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Fear & The Mountains

posted by Jeff Bilsky at
on Friday, June 14, 2013 

When I first moved to Utah 7 or so years ago, I was excited to head into the mountains and get exploring. However, I was honestly pretty naive when it came to understanding the line between adventurous and just plain stupid. Luckily through good friends like Carl Ingwell, Tim Avery, and Colby Neuman, as well as countless other people, and lots of personal experience, I feel like I've wised up at least a bit. For example, I don't think you'd catch me chasing a Bobcat into a thicket to get a closer look anymore. Yup; I did that in my first year here. Sure, I'd try for a look again, but I now understand a bobcat could quite easily rip my face off if it were so inclined. I seem to attract Moose like sugar-water attracts hummingbirds. I don't get it, but they seem to always find me. It was right around the time I saw my first and it showed no fear of ME that I realized the inhabitants of the mountains of Utah are to be enjoyed, but they are to be respected. These mountains have become one of my favorite things in the world. If I could hike every day, I would. But I have learned that the thing I love about them - their raw wild energy- can sometimes remind you of your own insignificance and mortality. I had one such reminder moment this day.

After getting home from work today, I opted to head up to a spot I haven't hiked since last fall. It's a location I found east of Little Dell Reservoir and below Big Mountain Pass. It is a seemingly seldom used trail that winds up the mountain north of the main road and then heads east towards Big Mountain and back down past some beaver dams. From here, you can bush-whack your way through 100 yards or so of trees and reach a more used trail. The whole route can't be more than a mile - if that - and has in the past produced Dusky Grouse and an assortment of other common mountain species to view - as well as Deer, Moose, and Beavers. Today, as I was hiking along towards a portion that transitions from open mountainside to aspen grove I heard what sounded like a bark. It sounded sort of like a muzzled dog. I kept hiking. The sound came again, and closer. I was initially intrigued. The sound was coming from above me on the mountain though and all I could see up there was thick habitat. I kept telling myself I was sure it was a dog and there was probably someone with it and whatever, no big deal. I figured, whatever, move on and keep hiking. So I wound through the aspens and towards the beaver dams. The sound came again. This time much closer. Now I was annoyed/perhaps a little intimidated. Sounded still like a dog but like one that was muzzled/muffled in some way. Not like a normal bark. I started moving quicker. The sound followed. I jumped over a stream to get to the other side of the beaver dams. Surely whatever it was wouldn't follow me. Well, it did. The sound was now just on the other side of the dams, coming from the trees. I will admit, at this point, I made sure my bear spray, which I had taken out, was in my hand, with the cap off and ready to go. Then, I high-tailed it to the bush-whacking portion and my scraped up legs are evidence to the lack of care I took here. I don't know what the hell was going on, what it was, why it was following me, but it seemed best to get out of Dodge. I think it probably was a dog. My memory tells me I have seen evidence of an old shanty hut up on the mountainside in this area so it could very well be that someone dwells there with a muffled sounding canine. However, I'm not sure this is any more comfort to know than if it was an angry bear. Either way, the mountains kicked my ass tonight and I was reminded that you never know what's around that next corner. But I suppose that's why I keep going back for more.

I was able to get some video of the sounds. You be the judge and let me know what you think. Dog? Chupacabra? Big Foot? It's the first video posted below. 

The 2nd video is one I took a couple of years ago when a moose followed me all the way to my car at Silver Lake and made this moaning sound (towards the end of the video). It was another night when the mountains reminded me that they own me and I am merely tolerated by them. I'm sure we all have our stories where our hearts race a bit more than usual on a hike. Let's hear some good tales. 

6/14/13 - Northeast of Little Dell Reservoir

9/1/11 - Silver Lake


Blogger Tim Avery said...

Nice post dude. It's either a Mule Deer or an Elk grunt--although Chupacabra would be what I would hope for.

June 17, 2013 at 12:52 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

I did see a Mule Deer shortly before this all started and it ran off into the woods. Could be a bit of paypack for me startling it. It was just strange how the sound seemed to follow me, and alone in the woods, I got a little spooked. I was hoping for a zombie hybrid of Chupacabra and Bigfoot.

June 17, 2013 at 1:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You still have a bit of the city slicker in you, but it's good to see you're starting to wizen up.

June 17, 2013 at 1:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is a mule deer doe defending a fawn. You likely got very close to where she had stashed her fawn or fawns while she was feeding.

June 17, 2013 at 1:27 PM  
Blogger Jeff Bilsky said...

thank you anonymous!

June 17, 2013 at 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story Jeff! I could see myself doing the same thing.
I was checking out some Broad-tailed Hummingbirds in a field in South Fork of Provo Canyon and I had a bull moose bust out of the trees charging me from 70 yards out. It luckily stopped (in a very aggressive stance) about 30 yards from me and let out about a gallon of urine. I backed into the trees until I couldn't see him and bolted to my car.
The mountains are like a box of chocolates.

Mark Thal

June 18, 2013 at 10:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fortunately, I didn't let out a gallon of urine. lol

Mark Thal

June 18, 2013 at 11:02 PM  
Blogger Kenny Frisch said...

I was hiking Lone Peak last year and although the trail is not well marked, it is pretty easy to get to the peak since you can see it the whole time. On the way back however, I ended up missing the trail and getting a little lost but I figured I could make my way back.

I started heading down creek beds since, hey, they head down and had gone over ledge that must be a waterfall in the right seasons and had gone 5 feet when I heard a rattle behind me. I realized that I probably almost landed on the rattlesnake and luckily didn't get bit. This freaked me out a bit and I found a long stick to beat the brush in front of me and keep snakes away.

I soon found a deer trail and that took me within sight of one of the larger boulders along the real trail and I headed that way and eventually found the trail again. Not an experience I will be soon to forget.

June 25, 2013 at 10:19 PM  

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