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Trail Updates (5)

This is the fifth of 9 updates from the trail journals and community halls of the Yellowstone to Yukon Hike – a 3400-kilometer trek from Y to Y with more than 50 stops to deliver presentations and talk to the media about the visionary initiative to maintain a system of connected parks and reserves in the wild heart of North America.

August 9 – Sept 1, 1998 East Glacier Montana to Crowsnest Pass, Alberta - 290kms

DangerousIt was midmorning when a procession of shocked human faces, horses and trucks passed by on the four-wheel drive track I was following down the Castle River north of  Waterton Park. “A man’s been killed by a grizzly”, stuttered one of the men. “He was fishing. No more than  500 meters from camp, no more than 2 miles from where you pitched your tent last night. The valley’s closed. Do you need a ride?”

It explained the helicopter activity the evening before – activity I’d assumed was fire related as an intense lighting storm had swept through the valley moments before. It also explained the eerie feeling I’d had about the place while looking for a campsite the night before. I’d been selective amid overturned boulders and logs torn apart by a bruin in search of food where only barren berry bushes stood, already signaling the approach of winter with their yellow and drooping leaves.

I spent a good part of that day drinking with the friends and family of the man who’d been killed and partially consumed by the grizzly. They’d shot the bear, “let the air out of ‘im” as he put it, but were already questioning whether they really should have. The entire afternoon was  spent in honor of the deceased man and bears. There was never a hint of vindictiveness towards the grizzly as bear stories illustrating their power and intelligence were shared in amongst the memories of their deceased friend.

I couldn’t help but be inspired by their attitude as I finally stumbled off down the trail and they headed off to face the barrage of media they’d been avoiding all afternoon. The day before, I’d traversed the high red ridges out of Waterton Park and felt a surge of wild energy. Peregrine Falcons had soared above me, a lone charcoal-grey wolf pounced and lunged as it hunted for mice thousands of  feet below, and flock after flock of Clarke’s Nutcracker shot skyward like kites as the wind ripped through their wings. Today, now, knowing that some of this wildness had killed a man, the wild energy is different. No less inspiring but different.

International boundaryI’ve crossed many boundaries along my route, but one of the more significant milestones thus far was the Canada-US border that I crossed last week. With milestones come reflection, and in order to offer a picture of what the American portion of the Y2Y trek was like, a brief summary  of Y2Y Hike “stats” follows.

Incidentally, I was both surprised and pleased with how intact most of  the areas that I walked through in the US still are.

It took 59 days to traverse from the NW corner of Yellowstone National Park to the Crowsnest Pass in Alberta, approximately 100km north of the US-Canada border (averaging approximately 20km per day). A surprising majority of the lands crossed are publicly owned and already protected. Of those 59 days, only six were on private land. Twenty-five fence lines were traversed, representing 10 different landowners. Eleven days were spent walking through National Parks, 18 in Wilderness Areas, and an additional three days in roadless areas. Twenty-one days traversed public but unprotected National Forest and Crown Lands in Montana and Alberta.

From the ridges and peaks of Y2YPotential barriers to animal movement included seven paved highways: two four-lane and five two-lane roads. All but two of them were quite busy. Three railway lines were crossed. Ten clearcuts crossed my route, none exceedingly large (>2km2). Motorized recreation and an   associated network of trails and roads were prevalent in the Big Belt Mountains of Montana and the Castle and Carbondale watersheds of Southern Alberta. Non-motorized access into backcountry areas along my route was very high in Glacier National Park – a spectacular area of rugged peaks that has a trail in almost every valley and numerous road accesses that make almost any area of the Park accessible for the day hiker.

Bear printPerhaps one of the most striking statistics and an indication of how intact most of the system still is, was how often grizzly bear activity was observed. Four grizzly bears have  been observed directly, and evidence of recent grizzly bear activity (tracks, rub trees and feeding sign) was observed on all but 14 of the 69 days thus far.

MEDIA

Justin has been doing his job too well, as reflected by a day in Waterton where we conducted 10 media interviews back to back on a single day. During this last section, articles about Y2Y have run in the Lethbridge Herald (2 articles), the Calgary Herald, Glacier-Waterton Views (2 articles), the Crowsnest Pass Promotor, Pincher Creek Echo, the Fernie Free Press (2 articles), Elk Valley Miner, the Invermere Valley Echo, the Kootenay Advertiser, and the Cranbrook Daily Townsman.

Radio interviews have aired on CKEK radio in Cranbrook, CJEK radio in Fernie, CKUA radio (Alberta) and an update with KMMS radio in Bozeman. CTV television news met us in Waterton and carried stories on their evening broadcasts in both Lethbridge and Calgary.

PRESENTATIONS

Momentum seems to be building, as evening public presentations in Waterton, Lethbridge, Pincher Creek, Blairmore and Fernie were standing room only. Audiences have ranged from 40 to 200 people. We also had an enlightening presentation and meeting with forestry and mining  interests at a special luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce and the East Kootenay Environmental Society in Fernie. Some industry representatives expressed interest in the Y2Y concept and stressed that if a broad range of groups like industry and hunting and fishing interests are to become involved, then Y2Y will need to state its position and goals much more explicitly than it has done so far.

The next update will be in about three weeks from the Banff- Bow Valley area. Please check our website for PHOTOS from the trail and our route   (www.rockies.ca/y2y/hike). You may reach us by email at y2yhike@hotmail.com or leave a message for us on the cell phone (403) 540-6446.

Karsten Heuer (hiker)
Justin Thompson (publicist)
Webster the dog


 
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