Last updated: August 12, 2016
You went into a backcountry permit office and now are the proud owner of a backcountry site for the night. All you have to do now is go for a hike, secure those bear attractants, set up your tent. You're tired from a long hike and that old sleeping bag looks better than a feather bed in a five start hotel. You crawl in, drift off to sleep, and then…
This blog is about those "and thens". Ranger Carol here and I'd like to share a recent backcountry experience with you about a recent night's sleep in the backcountry of Glacier National Park.
The first part of my backcountry nighttime tale is partially my fault. At the backcountry office I warn hikers about the dangers of hiking in bear country. I strongly encourage you to make human noise (like singing and talking) to avoid surprising bears, particularly when visibility isn't great. I also encourage hikers not to be out on the trail after dark as this is the time when some large predators like to stir. That being said, sometimes things happen. Maybe a member of your party was experiencing early symptoms of heat exhaustion and you had them sit in the shade until the day got cooler. Maybe someone had an ingrown toenail that slowed them down significantly. Things happen. And sometimes you just arrive at camp after dark.
I can only assume this is what happened when I was blasted out of sleep well after dark by loud singing from incoming campers. Yes, I know you don't want to surprise that bear, but when you make a lot of noise after dark in a backcountry campground, you're also going to be rousing and disturbing other campers. This might be worse than disturbing a bear. I would perhaps suggest that when you're actually in the backcountry campground to defer to the other campers and avoid loud singing and hollering "Hey, Bear!" After all, recently awakened campers might assume you see a bear.
That brings me to the next bump in the night. I was awoken by something large crunching in the brush and pawing at the log right next to my tent. Not being one to lay in wait for something to "get me", I grabbed my handy bear spray and rolled out of the tent with a flashlight in hand. Barefoot and so armed, I demanded to know what was invading my site. Two large white eyes reflected in the light froma deer licking a log. I grumbled, shooed the deer from my site and went back to the comfort of my sleeping bag only to hear campers next to my site speculating over whether I had seen a bear or not. Hmm, back to that last part…try not to unintentionally scare other campers. No reason for them not to get sleep.
Now why would a perfectly good deer be in a backcountry campsite licking a log? This was certainly another camper's fault. Sometimes in the middle of the night or early morning when you've just "gotta go" it IS tempting to unzip the tent and just "go." If you do so, something–deer, marmot, goat, etc.–will be there shortly after trying to consume the salts you left behind. This can habituate these animals rather rapidly. Habituated animals can take over a campsite, potentially causing injury and destruction of property. Once they know you equal salt, your gear quickly equals salt too. This can all easily be avoided by using the provided pit toilet, thereby keeping the salts away from wildlife. Store salty clothing and gear inside of your tent. Also, everything sounds like a bear outside your tent in the middle of the night. We're back to that point about unintentionally scaring other campers.
So I went back to sleep only to be awoken a couple hours later by a blinding flash of light…followed eight seconds later by a peel of thunder. As a steady patter of rain started, I wondered what the weather person had been going on about with his/her prediction of sunny skies and clear nights. I don't blame them; mountain weather is hard to predict. It's always best to be prepared. Thankful for an excellent tent, I drifted off yet again.
The funny thing is that I had planned to get up in the middle of the night. Glacier's night skies are incredible. My whole trip had been planned around seeing the brilliant milky way, twinkling multi-colored stars and the possibility of Aurora Borealis. Ah well, here's to a good night's rest for all you backcountry campers. I'll see you next time.