By JOE CARTWRIGHT
Special to North Palm Beach Life
Photos by Joe Cartwright
The Divide Creek trail used to lead to the Divide Creek fire lookout tower – an 80-foot tall tower with a cabin on top. It had an awe-inspiring view to the south, east, and west. The Grand Tetons were also very visible, 40 – 50 miles to the south. The lookout tower and cabin on top were removed in 1991, but the trail is still a popular choice for cross-country skiers in the winter. It’s a little under 2 miles from the trail head to the end, climbing about 700 feet vertically. I have made many hikes on this trail, alone, or with others, over the years. A little over halfway up the trail there is an overlook with a beautiful view. Now that the tower is gone, there is no view at the tree-covered summit.
Once, when the tower was still there, I hiked in alone in the early summer. Snow was still in deep drifts all over the summit, and the tower was not yet manned. I noticed the outhouse for the lookout just off to the side, and thought, “Well, it’s there; might as well use it instead of the bushes.” I scraped enough snow away from the door and pulled it open.
Then I saw the bear curled up inside the outhouse. I probably made it the 40 feet to the lookout tower in about 3 steps. I went up several flights, to about 50 feet off the ground and watched the outhouse. When nothing happened, I decided that the bear was probably dead, but “probably” wasn’t safe enough to investigate further. I hiked back, checking behind me every few feet. When I got to the Old Faithful Ranger Station, I reported my findings to the rangers.
A couple of weeks later, I returned to the tower and talked to the fire lookout who was manning the location. I told him about the incident and he said that he had already been alerted about the bear. He approached the outhouse carefully, poked at the bear with a pole, and determined it definitely was dead. He grabbed the bear and pulled the carcass down the mountain, far away from his lookout post. The Park Service decided that the bear had gotten into the outhouse to hibernate, but had died when it was unable to get out in the spring for food and water. The drifting snows in this location had sealed the door shut until early summer. The inside of the outhouse was thoroughly clawed by the bear’s attempts to escape.
Another time, I had an afternoon off, so I asked a cute little blonde who was on my shift to make this hike with me. When we finished the steepest part of the climb, almost to the lookout, we sat resting on a trailside log. As we sat there, our shoulders barely touching, I had the strangest thought: “Is she the one?” This was a very strange thought for me, at that time; we barely knew each other and I rarely had thoughts that deep. Anyhow, she WAS the one: We’ve been married for over 40 years now. Maybe that’s one reason this trail is so special to me.