There are days you don’t really feel like it. But this is Butte. So we go.
They should call this the Pile of Rocks trail, not the Blacktail trail. It’s a four-mile loop. Less than a mile in, we start seeing colossal piles of rock. It’s not our first encounter with rocks, but these are different. A lot of them are enormous slabs, stacked side by side. They look like coasters you’d lay underneath a gargantuan cocktail glass. Cheers.
It’s 1:30 in the afternoon. The smoke has started to clear, so we walk. We’re still fortified by breakfast at Annie’s in Butte. It’s there we hear the dread word. Rattlesnake.
Our server is talkative and funny. It’s her mom’s restaurant.
“My mom opened this place in 1990,” she says. “She wanted to offer good food and shitty service.”
As the place fills up, she greets most of the patrons by first name. Morning, Kevin. Hey, Ted and Dorene, your table’s all ready. Dave and Frank, a couple Octagenarians, she asks if they’re staying out of trouble. They say hell no.
When we ask her about hiking, and risks on the trail, she say no one’s bothered much by bears. “I go camping, my friends say, ‘Watch it, there’s a rattlesnake over there.’ I never see a snake.”
On the Pile of Rocks trail, we pass a mess of boulders getting warm in the sun.
Tizi points. “I’d sure like climb up there,” she says. “But, snakes.”
Different park, different dangers.
At the front desk, the morning after we checked into the hotel, the overnight desk clerk, when I asked, said, “Bears? Yes, we got bears. We got black bears, brown bears, grizzly bears, mountain lions.”
“So,” I said, “bear spray?”
Is there such a thing as mountain lion spray?
Butte, as luck would have it, is the bear spray capital of Montana. It’s the fountainhead. UDAP Industries, five miles from our hotel, makes the stuff.
We seek them out.
When we pull in the driveway, Tizi says it looks closed. There are only a couple windows. To me it look wholesale. I’m determined.
Inside there are two spray-makers.
“We make it. But you can’t buy it here,” tall thin guy says.
“Do we need it in these parts?”
Tall thin looks at his colleague, all dressed in camo. Both shrug.
“You guys hike?” I ask.
Tall thin guys shakes his head. Nope.
Camo says he’s from Seattle, he hikes up there, not down here.
“You need to go to Three Bears of Alaska,” tall thin guy says.
A pair of shrugs. “That’s okay,” I say. “I got my phone. No one needs to know anything these days, right?.” They nod in agreement.
Three Bears of Alaska sells everything. Beer and wine, produce, frozen foods, meat, lawn chairs. Everything. And bear spray.
The hunting and camping guy is helpful. He shows me how to spray the spray. But I read directions anyway. Wail until the bear charging at you is 30 feet away. You’ll have about two seconds. If the beast keeps coming, keep spraying.
“The only bears I’ve seen,” he says, “are black bears. If you wave at them, they run away.”
That’s a relief.
“What you really need to watch out for are moose.”
“Especially right now. They’re been birthing. If you get between a moose and its calf, that’s a situation.”
I tell him I’ve been practicing making myself big, to which he responds with a polite snort.
“A moose is big,” he says.
“I know that.”
“About seven feet tell.”
Unfortunately, I know that.
So Tizi does not climb up on the pile of rocks. We admire them from a distance. I wonder if I should practice drawing the spray canister from its holster, like a revolver, like gunslingers did in the old west. This is the new west. Draw, baby.
We walk. I listen for bear, moose, rattlesnake, mountain lion, touching my sidearm. And I still have my whistle. That’s Plan B.
“Look at the pile of rocks,” Tizi says. “Get a shot of that.”
Take the shot. Make it count.