Health & Spirit

Northland woman recalls a life of outdoor adventures

By Sam Cook, Duluth News Tribune on

Published in Women's News

The grizzly was coming, and there was nothing Kathy Anderson could do about it. She had surprised the big sow when she and her husband, Bob, were backpacking in Glacier National Park many years ago.

Now 77, Anderson was recalling her life in the outdoors from her apartment at the Edgewood Vista senior community in Hermantown.

"I was hiking along a cliff, and I came around a corner, and here's a bear," Anderson said. "She was on one side of the trail, and her three cubs were on the other side. She wanted to come across the trail to those cubs."

Anderson was on that trail. Her husband, who had stopped at a creek to get water, was out of sight behind her. That's when the grizzly charged the first time.

"She charged me three times," Anderson said. "I never heard such an awful sound coming from an animal. I didn't move a muscle."

She had grown up on a small farm near Two Harbors, and she remembered the way her mom and dad would talk to the horses and cows to calm them. She thought that might work on the agitated sow.

"I started talking to her," Anderson said. "I think that's what saved my life. It was the most beautiful sight -- blue sky and golden grass and that grizzly sow and those cubs, with their fur glistening in the sun. I didn't really panic. I wasn't afraid."

Fortunately, her strategy worked on the sow.

"She didn't come back after the third charge. She took her cubs and went up the trail," Anderson said. "The thing is, I wouldn't have missed it for the world."

Still, the encounter haunted her. To reach their campsite, she and Bob had to continue hiking up the same trail the bears had taken.

"I didn't sleep that night," Anderson said.

The gift of reading

When she was a young girl, Anderson always would look forward to the spring visits from her aunt, who taught in a one-room school on Hare Lake near Finland. Her aunt and uncle were trappers as well as teachers, and they would go to Duluth each spring to sell their furs. Anderson's aunt would buy books at Goodwill, then stop in Two Harbors and leave several of them with Anderson. The books, about Alaska and the North, kindled Anderson's fascination with distant places.

"My aunt was instrumental," Anderson said. "I grew up with these books about the North. I think that's where it began."

After high school, she married Bob, a salesman with Graybar Electric. The two would often go north to the canoe country, which would later become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. They'd camp and fish.

"We'd always try to find a lake we hadn't been to before. We'd go bushwhacking a portage. Maybe you'd get to the lake, or maybe you didn't," she said.

Anderson wanted to work in natural resources, but there were few opportunities for women in that field then. She became a stenographer and spent most of her career with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Early on, she worked for conservation officers and others at the DNR's Grand Rapids offices. Later, she and Bob were able to return to the North Shore, where Kathy worked the desk at Gooseberry Falls State Park.

"She learned so much and always wanted to share that with people," said former park manager Paul Sundberg of Grand Marais. "She impacted the lives of so many people who were on their way up the shore. I can't tell you how many times I heard people say, 'I never knew that.' "

Kathy and Bob had two children, Marcia and Jeff. As soon as the kids were old enough, the couple began taking them west to hike in the mountains.

"It was great fun. It made me love the mountains," said Marcia, who now lives in Anchorage, Alaska. "We never had any fear of strangers. ... We'd go play up there on the Continental Divide. We'd go explore glaciers and caves. And fish, constantly fish."

The family would backpack six to 12 miles a day, Kathy Anderson said, camping each night.


"We spent a lot of time in the Beartooth Mountains near Red Lodge (Mont.), the Absaroka Range," Anderson said. "I loved the mountains. I loved backpacking. You could get to the high country."

Love of the North

Sitting in her apartment as she told her stories, Anderson was surrounded by books and artifacts of the North. A caribou antler rested on a table, a memento from Fort McPherson on the Peel River in Canada's Northwest Territories. Sealskin and moosehide mukluks hung on a wall, along with moccasins and gauntlet mitts bearing the ornate beadwork of native people. There were birch bark baskets, soapstone carvings, a polar-bear stained glass hanging and a print of musk ox.

"I've always really loved the North," Anderson said. "I think I have a compass in me that points north."

Bob died in 2003 when he and Kathy were camping in South Dakota. They were on their way to Colorado to visit their son. Bob suffered a stroke and died three days later. Tears came as Kathy told the story. She dabbed at them with a Kleenex.

They had shared a wonderful life in the outdoors. In their later years, other couples joined them for long snowmobile rides with Bob in the lead.

"We called it the 'Follow Bob Club,' " Anderson said.

Buck rides shotgun

She and Bob had twice driven to Alaska with their camper, and Kathy drove her Ford Taurus to Alaska alone after she retired. Before she left, she went to a Park Point garage sale, where she bought a mannequin. He was missing part of one arm, but that wasn't a problem.

Anderson dressed the mannequin in blue jeans, a shirt and suspenders. She put a cowboy hat on his head. She plopped him in the passenger seat of the Taurus, put a box of maps in his lap and headed north.

"I called him 'Buck,' " she said. "I paid a dollar for him."

Buck warded off any potential problems and drew a lot of comments.

"There was a woman at customs when I was coming out of the Yukon who said, 'That's the best idea I've ever seen,' " Anderson said. "I've still got him. I'm hoping to take him on another trip someday."

Slowed by a stroke two years ago, Anderson's traveling days have been limited. Marcia has come down from Alaska to stay with her mom for months at a time, and Anderson recently sold her Two Harbors home to move into Edgewood Vista.

"I don't like being 77, but I can handle it," she said. "I was doing pretty good. Then I had a stroke. That limits you. You don't make a conscious decision to let go."

But she insists her days in the outdoors aren't all behind her.

"I'm still not done," she said. "I have some ideas. I know what I can do."

(c)2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)

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