When two four-legged animals come face-to-face on a precipitous trail at a blind spot, you have the makings of a high-country rodeo. Shadow, my black Lab, let out an alarmed woof. The mounted rider in the rear yelled, "Bear!" The horse reared, the rider grabbed the pommel with both hands, and I flashed forward to a courtroom where the first question asked of me was, "Did you have your dog on a leash and under control?"
"But your honor, not all the blame should rest solely on my shoulders. Shouldn't there be some shared responsibility with the wife who mistook my Labrador retriever who weighs 80 pounds for a premature grizzly release? And what about the husband? What's a pampered, citified horse doing on Bass Creek Trail? And what about Shadow? Doesn't she have the right to let out a choked snort when confronted by an alien sighting? Why, the man had on a huge white Stetson, a scarf and a John Wayne shirt with a string of buttons in a figure seven configuration!"
I wish I could say I made it all up, but it happened. I was horrified as I watched the horse spin on the up side of the trail with the rider holding on for dear life. I walked to higher ground where the horse could see us and talked to the two riders, but the horses were in a panic and would not come up the trail. I quickly leashed Shadow and walked down the trail, and all was well. The husband was apologetic for his horse, saying the horse had been trained around dogs and shouldn't have reacted. I was feeling much relieved when he openly confessed to his share of the responsibility. It seems that he had just looked down the cliff and thought to himself, "Oh, please, God, don't let me run into anyone on this spot." Suddenly Shadow appeared, his wife yelled, "Bear!" and he spooked an already panicked horse that was suffering from altitude sickness.
Bass Creek Lake trail winds up the canyon for eight miles to the lake at an altitude rise of over 3,000 feet, according to another middle-aged hiker I met. I planned a one-night stay-over, and in retrospect I made the right decision. The lake was not at all as accommodating as Big Creek Lakes, my previous summer trek. I was too exhausted to hike to the back of the lake in search of a relatively flat 6X6 spot to pitch camp, so I joined the other two hikers and set up my camp on the level top of the earthen dam.
On the way back down I fished the creek in a beautiful park setting, but between the flies and the mosquitoes, we were punished severely for my off-trail fishing adventure. Sitting on a log in the middle of the tiny creek, I caught five small cutthroats, about the same size and the same number I had caught on the lake the previous evening. What Bass Creek lacks in fishing prospects, compared to the other creeks in the area like Kootenai Creek, it makes up for in scenery. One hour up the trail is a great picnic spot where the creek flattens out above an old timbered dam. The water is shallow, and it makes for a great day's outing for children. If you have never taken an evening stroll along one of these creeks, do so and discover the Bitterroot wilderness.