavern extruded =
from the trail's upslope shovel-cut, like a big barn door opened right =
onto the country lane. A room with a view. I spotted it first, but =
walked right past until that rascal glint beset my eye and I knew I was =
going marmot hunting. Purely in the name of science, of course. Capture =
and release.=20

Squinting into the darkness, I saw him. There he was, three feet down, =
asbackwards and butt-end-first. In fact, he had seen _me_ first, and was =
apparently bunker bound, when all of a sudden he must have felt my =
presence come over the radar screen of his soul. Thrashing awkwardly =
about, he let out a muffled squeal and then, somehow, with great effort, =
managed a 180 degree turnabout within the marmot-wide shaft, and stared =
scornfully upon me. I backed off some. His front end touched the outside =
world about the time I sat down quietly nearby and began fumbling for =
the camera. Scree bear appraised his intruder, black nose and furry =
round face belying the sobering efficiency of those dangerous teeth, =
them powerfully articulated claw-paws. Point, shoot, click! Slowly and =
deliberately, he backed up into his hole again. Shuffle, shuffle, =
shuffle. And then he came forth once more. Shuf shuf shuffle. This =
vascillating went on for some time, his efforts at extrication being of =
such precise counterpoint to those of concealment as to suggest an =
endlessly looping televised sports replay. I could only imagine what =
omnipotent, competing dualities of thought had gripped his rodent mind. =
Fight? Flight? Mixed emotions, indeed. Click!

Finally he settled the matter, and fight it was. Dang it, and I was out =
of ammo - completely exposed. What to do? I put the camera away and =
watched with breathless anticipation as he stared his dark beady-eye =
stare. Whole minutes passed. The sun hid behind a cloud, then =
re-emerged. A light breeze came up and chilled my spine, ruffled his =
dark, tattered coat of fluff. Then the wind died. He was doing something =
with his jowls, making them somehow wider and more menacing. His jaw =
hung slacker now, and two big teeth greeted me with all the enthusiasm =
they could muster. In the distance, far removed from our private =
showdown, came a certain muffled sort of whistling noise, then again and =
again, echoing back from distant mountainsides. Was someone in trouble? =
At the moment I could not let the possibility concern me; my hands were =
quite full as it was! Emptying more gorp into my mouth, I waited and =
chewed and hoped for the best. He might well be amenable to reason, I =
thought; perhaps we can talk our quibble through.=20

Distressing noises - heavy breathing from deep down in his diaphragm, =
lurching up through his neck and out through that slackjawed, =
bucktoothed face. He looked like an exasperated little schoolboy brat in =
need of expensive dental work, and I told him so. Here, have some gorp =
you sweet-tooth little twerp, and go tell momma I said to send you to =
the orthodontist.=20

He didn't like that. Suddenly his hair bristled, he threw back his head, =
stretched his toothy trap wider than ever, blinked once, and proceeded =
to open up a can of marmot whoopass. NYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPP! It was fatal. =
My eardrums shattered on impact. NYYEEEEP! NYYEEEEP! =
NYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEPP! My nerves were raw with the friction of =
adrenaline. That's no whistle, it's an air raid siren! Get down, quick! =
Scree bear went back in his bunker, and I got the heck out of there. So =
much for communing with nature.

It isn't always war, though. Sometimes it's a lot of fun, and the next =
time you find yourself charging up the bazillion overvegetated =
switchbacks north of Glacier Peak's Milk Creek, pause at the opportune =
rocky outcrop near climb's crest, behold the magnificent view, and look =
closely! At your feet, among the rocks, lurks the fascinating handiwork =
- that interesting intermountain interstate - of the much adored, the =
sometimes deplored, the non-ursine line of scree bear.

- blisterfree=20


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