I took one of the interns on a training mission on Siyeh Pass yesterday (Siyeh is pronounced sy-YEE, and is Blackfeet for "mad wolf" or "rabid dog" or some combination of those ideas). I was hoping to find some Jones columbine, an endemic species that only blooms very early after the snow lifts. Finding that flower alone would have made my day, but we found so much more. It's times like this when John Muir comes to mind, "In any walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks."
Because of the benefit of a lot of snow pretty low down on the trail, which continued throughout the trail, we got to look at a lot of animal tracks. We thought we found fisher tracks, we found some kind of canine tracks (too small to be a wolf, but what is a coyote doing up there?), wolverine tracks, and grizzly bear tracks.
I did find plenty of Jones columbine on the way up to the pass, which was pretty cool. Then we saw a golden eagle flying around and perch on top of the cliffs on Siyeh Mountain. When we got to the pass, a white-tailed ptarmigan was walking around close to the trail. It disappeared behind a rock, hiding in the cool shade, after we watched it from a close distance for a few minutes. It made me wonder how often they are hiding behind rocks like that and I just never noticed them.
Upon approaching the bottom of the steep section of switchbacks, I looked instinctively out into the meadows below to search for wildlife. I happened to look at the right second as two grizzly bear cubs were out playing in the snow. They chased each other, stood up and wrestled, and one slid on its behind down the slope in the snow. Then they ran off into the subalpine woods. A few minutes later, we spotted their mother in an open meadow among the trees. The cubs laid down and took a nap while she stood guard. They were about 1/4 mile from where we were sitting, but we had a perfect vantage point.
I have walked this trail at least 20 times, and this was by far the best ever. I will get to return on Saturday and take a new group of interns and new rangers on the hike to show them the ropes (I have responsibility!). Maybe that time, I will remember to put sunscreen on my ears.