The Roving Backcountry Crew put in a second hitch on Uncompahgre Peak on September 11-19, and it couldn’t have started any better. We met with Field Programs Manager Coby Gierke for a quaint breakfast in Gunnison, then headed south toward Lake City. As we arrived at the lower trailhead below the Nellie Creek 4×4 road, we encountered a sign: “BEAR WARNING! There was recently a bear attack in this area.”
I definitely had some worries going into the seven-day hitch, but I knew that CFI, and the Roving Crew in particular, keep a clean campsite and follow Leave No Trace practices very closely. Taking basic precautions like keeping all food, toothpaste, trash, and smelly items far from camp in a bear hang or locked in a truck, allowed for our crew to live and work out of the Nellie Creek Basin safely for a week.
Although the rest of my crew was unable to view the “attacking” bear, I was fortunate enough to have a late-night encounter while relieving myself just outside my tent. I felt something strange, got out my headlamp, and there she was. Startled by my light and me shouting, “GO ON!” the bear became uninterested in me and ran off.
The next morning, my crew awakened at 5:30 a.m. and left our basecamp at 7 a.m. This was our last day of work, so we planned to work at 12,800 feet rather than our usual worksite at 13,600 feet.
We arrived at our worksite and were astounded to see a pine marten frolicking across the talus field. What a sight! As we continued to bask in its beauty, the unthinkable happened. The pine marten sneaked up behind a pika and attempted to eat it. They started fighting to the death in what seemed to be an epic struggle. A high-pitched squeal lasted for a solid minute, then the pika wriggled free.
The wildlife that surrounds us on the Fourteeners is in constant struggle. The bear attack that occurred in the Nellie Creek area was a matter of a bear seeking out an easy meal. Of course that bear is going to want your Snickers bar if it is in your tent and is easy to get. Similarly, the pine marten is always going to view a pika as food. Every living thing, especially in the alpine, is fighting for its right to live on this planet.