Bushwhacking and hiking Black Bear Mountain

From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010
From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010
From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010
From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010
From Bushwhacking south of Uncas and Climbing Black Bear Mountain – September 11, 2010

I loaded up my pack with the tent, a sleeping pad, a gallon of water, and pretty much everything else that I’d need for an overnight hike. We weren’t planning to camp out, but I want not only the pack’s weight, but its weight distribution, to match what it will be when I am camping out. That way I not only burn more calories, but I condition my body with a full dress rehearsal.

Last Sunday we had a lot of fun bushwhacking back to the trail around the base of Black Bear Mountain. The character of the hike was pleasingly different from a trail hike. We had to climb up over downed logs, mossy boulders and granite ridges, so we got the pleasure not only of working our way through isolated deer and bear habitats, but of exercising different muscles than we would have otherwise.

Since we enjoyed bushwhacking so much, we decided to do it again today with one variation: we’d cut south-by-southwest rather than southeast, the idea being to climb Black Bear from the west, descend along the eastern trail, and take the main trail back to Uncas Road.

Since we were bearing roughly south-by-southwest, I was hopeful that we’d encounter a memory from my childhood: a granite cliff that my father used to take me to see. Sbout twenty minutes into the hike, I spotted a cliff face to the left. We walked toward it, and sure enough, it was the one I remembered.

I walked along the base, awash in pleasant remembrances and wondering what, if anything, my father was trying to communicate to me when he brought me to that place. Had he told me something specific about it that I’d forgotten? Was it special to him in some way that he didn’t share? Or was it just a dramatically beautiful spot?

We worked our way around and up, and explored the top of the giant granite slab. The “ground” was the biggest, thickest carpet of moss I’ve ever seen, and the lichen population was more lush and varied than I’ve ever seen. If I ever want to spend a few hours taking macro shots of lichens, I know where to come.

As I made my way over fallen logs and around dense patches of trees toward the edge, I had a thought. It’s possible that this was the site of an incident my father used to tell me about. He was out in the woods hunting, and night fell before he returned. So he was walking back (to camp? right here?) in the dark, and he climbed up onto a log. He was about to jump down over the other side, but to be safe he shined his flashlight down first. The light shone down into a thirty-foot drop.

We continued on our original bearing, making our way up over ridges and down into ravines. Judging from the number of droppings I saw, we were going straight through deer central. The woods seemed unusually quiet and windless: I suspect that some peculiarity of the terrain causes this stillness, because I’ve never seen a small branch just sit on a rock until moss covers it, as the one in the picture did.

We joined the trail well to the west of where I was shooting for, but I did pretty well considering the irregularity of the terrain. We wound our way east to the trail junction, marveling at several species of plants, such as a sessile pine, that I don’t think I’ve seen before. At the junction I smiled with the pleasure of finding a big spider enjoying its latest meal in a curled leaf where one of its web anchors was fastened.

We climbed Black Bear from the west side. We like that trail because there are lots of fun rocks to climb over, and there are several sudden and breathtaking views that heighten the anticipation for the summit. Right at the steepest part, where the tail goes up over sheer-faced slabs of granite, we met a family hiking down. They had two young kids with them, which was great to see. We told them about other hikes in the area that are good for kids, such as Moss Lake.

Even though I was very tired and uncoordinated from lack of sleep, and wearing a fairly heavy pack, the climb up Black Bear seemed easier than it’s ever been. I felt triumphant and happy: after working for months to lose weight and condition my body, I could feel the fruits of all my labors.

We drank water and took pictures at the top, and made our way down the other side among thick mats of red-tinged moss. We got back to camp at about 7:20, just before the sky got dark enough to matter. It was a satisfying and successful hike, right down to the timing!


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