I had never been West of the Mississippi River till I was 20, and barely camped or cared to venture into the woods between the ages of 12 to 19. Such things as bear sightings were an abstract fear for most of my life. Throughout several years of working in Colorado and Alaska, encounters with bears, moose, river otters, porcupines and other wild creatures has become common place in frequency but never in feeling. Knowing that I would be working on the often-crowded Mt. Bierstadt this year, I figured that such meetings between humankind and the members of the Colorado animal kingdom would be less frequent. And yet I have been proven wrong. It seems to be that the beautiful lush topography of Guanella Pass attracts both humans and wildlife in great number.
Mt Bierstadt presents a meeting point of civilization and wilderness. Only two weeks ago Eli (my esteemed co-leader) and I almost hit an adolescent moose on our way up to our basecamp. At the end of that week we witnessed a gathering of 6 or 7 bighorn sheep hanging out by a corner of the road as it switchbacks down to Georgetown. There seems to be marmots hanging out on the shoulder almost everyday as well as the occasional fox. On the mountain itself I have run into a few marmots, but they appear to congregate a larger distance away from the trail compared to previous mountains I have worked on.
About three weeks ago Eli and I had just gone through the gate by Twin Lakes to our cabin and yurt that we are living in for the summer. Suddenly, I saw what I at first took to be a raccoon carrying something in it’s mouth. As we edged closer in our truck we realized it was a mother badger with her young. I’d never seen a badger before! Like any 21st century inhabitant I frantically pulled my phone out to snap a photo. During all this the badger kept on dropping its young which would then crawl towards our vehicle before the mother could steer it away again. Eli rolled down the window (to stick his head out and get a better view, I think). I immediately started yelling, “Roll it up, roll up the window!” I had seen YouTube videos of badgers fighting bears, and sure enough the mother ran up to our truck just as the window was closing and seemed ready to take us on and the mass of metal we sat inside. Shortly after, the mother and her young wandered off into the sage brush. We watched them for awhile from the balcony of our home once we got past their momentary furry road block.
My run in with the badgers was a magical, surreal gift, just like any chance to watch animals in the wild. Nowadays, I avoid walking down to the gate at night for any reason (I’m fairly certain that the badger lives somewhere nearby). My habits, movements, and concerns while at my summer home have been changed forever by this encounter. I imagine it is the same for the animals we stumble upon as we adventure into the great outdoors. Their habits, patterns and relationship with their environment, their home, is constantly changing with each human encounter; for better or worse. I wonder if a marmot would consider a Rob (me) encounter to be a bewildering and magical experience as well? I doubt it.