I left around 11:30 this morning to follow the tracks up the mountain. Any doubts I had were quickly resolved; the tracks went underneath low-lying branches and in certain places the pawprints were crystal-clear. It was indeed a bear, wandering around in mid-January.
For the most part the tracks were clear. They came to one dead end, which flabbergasted me, but apparently the bear had doubled back on his own tracks at one point and gone off in a different direction. They went up to a deserted section of Wildcat Mountain known as the Lost Plateau, followed the ridgeline for awhile, and then went down the mountain on the other side. This was disheartening. I was hoping the bear’s den was somewhere between my house and the plateau; I now doubt it is. That said, when I drew near to the place I had a vague feeling of horror – it is a desolate spot, and at the ridgeline the wind was quite impressive and the trees made unaccountable sounds. (Which I attributed very quickly to a bear. The fact that it was unusually warm – almost exactly 32 degrees – made tracking the bear a little more dangerous than usual). My feet could tell when I got above the thaw – the snow was still frozen near the ridgeline.
I followed the tracks for three hours, when I turned around to head home. I had no desire to spend more than six hours out in the cold or to let the sunset catch me far away from home in the pathless wild. The bear certainly lived at least as far away as Frost Valley, perhaps even on the far wall of the valley.
On the other side of the plateau I saw a most unusual sight: a smooth track which looked like a ten-inch-diameter snake had made a path through the snow. It led from some rock ledges. It was clear enough that it was a trail which had been beaten down by repeated use. I went up to the rocks and heard some movement in there, but I couldn’t see into the crevices (no flashlight). I returned to the bear trail, which followed the other animal’s path, and figured out soon enough that the path had been created by a porcupine (porcus spinosus). He had been gnawing trees all over the place – always beeches. His trail went directly to a hemlock, which he had climbed so often the bark on one side had changed color.