Chilkoot Trail Day 4: When Bear Spray Takes Aim

Saturday, June 30, 2018
Start: Happy Camp
Stop: Lindeman City
5.5 Miles

It’s such a short day that there’s no pressure or rush to get going early. If only my mind could convince my body of this. Plus it’s light so so early that it’s got my internal clock all fucked up. We’re up early as usual and drag out our morning routine as long as possible. If it was raining I think we’d be more inclined to hunker down in our tents but it’s mostly sunny with big billowy clouds hanging low. Phil and I leave camp about 8am, gradually descending along the side of Long Lake. Phil stops, maybe to take off his rain jacket and I pass him. The trail curves slightly to the right around a fold in the hillside and I can no longer see Phil. I cross a series of streamlets and right in the middle of the last jump I start to cough heavily. Boy, that was random and weird.

I stop at the streams edge and remove a layer because the trail looks like it’s headed up. I think about pushing on but decide to wait for Phil. I wait for what seems like an unusually long time. I start to think about going back when Phil appears around the bend. He kneels down at the waters edge and it looks like he’s washing his hands. Or is that the bear spray canister in his hand? He crosses the streamlets towards me with a serious face. I see red all over the bear spray canister and I’m thinking that he met Mr. Bear.

“Oh my gosh, are you ok?” I ask.

“My rain pants were pulling down on my hiking pants so I was trying to adjust them, and the bear spray.” Unfortunately, our loaner bear spray canister has no holster so Phil has been carrying it in a lower pants pocket. “The canister slipped out and fell on the rocks. It hit at just the perfect angle and pierced the canister. A tiny red stream was spraying onto the rocks so I picked it up as carefully as possible and deployed the rest of the bear spray in the air. I can feel a hint of sting in my eyes – enough to make one humble.”

We get the used canister, streaked with red pain juice, stowed safely in a gallon zip lock bag. Phil washes his face just in case of some residue. Wouldn’t want to get any of that in his eyes! Phil is a good sport about the whole thing and just like that, we forge on. Moral of the story is always get a spray canister with the holster. We climb up onto a bluff above Long Lake, whose bold blue is bluer than the sky. We wind around clear alpine lakelets that look like delicious candy. Now that we have no bear spray canister, we joke that we’ll actually get to see a bear.

We drop into Deep Lake and take a gloriously sunny and warm break at the camping area. I throw out my tent and ground cloth to dry and eat a snack. Ahh, the sun feels so good. A hawk circles overhead as we reluctantly head back out. The trail is lined with thick brush so I call “hey bear, hey bear” just in case. There’s lots of discarded stampeder gear at the top of the rapids. Axe heads, a boat frame and now lichen-covered shoes. The rapids could not be run so stampeders had to unload from the boats they used to cross Long Lake. And down, down, down we drop into Lindeman Lake around midday. We maneuver our tents in between the large piles of moose droppings just as a big gust of wind pulls through. Phil’s tent starts to fly away cross country towards Lindeman Lake. But he’s fast and catches it in no time.

There’s a beautiful interpretive tent with old stampede pictures, books and a table where you can pick up a Chilkoot trail completion certificate. Some hikers push on to Bare Loon Lake and those of us that are staying at Lindeman, start a fire in the warming hut. I spend the afternoon reading, talking with other hikers and playing connect four in the warm embrace of the fire. Later on, Phil and I go for a little walk to check out all the scattered artifacts and we also find an old cemetery.

Our stay at Lindeman Lake is blissful, in part because Neon Man pushed on to Bare Loon Lake after lunch. The ranger stops by and mentions seeing something red on the rocks today and Phil fesses up to his mishap. I cook up my last dinner and after I get in my tent for the night, I have to make several trips back to the bear boxes to stow away things that should not be in my tent overnight. Today there was a reported bear sighting just down trail from Lindeman Lake. Ears open!