It’s fitting to start this blog the morning I awaken from a dream about encountering a brown bear while hiking. Luckily, the dream let me escape with nary a scratch. Would my sister Jackie, her husband John, and I have been as lucky if we taken our intended hike? We were set to explore Keyser Brown in the Custer Gallatin National Forest, but it was not to be.

Located in a beautiful stretch of park/woods south of Red Lodge, Montana, Keyser was our destination one August morning. Often when I’m visiting, we head to the Custer National Forest in the Luther area. It’s easy to access and a nice hike with mountain views. We thought it would be good to change things up this time. Uh huh.

Parking at the trailhead, a ranger sat in her truck, along with half a dozen other vehicles scattered about. No sooner had we gotten out of the SUV to gear up than she was walking toward us. What could we have possibly done already? 

Reason for stopping us:

Problem bear.

Prognosis for an enjoyable hike:

Not good.

He had, she said, “Been swiping food right out of people’s hands.” 

Who fed him the first time, I wondered? Some person who yet again mistook a killer wild animal for a pet they could feed while ruffling his fur? The ranger went on to say they hadn’t closed the trail and wouldn’t stop us from going, but recommended that we moseyed on somewhere else.

 Since our parents hadn’t raised any fools, we reconsidered options.

Our leisurely planned hike turned into a more difficult one when we re-parked the SUV at the Silver Run Trailhead and started up.

Two miles up. Rocks and uneven terrain. I was reminded of going up on the Kalalau Trail in Kauai, minus the mud. Glad that I’d acclimated to the elevation a bit being three days into my visit, the hike still called for the usual resting spots.

John, the crazed hiker and hunter, had been over these hills … mountains … a dale or two many times, but not for years. How did he remember them so well? Cabin ruins will be there, a split in the path will be here. If we go the opposite way, there’s a huge excavated hole. Having come from that direction, a couple laboriously making their way down pondered the point of that digging right along with us.

All the while I was thinking, “Down: we have to go down this trail? Oh man, I so don’t want to do that.” Again, thinking of Kalalau.

Happily, we came to a trail sign showing the split and took the branch to the right to Ingles Creek. Not only was this route a smoother and more gradual descent, but it felt like being on the backside of the mountain we’d just climbed.

Our almost eight miles of hiking brought us in touch with one mountain biker, several solo hikers, an array of wildflowers and crossing of the same stream multiple times—with only one soggy pant leg for our efforts.

What it didn’t bring us was a bear.

Wonder if they caught that wily food thief yet? In my dream, he looked mighty stout.

Ever encounter an animal in the woods that you really didn’t want to see?

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Read: Montana’s East Rosebud–breathtaking (where’s the bear)