The path to Babyfoot Lake goes through the fire-scarred landscape of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness. The area was devastated by the 2002 Biscuit Fire, but that hasn't stopped wildlife from returning, as the author and her family learned during a camping trip this summer. - Nancy McClain

Bear scare at Babyfoot Lake

Relief washed over us as we pulled up to the Babyfoot Lake trailhead. My husband, Travais, thought I had printed out directions. I thought he had. Ever hopeful, we turned and looked at our daughter, Megan, in the back seat. No luck there, either.

The visitor center in Cave Junction was closed so we motored on to the Forest Service station. Neither forest ranger on duty could provide directions to the trailhead except to turn us around with instructions to take Eight Dollar Road approximately four miles outside of Cave Junction.

Eight Dollar Road was upon us in short order, and we turned off Redwood Highway. We began to climb higher into the Kalmiopsis Wilderness Area. The stark scenery of the Biscuit fire's legacy was eerie in its beauty. The 2002 fire destroyed most of the signs and road markers, but we managed to avoid any wrong turns and found the trailhead after approximately 15 miles on a rough and narrow gravel road.

Pulling on our packs, we readied ourselves for the moderate hike to Babyfoot Lake. Before we left, I hadn't known what to expect in this region scarred by fire. It was hauntingly beautiful. The skeletal trees have become a backdrop to new growth. We marveled at the fresh greenery and young saplings while tasting the wild raspberries. My husband and I had briefly discussed potential cougar and bear encounters, but we incorrectly assumed the burned acreage had not recovered enough to support such wildlife. The big bear print stamped in the middle of the trail and the bountiful berry bushes indicated otherwise.

At the end of the one-mile trail, we shrugged off our packs and enjoyed the scene before us. The water sparkled where the sun still reached over the high rim. Our solitude was interrupted once by a family who hiked down to fish for trout for a few hours. We turned in early and snuggled together in our new compact tent.

I woke up around midnight and sensed tension radiating from my husband's body. I quickly discerned why as loud rustling noises drew closer to our tent. He had the borrowed .22-caliber pistol out of its holster and in his lap — ready to shoot in the air to scare off any creature that ventured into our tent.

Our thoughts gravitated toward past episodes of "When Animals Attack." The chuffing, chomping and heavy paw steps quickly ruled out Bambi. The loud munching that dominated the night convinced us we were in a bear's playground and all-night buffet. We kissed the food bag good-bye. It was not high enough up in the tree to thwart a determined bear.

The phrase "flooded with fear" took on new meaning for me. My body was rigid with fright, and the fear felt like a liquid sloshing around in my stomach. Dawn could not break soon enough.

Declaring he had to heed nature's call around four in the morning, my husband unzipped the tent against my vehement protests. It was still too dark to see, though the full moon illuminated a spooky mist swirling around our campsite and the lake. The setting was straight out of a campy horror movie. He ignored me when I told him how undignified it would be if he got carried off by a bear with his pants flapping in the wind.

When daylight finally broke, we were anxious to examine our campsite for animal prints. Sure enough, bear prints — everywhere. Momma and baby bear prints. They were unnervingly close to my side of the tent.

After a survey of the area we concluded we had been unwise to pitch our tent near all the berry bushes. They surrounded our campsite. It really was a bear buffet. We were amazed our food bag was intact. After briefly enjoying the morning sun, we hoofed it out of Babyfoot Lake and saved the rim hike for another day.

That evening we researched the Internet regarding bear safety. We had done a few things correctly. The dogs were left at home, we pitched our tent away from the campfire site and food bag, we spoke in low tones, remained calm and stayed inside the tent.

Our mistakes, and there were many, included not carrying pepper spray. We should have pitched our tent away from berry bushes and animal trails to the water. Not an easy task at Babyfoot Lake.

Babyfoot Lake was our way of easing into an overnight wilderness hike lesson; it turned out to be a crash course. We cannot wait to enroll again.

Amy Van Horn and family live in Central Point.

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