Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Backpacking in Hetch Hetchy: Or, Why Fallen Logs Are Nice For Sitting, Not Sleeping

Last week in the Pinterest Challenge post, I teased the story of why we have a black bear ornament on our tree. I thought today would be a good day to share that tale, so pour a cup of coffee and enjoy :)

Last year for the Hub's birthday he asked to go on a backpacking trip to celebrate. Of course I was thrilled to say yes! We love spending time backpacking and don't get to do enough of it - sadly we've averaged only one backpacking trip per year since we were married. But when we do it, it's amazing. The scenery, being away from all concept of time and techonology....walking to the point of exhaustion and beyond...we love it.

We decided on Hetch Hetchy because it would be more secluded than Yosemite but still have great views. We finally arrived at about 3pm and chose a trail - one so rarely used and secluded that it's "free camping" which means you can set up your tent anywhere there is a clearing (as long as you are 100 yards from any water sources). It was a free weekend, so all we had to pay for was $15 to rent a bear cannister. We crammed all our food into it and headed down the trail. Which very quickly became UP the trail. Up and up and up. And up some more. Since we were getting such a late start and wanted to make 8-9 miles before setting up camp, we were hoofing it. But the trail continued to get steeper and steeper as we hiked toward the crest of the ridge which surrounds the reservoir - trust me, it's much farther away than you would guess. We rarely rested as time was not on our side. Finally about an hour after we reached a point of physical exhaustion I've never been to before or since, we saw hikers descending. We asked how much longer until we reached the hidden lake (our - or really my - goal) and they reassured us it was only a 1.5 miles ahead. At this point the sun was setting and dusk was already upon us. We hiked another 15 minutes and came to a relatively flat clearing. There was a large boulder with four or five fallen logs strewn about. We decided to camp there - we could sit and rest on one of the logs and eat, and get our tent up before it was pitch dark. And that's what we did. We carried our bear canister 200 feet away from where we were sleeping and left it in the open so it could roll freely (if you wedge it against anything the bears will use that as leverage to pry it open - sneaky buggers). We each pulled out our knives so they would be accessible just in case. I've read too many Reader's Digest "Bear/Cougar/Shark/Alligator Mauls Girl - But She Lived to Tell the Tale" to not come prepared with our longest blade - which is only 4 inches, but it made me feel better. Then the Hubs pulled out his knife...or should I say letter opener. Seriously, it was a mere inch long blade IF THAT. I'm not sure what he was planning to do with it if we were attacked by a man-eating bear, but to each his own. Perhaps I should have prepped him by making him read some of those articles.

We fell asleep. But within hours were awakened by a snuffling sound. Then more snuffling sounds. Then a ripping and pawing sound. Because what is in fallen logs that bears absolutely love? Fat juicy grubs. Yes. We had inadvertently set up our camp right in the middle of a bear feeding ground. We could hear more and more bears arriving. It seemed like there were at least three or four of them pawing and scraping, sometimes yipping at each other. We lay very still for hours. Occasionally a bear would meander toward our tent and sniff it. Finally I was so exhausted I fell into a fitful sleep. But each time I would adjust my position on the hard ground, my sleeping bag (made from that super noisy material all backpacking bags are made from) would rustle noisily. Which got the bears attention - I imagine I sounded suspiciously like a rodent in the grass. Immediately a bear or two would lumber over and begin nosing at the tent. This repeated itself innumerable times throughout the night as the Hubs lay there wide awake. I imagine that, Readers Digest or no, several of those mauling scenarios were running through his mind. I however slept on, completely unaware.

Finally the sun began to peak over the ridge at 4:30am. I was awake by now, listening to the last remaining bears disinterestedly pawing at the logs. We heard two bears pad over to our tent. Suddenly, as the first ray of sun hit the top of our tent, the outline of a bear standing on its rear legs became visible, as if it was trying to peer into the top of our tent. Never have we been so still or held our breath for so long. After what felt like hours, the bears left. When all was quiet for a good ten minutes, we warily peeked out. They were gone.

All in all, it was a glorious trip. And as all ended well, it left us with quite the story and a valuable life lesson: Camp far away from fallen logs.


No comments:

Post a Comment