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I, on other hand, desperately wanted to see this bear. How many opportunities do you get in a life to see a huge black grizzly bear standing on an elk carcass? All I had to do was creep to the edge of the bank, look down 30 feet, and boom: bear sighting of a lifetime. The wildest of the wild was within my grasp.
But what if I reached the bank and the bruin was right there, climbing up after our scent? I have kids. I didn’t want to die here in this stupid swath. So after a few moments of contemplation, I reluctantly turned around and we trudged the eight miles through a foot of snow back to the cabin.
While every day in the teeming lands around Kishenehn carries the unpredictable, kinetic hum of a self-willed landscape, for every dramatic encounter there are five days filled with the kind of dynamic calm that only deep wilderness provides. Often we simply tromp to the nearby beaver kingdom, where the impossibly industrious rodents have dammed the spring that is also our water source. Their concentric dams create a terraced series of pools reminiscent of Asian rice paddies. They’ve also engineered a network of deeply worn, four-foot-wide channels through the surrounding spruce forest.
All of it—the countless dams, their Mount Rainier lodges, the snaking, grassy-banked channels—suggests an ancient beaver civilization. For untold centuries they’ve been building their beaver world here, unmolested in the farthest reaches of Kishenehn.
Whether we’re contemplating beaver kingdoms, tracking lions or dodging grizzlies, Kishenehn is always an adventure—but never more so than that night of the November blizzard when I lost the trail. As I felt my way through the snowy darkness beyond Kishenehn Creek, I eventually reached the bank of the North Fork where fresh pieces of ice flowed past my headlamp beam. Cold crept under my jacket and I contemplated the possibility of bedding down for a frigid night in my emergency bivy.