By JOE CARTWRIGHT
Special to North Palm Beach Life
Photos by Joe Cartwright
For many years, I had heard about the trail to the Pelican Cone Fire Lookout. At 34 miles round trip from the trail head, this was an imposing amount of hiking to tackle in only one day off. I was able to arrange my work shifts so that, lined up, I had an evening off, a full day off, then a long morning off. I allowed myself two nights on the trail (permits required for both nights) and hit the trail.
I was only 5-6 miles down the trail when i passed three hikers going the other way. They told me to go on very carefully, because they had seen a female grizzly with a cub just a short distance ahead of me. On any given day, I’m hardly a quiet hiker, but I really cranked up the noise as I slowly, carefully proceeded. My goal was to proceed to my night’s campsite sounding as much as possible like a portable Grand Funk Railroad concert. Well, something must have worked: there were no bears ahead when I got there. I did have an uneventful night and woke up early to prepare for the trip up to the lookout.
I hoisted my backpack high into a tree and took off to the fire lookout, carrying only a day pack with my food, water and camera. Pelican Cone is not an impressively high peak: At 9,650 feet, other mountains are higher, but the view is still awe-inspiring. There are no trees anywhere near, so the view is unobstructed. I did see a golden eagle soaring just above my trail at one point.
When I reached the lookout, I had a little while to chat with the man on duty. He said that in a given summer, he would expect to see half dozen visitors, or fewer. The lookout was not a tower, but was only a cabin perched on the bald mountain top. Since it is a fire lookout, glass windows wrap completely around the small building.
I told him about my “near-grizzly encounter” and he said, yes, the whole area was rich bear habitat. He told me that he had awakened one morning to find himself face-to-face with a female grizzly and two cubs on the other side of the glass, eight inches from his face. They were just sitting there, looking at him through the window. He closed his eyes, waited, and then looked again. They were still there. He closed his eyes again and left them shut for a few minutes. When he opened his eyes again, the bears were gone.
He said that he had heard that bears couldn’t stand the smell of coffee grounds, so he began dumping his coffee grounds around the perimeter of the cabin every day. Since then, he said, he hadn’t had any more ursine visits. I can personally vouch for this method. I have been dumping coffee grounds outside around my house for years and have never seen any bears in the area. Living in a subdivision just outside Houston might also have something to do with it, but I’m not taking any chances.
My return trip back to my car went very quickly – it was downhill all the way and I didn’t need to spend another night on the trail. I got back to the dorm worn out, and slept in the next morning before work.