GET OUT: Up for a grizzly adventure? I’m your Huckleberry

By on August 6, 2013

80713getoutJACKSON HOLE, WYO - If you like the idea of potentially seeing a grizzly bear, this hike to Huckleberry Mountain is for you. If you choose to do this hike in spring or fall, bring bear spray and a friend or two and stay alert. Griz are here. It will be a little more challenging to run across a bear in August but it would not be surprising. Longtime Search and Rescue veteran Arlo Niederer once said of this area, “That place is spooky with bears.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI went the last week in August last year. I saw sign and a few good-sized grizzly tracks. Best way to tell whether you are looking at the tracks of a grizzly or black bear? I look first for the claw marks. On the griz, they will be much further from the toe prints (which will be almost touching each other) and generally appear in a straight line, whereas black bear claws (and toes) will curve around the footpad more and show more separation between the toes.

The payoff is a hiker’s hike. You likely won’t see another person, you will get a good workout on the way out with an easy trek back, and the views in every direction are stunning. You will also take lunch in an old fire tower that is listed in the National Register of Historic Places (No. 48TE1084).

 The journey

Each leg of the 10.5-mile roundtrip is about 5.2 miles. It’s not too far but don’t disrespect the trek in. It is a constant uphill walk all the way with 2,800 feet of elevation gain. Stay hydrated and snack if you need to on the way there. The return trip is much easier and faster. You’ll do it in nearly half the time.

The early part of the hike is in cover and along Sheffield Creek. This is probably not where you will see bears. After a mile or so you may notice the trail turns away from Huckleberry Mountain. This is to remain on the spine of the northern-most ridge that spreads like fingers from the peak. You will jump over these ridges later, nearer the top. All along the way you will see traces of the Huck Fire from 1988 and plenty of berries, of course.

At two miles, you will drop and cross a Sheffield Creek tributary – a small rill that likely will be dry this time of year. Remember: anytime you are around running water, keep your head on a swivel. Maybe it’s the sound of the running water that takes away one of the bear’s senses but this is often where trouble happens.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter three miles you will break cover for good and be in more exposed ridge-top terrain. The uphill also eases up a bit here between mile marker three and four so you can take a breath on cruise control. But beginning at 3.5 miles until you are on top, well, this is the place I usually see bears. There is a spring on your left here and another a quarter mile beyond. You will also cross two small mountain rills. This area stays muddy enough that you will easily be able to tell who has been walking here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At about 4.65 miles, you will notice another trail joining you from the east (on your left). This is a lesser-used trail that drops you into Rodent Creek and on to the Coulter-Wolverine Cutoff. Right about here is where you want to freelance your way to the top of Huckleberry Mountain on your right and on up to the lookout cabin.

The structure was built in 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and served as a fire lookout station from 1939 to 1957. I found the wadded up pages of a Saturday Evening Post stuffed into the chinks for insulation. Don’t forget to sign the guestbook.

From the top, you can see miles in every direction. Look down southeast. That open area is Brown’s Meadow, named for T. Brown who is buried in a rustic grave marked (44*3.942’N; 110*34.902’W) with a wooden cross and the year “1881.” Sadly, I don’t know anything about Brown. One day I’ll have to research him.

The trailhead is south of Flagg Ranch on the right just before you cross the Snake River. It is marked as Sheffield Creek campground and trailhead.


About Jake Nichols

Jake is a work in progress.

4 Comments

  1. Crusty Monkey

    August 7, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    I love your hike reviews, especially as they often feature more obscure destinations in and around our valley. A word of caution on differentiating griz from black tracks. Generally the claws are farther away from toes on griz. This can however be reversed if said griz has been feasting on food that requires much digging and wears down the claws. Also, griz tends to have webbing that reaches farther towards the tip. The amount of splay between the toes is more a function of the substrate in which the print was left and would be hard to differentiate without both sets side by side.

  2. jake

    August 7, 2013 at 7:55 pm

    Thanks, Crusty. good to know.

  3. Nathan

    August 10, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    It’s easier to tell the difference between the scats than the tracks. Black bear poop usually has berries, stuff like that, griz has bearbells and slight peppery scent.

  4. jake

    August 12, 2013 at 8:48 am

    @Nathan – or the classic “How to tell the difference between black and griz:” A black bear will climb right up a tree to get you. A griz will just snap it off at the base.

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