Artist Hikes Sable Pass


The morning of our fourth day dawned grey and wet, low clouds and poor visibility. We decided to gear up again in rain jackets and waterproof over pants and hike the road from the cabin to the east. This region known as Sable Pass has been closed to off road hiking since the formation of the national park. A vast wilderness area where no man has set foot for decades is home to a host of grizzly bears, caribou, and moose. Wildlife sightings are almost certain in this area, although that was not what interested me on this occasion. On the first day when driving to the cabin I noticed an abundance of fireweed bordering both sides of the road at Sable and the hills were lush and green, not damaged by the bark stripping actions of the Snowshoe hare. In a word, the landscape was gorgeous and with nothing more than a hope and prayer I set out waiting for the light.

Part way up the grade it began to rain, we caught a green bus for shelter and used it as a way to help scout out the landscape. In less than a quarter mile the bus stopped to observe a grizzly sow and two spring cubs feeding along the hillside. Suddenly two additional adult grizzlies emerged from the brush very near the cubs and seeing them the sow went wild. She charged the older bears with stunning speed, lunging and clawing, occasionally standing erect on hind legs. The intruders cowered backing away and soon were on the run to escape this fiercely protective mother. The sow kept her vigil until all evidence indicated the strangers were gone. Then she rejoined the cubs romping and feeding again as if nothing had happened. It was a mesmerizing event, unforgettable. The power and blinding speed of a mature grizzly bear is awesome. There is no way on earth a human could escape if targeted by this animal, and suddenly the tiny can of bear pepper spray strapped to my pack seemed like nothing more than a toy.

The sun began to show itself through breaks in the clouds creating tiny spotlight beams shining down and moving over the landscape. A safe distance away from the bears we departed the bus to resume our hike feeling optimistic about the chance to take some good landscape photos. Finally there was some light, a tiny bit, but it was light.

Gail Niebrugge, Denali Artist-in-Residence

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