It’s only 8:15 a.m. and we’re sitting in the parking lot of the Heart Lake trailhead. The car thermometer reads 49 degrees and it’s raining lightly. Ummm. I’m not sure I want to get out of the car. I’m half-expecting Walt to suggest that we wait until the rain passes but he starts to put on his hiking boots and I realize we’re going now.
I start to think: “this is not a good way to start a three-day hike” before I remember that we started La Cloche in the rain and Isle Royale in cool, overcast conditions. Both of those hikes turned out to have mostly good weather. Maybe this is just a continuation of our pattern. Let’s hope anyway because we’re geared up rain pants and jackets and we’re headed 7.5 miles to our campsite at Heart Lake.
The rain tapers off pretty quickly and despite the cool weather, we warm up as well. Within 40 minutes, we are out of our rain gear, hiking in just pants and shirts like we usually do. The trail is pretty flat, with just gentle ups and downs. Even though there’s been rain, there’s only a few wet/muddy spots. The ground here is very silty so the water drains instead of puddles, which works for me.
Since the rangers have warned us that this is “active bear territory” and no, they didn’t say whether the bears are grizzlies or black, we have been told to make noise. In the video, the hikers shout “hey bear” every few minutes and clap their hands. We can’t clap our hands because we’re holding hiking poles. Walt is adamant that he’s not shouting “hey bear” so I decide to sing. First I’m singing songs with “bear” in the words, such as the “Care Bears song” and “The Bear Climbed Over the Mountain.”
Once I have exhausted my limited repertoire of bear songs, I start substituting the word “bear” into the lyrics of other songs – “When I was just a young bear, my momma told me, son, always be a good bear…”
At one point I have lyrics running through my head that I identify as part of the lyrics to the Mickey Mouse Club Song “raise our voices high, high” and ask Walt for the rest of the lyrics. He denies knowing any part of the song other than “Mickey Mouse. Donald Duck.” I don’t believe him but it’s impossible to get Walt to do something he doesn’t want to do and I give up. Now I’m making up a song about being “bear aware” but composing’s not my thing and the song doesn’t go far.
By the way, singing is not my thing either. I can’t carry a tune at all and normally don’t sing aloud unless I’m alone in the car or in church. Walt wonders aloud if the bears will be scared by my voice or come running thinking I’m an animal in distress (and, therefore, easy prey). Either way, we know Walt’s ears hurt.
Eventually I give up and just shout: “Bear. Bear” at intervals.
At about 4 miles in, we come upon a pretty big thermal just off the trail. We hadn’t realized there would be fumaroles and mudpots and other thermal features on this hike but as we come off a crest (we’ve just crossed the Continental Divide), we can down the valley to the lake past a number of steaming holes. It’s neat to see them close up all by ourselves. We’re still cautious and don’t get off the trail to get any closer, even though we see a few other people on the trail stop to get close-up photos.
The trail winds through valley, across a beautiful creek, through fields full of wildflowers, down to the lake. There’s a ranger cabin just before the lake but it’s padlocked. Nobody home. We wind around the lake for a quarter of a mile and come to our designated campsite. It sits in stand of pine trees right on the edge of the lake. We have a stump that is set up on end and surrounded by big pieces of log, clearly this is our kitchen/dining area. Behind us, away from the lake, is our designated “bear hang.” It’s three big pine poles in an “H” pattern with the crosspiece about 15 feet off the ground. It’s our job to place all of our food, trash and “anything with a scent,” meaning toothpaste, hand sanitizer, bug spray, etc., in bags and hang them from the poles at least 10 feet of the ground and three feet from the uprights.
There’s also an open-air, molded plastic privy, a step up from our wooden ones on La Cloche.
We find a spot to set up our tent about 75 feet from any of those three areas. The park rules state we should set up tent 300 feet from them but were we to do that, we’d be in the next campsite. We enjoy a hot lunch and hoist everything out of bears’ reach. The weather has cleared up some but it’s still cool so we head to the tent to read and relax.
After an hour, we notice the wind picking up and the temperature dropping. Sure enough, we hear thunder and it starts to rain. Once again, our pattern of getting up early so we get to camp by early afternoon has paid off. We’re warm and dry. Our belongings are all properly secured. We’re in the best position possible.
The rain doesn’t last too long and about 6 p.m., we come out to fix dinner. Our tent is wet but the ground isn’t very muddy. We pull on our rain pants so our butts don’t get wet while we eat dinner and then retreat to our tent to bundle up against the night chill.