Monday, August 13, 2012

A berry and beary hike in Mount Spokane State Park

While on vacation in Spokane, I decided to take a vacation from the vacation, so to speak, and hike to the top of three mountains: Mount Kit Carson, Days Peak, and Mount Spokane.  My guidebook touted the hike as being 15 miles or so with about 3,500 feet of elevation gain. That may be why I hiked this by myself.

Colorful beetle on a pearly everlasting

Uphill, uphill, uphill...
The guidebook lied, as I got nearly 14 miles in without adding Mount Spokane to the mix. The book was right about the climbing uphill, though, but two out of three peaks is still a passing grade.

It's hard to believe we are so close to Spokane
Located near the metropolis of Spokane, this is sort of an urban hike. However, despite the proximity to Spokane, the park is surprisingly wild and untamed, probably due to the fact that most users drive up to the Mount Spokane summit and ignore the trail network. Their loss was my gain, and I enjoyed the walk through lush woods as I began the relentless climb up.

The trails are well marked and signed and eventually the vegetation went from ferny undergrowth to beargrass and huckleberry bushes under a more open forest. The huckleberries were in season and I grazed early and often and my lips and fingers were soon stained purple with delicious huckleberry juice.

The root cause of the hiker-bear encounter

After about 3.6 miles and 1500 feet of elevation gain, the trail spit me out onto a saddle on a forest road. Trails go every which way from this saddle and I headed west onto the Mount Kit Carson Trail. A short climb brought me onto a grassy ridge that I shared with some grouse walking through the grass. Or maybe they were sharing their ridge with me.

The summit of Mount Kit Carson
There were some wildfires burning in nearby Idaho and if I squinted down from the Mount Kit Carson summit, I could see some of the Spokane Valley. This would be a world-class view on a clear day.

A short backtrack from Mount Kit Carson brought me to the Day Mountain Trail and then the "fun" began. The trail descended gently through an open forest carpeted underneath with huckleberry bushes. Hikers are not the only organisms that enjoy the berry goodness, bears are wont to partake of the plump purple berries as well.

Lots of these face-high on the trail

Lots of scary creatures in the forest

As I turned a corner on the trail, I heard a commotion and saw a black wall of fur cross the trail about 10 feet in front of me. BEAR! And I was just about on the outer edge of its personal space, too, and it was certainly inside my circle of comfort! Without having to be told, my feet were moving backward as it stood up on its hind legs. It was about 6 inches shorter than me but about as wide as three Pittsburgh Steeler linebackers, and probably just as mean. I didn't get a picture of the bear as I was TOO BUSY HAVING A HEART ATTACK!!!

Woo-hoo!  (clap..clap)  Bear!
Fortunately, the bear was just as terrified as I was and it took off in the opposite direction, crashing through the forest. Legs wobbling, I had a little talk with myself about finding a new hobby but I calmed down, reasoning the immediate vicinity had just been cleared of any and all bears. For the rest of the day, though, I clapped my hands and yelled "Bear!" in a voice about 12 octaves higher than my normal pitch.

Bears notwithstanding, the path to Day Mountain sashayed to and fro through a series of beautiful and grassy meadows before arriving at the summit where the smoky views were similar to Mount Kit Carson.

View from Day Mountain

Returning once again to the road saddle, I started the steep and brutal climb up Mount Spokane but I was just about of water. I tried to find the CCC cabin near the disturbingly named Bald Knob so I could water up but failed to locate the historical structure. A post-hike review of a map of the area showed I was just about on top of it yet it remained hidden from my view in the forest.

If flowers were hair, I'd be coneflower
It was getting to be late in the afternoon, so back down I went, refilling my water bottles from a creek about halfway down. Mount Spokane will have to be conquered some other time. The only other excitement on the way down was when I startled a herd of elk which in turn startled me. I'll take that over the bear encounter any time.

For more pictures of this hike, please visit my photo album.


  1. Wow Richard it sounds like you had quite the day. Love the pictures! Sounds like the bear was a young one if it was not taller than you, but better you backed away and got the heck outta there. Their paws can be deadly if they come in contact with your body. Fay

  2. Interesting walk Richard. Luckily you didnt end up as the Bears dinner! :) That Monkshood is lovely, I have never seen it Downunder, but then I dont hike! Cheers Robyn :)