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Grizzly Patrol Hikes to Hidden Lake

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I was walking about fifteen feet in front of Jürgen, when suddenly I spun around, grabbed the canister of Bear Spray strapped to my hip, and pointed it right at his face. “You’re toast, grizzly punk!” Jürgen didn’t even flinch… it was, after all, the 23rd time I’d practiced this maneuver.

Hidden Lake Idaho

We were hiking on a remote path in the northern extreme of Idaho, close to the Canadian border. For days, people had been warning us about bears on the path and suggesting counter-measures, but we had laughed them off. “Bear bells? Please, we want to see bears!” But the laughter stopped after visiting the Ranger Station in Bonners Ferry. With a disquieting sternness, the ranger warned us that not only were there grizzlies in the area, but they were likely to be grumpy because of hunting season. Ten minutes later, we were in a sporting goods store, searching the shelves for Bear Bells.

Sharp as a tack, the salesman recognized the easy mark, and sold us not only Bear Bells but a $49.95 can of Bear Spray as well.

We didn’t see any grizzlies during our nine-mile round-trip hike to Hidden Lake and Red Top. In fact, we didn’t see any wildlife. But that was fine. The incredible northern nature gave us plenty to gawk at, and an endless vista of pine-covered mountains isn’t going to tear your chest open with its claws or gnash your skull into sludge.

Bear Spray

It had snowed a couple days before our visit, and we immediately noticed that ours were the only human tracks on the path. There were some deer and rabbit footprints, but despite this hike’s general proximity to Bonners Ferry, we were the only people who had journeyed to Hidden Lake in at least two days.

Hidden Lake lays just a mile and a half from the trailhead. Deep blue water ringed by pine trees, it’s beautiful, but there didn’t seem to be anything especially “hidden” about it; it was, in fact, rather easy to find. But our trail continued up Red Top mountain and, once we had gained some elevation and could look back on the lake, the name made a lot more sense. Hidden Lake is completely encircled by mountains and obscured by tall pines.

The rest of our hike, to the summit of Red Top Mountain, was rough but completely worth the effort. From the top, we had views of the entire region. We could easily see into Canada, and enjoyed a panorama encompassing the Selkirk Mountains. We ate lunch on the remnants of an old fire station (destroyed by a long ago fire), and then started back down the hill.

Location of Trailhead | Hidden Lake | Red Top Summit

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November 1, 2012 at 11:04 pm Comments (4)

The Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage Center

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Learn How To Hunt

PETA members, feel free to skip this post. You’re not the target audience for the Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage and Education Center, and probably won’t appreciate the photos which are to come (hint: a lot of dead animals). Everyone else, please follow me.

Lionesse

Quick, who’s the greatest hunter of all time? If you know as much about hunting as we did, you’re staring blankly into space right about now, with ridiculous names like “Elmer Fudd” floating through your brain. But now that I’ve visited his museum, I would be able to answer confidently: Jack O’Connor! Jack O’Connor is the greatest hunter of all time.

The museum, found in Lewiston’s Hell’s Gate State Park, collects Mr. O’Connor’s trophies from around the world, along with photos and stories from his life. Animal heads from Asia and Africa to North America line the walls, including impressive kills such as Bighorn Sheep, lions, and the Greater Kudu. Despite having been beheaded and mounted on a wall, the animals somehow maintain their majesty. Touring this museum was almost more fun than a zoo, because you can get real close without getting bit.

Jack was a writer for Outdoor Life magazine and authored a number of books on hunting, some of which have become definitive guides to the sport. Born in 1902, he belonged to a different era than ours: the kind of era where it was socially acceptable to grab a gun, fly to Africa and shoot anything that moved. Back then, it wasn’t a shocking moral crime to kill a tiger. You just killed the thing, and then took a picture of yourself posing with its corpse.

As is often true of hunters, Jack O’Connor was a fierce conservationist and helped promote many of the regulatory laws that still govern the sport to this day. While in the museum, I read from one of his books about the mating habits and gestation time of Dall Sheep. Sure, he was killing them for sport, but O’Connor was an absolute authority on the animals and had a greater respect for them than most anyone else.

After touring the center, we spent some time talking to the attendant, who’s a hunter in his own right. Discounting The Slingshot-Frog Incident of my tenth year, I’ve never shot a living creature, but I appreciate the idea of hunting; the patience, skill and preparation involved, and the admiration it must give you for nature.

Location of the Jack O’Connor Museum
Jack O’Connor Hunting Heritage & Education Center – Website

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October 5, 2012 at 1:34 am Comments (2)

The Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary

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Wild animals who have been injured or orphaned could never be called “lucky”, but those in the McCall area at the time of their accident might at least consider themselves fortunate. For the past 23 years, the Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary has been dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of Idaho’s wild animals, large and small.

Read-Tail-Hawk

Since their primary goal is rehabilitation, Snowdon is normally off-limits to visitors. The less contact these animals have with humans, the better, and the staff try and keep interaction to an absolute minimum. For the curious public, there are occasional open houses, and “The Dome”: an educational center at the sanctuary’s entrance, with pelts and information about animals from bears to wolverines.

We were invited to take a rare peek behind the gates, and meet some of the animals currently under care. There was Luta, a beautiful red-tailed hawk who’s been in captivity her whole life. She doesn’t know she’s a hawk and wouldn’t survive long in the wild, so is one of the refuge’s permanent guests. The same goes for Ollie, a magnificent Great Horned Owl whose right eye was put out after a run-in with a truck.

Snowdown had recently been in the press thanks to Boo-Boo, a bear cub orphaned during the wildfires that ravaged Idaho in 2012. All his paws were burnt, but he was expected to make a full recovery. In fact, during our visit, he was already up and about, and we couldn’t even find him in his large enclosure at Snowdon… “Probably up a tree” explained Carolyn, who was acting as our guide. We did spot two other orphaned bears, as they were running away: sisters, who were slated to be released before hibernation season.

Snowdown is a non-profit corporation supported entirely by private donations and grants. Their facilities are small, but they manage to re-release almost every animal brought into their care. It’s an enterprise worth supporting — visit their website to help contribute and, if you can make it to one of their infrequent open houses, make sure to do so!

Snowdon Wildlife Sanctuary – Website
Location on our Idaho Map

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September 24, 2012 at 6:20 pm Comment (1)