I quickly stepped-up to tell the other campers--who were in the opposite direction of the bear (at the moment--that we'd seen it). And then the guys and I headed for the river to filter water for the night. We took turns getting water, watching for "Otis,"--as Paul had already named the bear--and discussing our options.
Back up top of the hill, we saw him again. And as long as it remained light, we saw the bear, circling our camp, steadily pacing the perimeter.
We opted to skip dinner. Even after the long hike we weren't all that hungry, and we didn't want any bodily need to leave our tents in the night. Besides, we wanted to keep any food smells far from our campsite. So we hung our bear bags--which that night included everything we had packed that might in any way interest a hungry bear.
As Matt and Paul walked back up to our tents at our ridge-line campsite, they came face-to-face with "Otis." And it was not a humorous moment--at least not then. The bear turned to face them, took a step forward (these are NOT good signs when meeting a huge bear in the wild) despite the fact that they were making lots of noise (as you are taught). Then the bear sat back on his haunches and looked at them--thirty feet from where they and our tents stood. (They got a couple of fuzzy--no pun intended--pictures, and one that shows just two glowing eyes staring back at them.) After plenty of more noise, soon the creature carried-on with his reconnoiter of our night's home.
As the last of the day's light waned, we realized our desperate need for fire. The rain had soaked that pine forest as it had us. Nevertheless, we began combing the forest for scraps of bark, pine cones, pine needles, and my favorite, dead lower twigs on pine trees. Yet the moisture in the kindling and the air made a fire most reluctant.
Being the socialite of our group, and being highly motivated by the bruin circling our darkening camp, I started walking up toward our neighboring campers. "Marco!" I called out. He responded, and not seeing the bear and knowing he was waiting for me, I closed the distance and asked how they had gotten their fire going. If they had some fuel they'd used? Now, if toilet paper is called "trail money," what Marco handed me should be called "trail gold!" A miniature fire log. A guarantee of thirty minutes of strong, bold flame. Our moist kindling would have no choice but to surrender!
Even though the moist air made lighting our treasure a bit of a trial, soon flames were crackling, and branches broken and arranged were ablaze and illuminating our hungry faces. Paul and Matt, with their high powered hand lamps did occasional "perimeter checks," and no glowing eyes were reported. (Though I did jump at the sight of a few weird glowing moths flying near our fire in pairs of two--just about the right distance apart to be a set of eyes...)
For about ten minutes, we studied our wood supply and contemplated sleeping next to the comforting fire, on the ground, under the stars...which were blocked by clouds...that began to rain...hard.
TO BE CONTINUED...