Skyline is one of those trails that instills a subtle intimidation in your soul when you first hear people talk about it; an intimidation that screams of irresistible challenge. A few years ago when I got into hiking, I had that feeling. Being out-of-shape and just getting my hiking legs, I knew Skyline would be too physically-demanding for my rookie-self. I hike other trails. Smaller ones. Less-strenuous ones. Those without as much intimidation factor. All the while, though, I was going on progressively difficult treks — consciously and subconsciously preparing for Skyline.
If at first you don’t succeed…
The first time I went after Skyline, it was just me and my dog, Diesel. It was early on a Friday morning and the parking lot was empty when I arrived at the trailhead. At that point, my concern drew away from the physical nature of the trail and towards the recognition of a few important facts: I was in bear country, at a time of day when they are most active and moving about, and no one else was already on the trail making noise, persuading the bears to disperse. I decided to make a go at it anyway.
At the beginning of the trail, I immediately noticed the sign of bear activity: tracks at the trailhead, and just a little bit further, a tree with deep scratches (bears commonly exhibit a behavior in which they essentially use a tree as a scratching post, possibly as a way of marking their territory in warning to other bears). Still, I wanted to push forward. About a half-mile in, my normally-complacent Diesel seemed a bit on edge. He was acting much more aware of his surroundings and exhibited a certain alertness. I was a little concerned as to how he would react in a situation with a bear. Would he go on the offense and try and chase the bruin away? Would he stand by my side, possibly antagonizing an attack? Or maybe he would just take off and leave me to fend for myself (there’s a common joke for those that travel into bear country, you don’t need to be able to run fast to escape a bear attack… just faster than the slowest person you’re with). I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to find out, and when I heard some thrashing in the alders just ahead of me on the trail, I was quite sure I did not. Somewhat disappointed with myself, I turned back and called it a day.