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Panorama from the outlier. Mt Fernie is the rocky point partially hidden on the right.

Five Star Summit and Fernie West Outlier
Fernie, B.C.
August 1, 2010
Distance: 11.3 km
Cumulative Elevation Gain: 824 m

Encountering an advancing grizzly bear wasn't a risk we had considered the day we climbed Five Star Summit. When Sonny, Dinah and I peered out of the window of our motel room that morning, our only concern was the weather. We couldn't see past two hundred metres because of fog, and the forecast called for a risk of thundershowers. We shelved our plans to climb Mount Hosmer and searched the Internet for a trip conducive to the forecast. When Sonny found a live cam at Island Lake Lodge depicting sunny breaks, we packed up and headed out.

At the lodge we obtained a handout that indicated several trips in the area including Five Star Summit. To reach it, we would hike up Tamarack Trail, take in a viewpoint along the way, and then reach a col adjacent to Five Star Summit. This trip would please everyone, including Dinah whose feet were sore from climbing Teepee Mountain the day before. Because of her feet, she would hike in running shoes and only to the viewpoint, a 200 m gain. Sonny and I would climb another 400 m to Five Star.

Tamarack Trail begins in a lush forest of cedars and ferns but leaves them behind when it hits a gully. After ascending the slope on the left, the trail forks: viewpoint left, Tamarack Trail right.

A five-minute hike led to the viewpoint. Although the scenery was pleasant for the effort, we knew we would get better views higher up. We retraced our steps to the junction and continued up the trail (later we learned the viewpoint trail loops back to Tamarack Trail). But for Dinah the viewpoint wasn't enough; now she was determined to do a summit despite the aching bottoms of her feet. The three of us pressed on to climb Five Star.

Five Star was left of the col on the ridge, but we were also drawn to the impressive craggy face of the unnamed peak on the right, an outlier west of Mount Fernie. Before reaching Five Star, Sonny and I decided to make the outlier our second peak of the day.

At the top of Five Star, we exchanged pleasantries with a couple, Mark and Beth. They had a room at the Island Lake Lodge and were ready to head back. Dinah's feet had as much as they could take, so she decided to join them. But on the way back Dinah and the couple separated at the viewpoint junction: the couple stopped at the viewpoint while Dinah continued back on her own. I wouldn't see Dinah again until I reached the lodge, although later I would run into an anxious Mark and Beth.

But before all that, when Mark, Beth and Dinah were still descending Five Star Summit, Sonny and I were tackling the outlier. A short trail to a viewpoint started us off but beyond that, travel was less agreeable, mostly bushwhacking. However, the effort paid off. Rising l00 m above Five Star the outlier had superior views.

After taking photos, Sonny and I headed down. I was ahead of Sonny by a couple of minutes when I ran into Mark and Beth who were waiting 500 m from the lodge. They had come across a bear and had retreated. It was their first bear encounter, so they were nervous and excited. And they didn't know what to do.

After talking to them, I learned the bear hadn't acted threateningly. It had stood up to better use its sense of sight, smell and hearing, but it's a sign of curiosity rather than aggression. It didn't sound like anything to worry about.

Mark and Beth had been waiting in an opening in the forest where the trail crosses the powerline swath. The couple joined me as I entered the forest where the trail wound through huge cedars and dense bushes. Here a bear could be hidden anywhere. We moved cautiously along the trail and after going 200 m Mark suddenly yelled, “There it is! It popped its head up!” Mark pointed to some bushes about 20 metres away, but I saw nothing. I backed up slowly, but the couple began running. I hollered, “Don't run!” They slowed down but still hurried back along the trail. Not only is it dangerous to run from a bear, it's also futile: a grizzly can run 50 kph.

I continued backing up until I was well down the trail. The couple had stopped much farther away. Then we stood there, trying to catch sight of the bear.

Meanwhile Sonny caught up to Mark and Beth. They were about 50 m behind me while in front of me, maybe 80 metres away, was the bear. It was slowly drawing closer. Bushes hid the big animal most of the time so I only caught glimpses of it, but I saw it clearly when it stood up a couple of times to observe me. Standing just dozens of metres away, it was an awesome sight! It was a young grizzly.

Eventually the bear appeared on the path in front of me less than 50 m away. It moved slowly towards me; I was certain it was either curious or I happened to be in its line of travel. I pulled out my camera. I started to use my zoom but then thought I better make this quick. In truth, I felt nervous behind the camera. I snapped the shutter and turned around.

After putting away my camera I relaxed. Then for some weird reason – and despite a grizzly coming up behind me – I paused to watch Sonny and the couple. They stood together well down the trail (which was, of course, the sensible thing to do). Sonny had his camera out and appeared to be taking a picture of me and the bear. Afterwards, in an effort to scare the bear, he whooped and then held his poles over his head and banged them together, although the sound didn't carry well in the forest. Then I started down the trail to join them.

I had only taken a few steps when Mark shouted that the bear had turned around. I looked and sure enough, the grizzly was gone. Maybe Sonny's noise scared it. Or maybe it lost interest in us. Or maybe the bear noticed I had backup.

I scanned the area where I had last seen it but the bear had disappeared. Apparently it had left. To be sure, I took out my bear spray and cautiously walked up the trail while the others stayed back. I covered about 100 m but there was no sign of the grizzly. I let the others know. After they joined me, we hiked to the lodge, babbling about the bear all the way back.

When Sonny and I caught up with Dinah at the lodge, she didn't believe we had an encounter with a grizzly, or that she had just missed running into it. As it just so happened, I had a photo of it. I pulled out my camera.

KML and GPX Tracks
Sonny's Trip Report

Tamarack Trail

Beautiful cedars along the trail

Nice, large signposts marked the way

Coming to the gully

Looking back

Ahead is the outlier that Sonny and I later climbed

Five Star Summit and the outlier are accessed from Tamarack Trail at the col

Looking back along the trail

Another view of the outlier

Left are Mama Bear, Baby Bear and Papa Bear (mouse over for a close-up)

Almost on Five Star Summit. Outlier is on the right.

Dinah, Mark and Beth on Five Star at 2014 m (a summit with a bench!)

Looking up at the outlier

Sonny makes his way up the outlier. Five Star in the background.

Nearing the summit

Sonny on the outlier. Above him, Three Sisters.

Looking down at Island Lake (mouse over for a close-up)

Big White in the centre

Hidden bear: I took this photo when Mark pointed to where he saw the bear. Only when I brought the picture up on my computer did I see it (centre, mouse over).

The grizzly came down the trail towards me

Sonny's photo

82 G/11 Fernie

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