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Posts Tagged ‘Bear’

My alarm went off at 3:30am.  I hit snooze.  The moon, however, had other plans.  Bright and full, it felt like someone stood above my tent with a head lamp.  My alarm went off at 3:40am.  This time I got up, stumbling out of my tent and filled a bowl with granola and almond milk.  As I munched, I pondered the map again.  I wandered over to the area in the dirt where a local rancher sketched another map in the dirt.  He wandered over around 8pm on a four wheeler with two dogs running behind.  I politely declined his offer of firewood telling him I planned to wake up early and hike up Sleeping Indian.  The locals all refer to the mountain as Sleeping Indian because from a lateral view, you can see a naturally carved headdress, a nose, then arms folded over the chest, then the belly down to the knees.  On a map, the summit says “Sheep Mountain” instead due to the amount of bighorn sheep in the area.  He told me to ignore the trail head and hike right next to his fence.  He mentioned that a lot of people get lost and end up hiking up East Minor Creek instead of the ridge.  His map, sketched into the dirt told me not to take the first left or the second left, but the third.

As I finished my granola, I switched the batteries in my headlamp.  While the moon helped significantly, I still would need the headlamp for the dense conifer areas.  Throwing my pack on, I walked over to the fence and began following it at 4am.  Knowing a bear had become too accustomed to humans at a nearby lake, I scanned my surroundings extra carefully.  I found the first left the rancher told me not to take.  That one, I could have figured out having not crossed two creeks yet.

The trail went into a dense conifer section with the fence a little further away and met up with the forest service trail.  Crrrrruuuuunch! EYEBALLS.  I froze, hand on my bear spray.  I watched the eyeballs and the eyeballs watched me, glaring in the light of my headlamp.  It sounded like a deer and the eyeballs were about the height of a deer.  We watched each other for another minute, then I slowly began to pass it.  Not something I felt like thinking about at 4:15 in the morning, but now I felt fully awake.

I hiked on and started to hike down toward the riparian area around East Minor Creek.  I paused noting the loudness of the creek, the thick willows, and the Gros Ventre mud.  The loud creek could muffle the sound of wildlife and the willows could obscure wildlife, not to mention that the riparian areas usually have the most wildlife.  Now, Gros Ventre mud has a mind of its own.  It has the power to stick to your feet like nothing else I have ever encountered.

I proceeded slowly, one hand holding my hiking poles and the other on my bear spray.  No eyeballs.  A log conveniently laid across the creek just like the old rancher said on his map drawn in the dirt.  The trail went up and over a tiny ridge.  On one of the switchbacks, a trail shot off to the left again like the rancher had said.  I figured if people get lost, they probably took that trail because East Minor Creek had two braids.

I continued and plunged down into the second riparian area around West Minor Creek.  The vegetation seemed thicker around this creek and I hiked slowly.  The Gros Ventre Mud became thicker and mushier.  After the creek, the trail showed no human footprints — only ungulate footprints (moose, elk, deer).  Great.  Still no more eyeballs.

I went upward again and crossed a very small creek.  I still saw no human footprints.  Then right around where I thought the junction should take off, the trail forked.  No signs.  I decided to follow the one that I thought would go to the lake for a few minutes to make sure I needed to go the opposite way.  When I saw the swamp and the mud became even thicker, I knew to go back and take the other fork.  On the way back, fifteen feet from the fork on the Grizzly Lake side, I saw two signs bolted to a tree.

From the fork, the trail went steeply upward along a very slim ridge.  I felt better in the thick conifers away from the water.  At least there, I could hear better.  About three quarters of a mile up, I crossed into the Gros Ventre Wilderness.  Not long after, I found a viewpoint where I could see the nose of Sleeping Indian as well as the sunrise to the east.  I sat down and watched the sunrise while eating a good old cliff bar.  My watch said I had climbed about 1000 feet already – only 3200 vertical feet to go!

I continued down the trail and the ridge slowly became wider and wider.  The conifers began to give way to large meadows covered in wildflowers: Indian Paintbrush, Harebells, Brown-Eyed Susans, Canadian Thistles, and so many more.  I could tell that water flowed down the trail because it indented in the middle.  Meadow after meadow, I finally made my way up to the pyramid shaped cairn marking the descent to Blue Minor Lake.  I stopped there and ate quite a large helping of cashews while I examined the map.  The trail stopped at the lake, but one of our faculty at TSS had provided me with beta on how to proceed from exactly where I sat.

“Don’t go down to the lake” he said, “just continue to follow that ridge and you’ll find a climber’s trail that goes up to the knees of Sleeping Indian.  From the knees, you can make your way up to the belly, then onto the arms.  You probably do not want to go adventuring on the nose; its very unstable scree and messy over there.”

Blue Minor Lake

Blue Minor Lake

The lake shown a brilliant blue and I could see the arms of Sleeping Indian above it. I saw no climber’s trail from there, but went where I thought I would put a trail to follow the ridge back up.  Low and behold, about two minutes later, I saw three rocks stacked up and a rough climber’s trail.  How convenient!

As the wildflowers increased, I watched the lake.  Then, I heard the very distinct sound of a red-tailed hawk.  Stopping, I searched the skies above, only to find it gliding below me, its orange-red tail glistening in the sun.  I have never stood above a red tail hawk before and took in every minute of it.

Soon, I hit the end of the ridge I walked and went onto the knees of Sleeping Indian where I heard something else I did not expect: running water!  A divot in the long ridge that made up the body of the Sleeping Indian had a stream in it!  Some pink snow fed the stream.  I just had 1,200 more vertical feet!

The climber’s trail seemed to end there.  I picked a path with the most rocks to walk on and made my way toward the arms.  Here and there a cairn would pop up with about 20 feet of something resembling a trail, but then they always ended.  I had a clear sight line to the arms, so I just proceeded up there.

The arms of the Sleeping Indian reminded me of a lot of peaks in Colorado.  The end inevitably became much steeper and some sort of path cut through the talus and winded its way up to the summit.  The last push!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Summit photo toward the Tetons in my Teva Sandals!

Reaching the top, I had sweeping views of the Gros Ventres, the Tetons, the Jackson Hole valley, Jackson peak, Mt. Leidy, and so much more.  I dutifully took lots of pictures and scarfed up a bagel with peanut butter and honey.  At only 10:30am, I had already hiked 11 miles and 4,200 ft of elevation.  Not too shabby!

After a solid break on top, I reversed the route.  I ran into a father daughter team who had camped at Blue Minor Lake the night before and went up to the summit in the morning.  Other than that, I ran into no one until I got down toward West Minor Creek.  There, a group of five people with large packs passed me.

“Did you go up Sleeping Indian?” one asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, “It’s amazing!”

“In a day?” another asked.

“Yeah…” I said.  After all, my watch only read 3pm.

“You know,” one started also looking at her watch, “Most people do it as an overnight backpack via this route.”

“Huh.  It was a good long day,” I said as we finished passing each other.

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

View from the summit of Sleeping Indian toward the Gros Ventres

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I got dropped off at the Etna Brewery with the trail runners Ben and Mark where Harry and Allie found me.  We had some food and beer, then Harry drove Allie, Inspector Gadget, and me up to Happy Camp, CA.  Yes, it is an actual town…not a children’s camp.  It was filled with an odd mix of old hippies, tweekers, and forest service types, the last of which had expanded greatly due to the fires.

We got showers, then drove to a spot to camp near-ish to where we had to be in the morning.  Harry had managed to swing us into a volunteer trip for the forest service in which we go rafting and then do a wee bit of work for them: in this case, we tarped over a chunk of an invasive species.  Not hard.

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I had an inflatable kayak to go down the river in which turned incredibly fast and self-drained.  We went down the Klamath River for the day, relaxing, picking up trash, floating, and enjoying the coolness of the river instead of the 100 degree plus heat of the valley.  We picked huge blackberries and attempted to stay out of the fire bucket that helicopters were dipping into the river next to us to get water to dump on the fire.  They were literally right there, no more than 100 feet from us making a three helicopter loop, dumping the water on the burning ridge above us, which happened to be the PCT.

They got us back to Etna where we got dropped off at the hiker hut.  The town of Etna had become something of a small vortex and hikers seemed to gather and stay.  It seemed to have everything within a short distance: a cheap place to stay, a grocery store, the post office, a bar, a brewery, and a thrift store.  When we got there, we found Hop-a-long, Trooper, Navi, Extra Credit, Cactus, Trip, Hollywood, Zepher, E.D., Scrub Rat, Doe Eyes, Spins, and Baboon.

Way later than planned, Hop-a-long, Trooper, and I got a ride up with Still Phil, one of the Indiana Boys who had gotten off trail to go back to school.  Doe Eyes and Scrub Rat got a ride at the same time in a 1977 RV with a couple who does a Scott Valley podcast of local news.

We all went up trail for varying distances just to not camp right next to the road.  Hop-a-long and I stopped first at a small campsite because both of us wanted to cook dinner with a wee bit of daylight left.  Chances of thunderstorms were high that night and the crazy cloud patterns clearly suggested an entertaining night.  A warning had flashed across my phone before we left town to watch carefully for lightening fires.  Great.  More fires.  The whole damn west coast is burning!

A woman came up right after dark with no lights and two horses who freaked me out for a moment.  I just heard the big animal noise coming toward us, turned my bright light on and she identified herself.  At least it wasn’t a bear, I thought.

That night wasn’t actually bad.  I saw one bolt of lightning quite far away and it rained for a maximum of 10 minutes, or just enough to wake me up to make sure the tarp would keep me dry and not blow away.

In the morning, we started at a decent time and passed Doe Eyes and Scrub Rat’s tent in an amazingly small spot about half an hour later. Of course, there were much better spots about a tenth of a mile later, but that’s how the trail works.

About seven miles of that section was this really annoying rocky stretch with sharp ups and downs, the rest was pretty cruise-able.  Right at the top of the last sharp bump, Hop-a-long and I took a break and up walked Trooper who we thought was ahead of us.  He had a very entertaining story.  It went along the lines of this:

“So, I camp up at the first water and right as I’m going to bed, I heard a large animal in the bushes.  I picked up a rock and threw it over there and a mother fuckin’ bear barreled downhill.  Sounded like a 300 pound boulder rolling downhill.  Then, I wake up to noises, I pick up a rock and shine my bright light and it’s three mother fuckin’ deer.  Not long after, the mother fuckin’ rain started, so I got up and set up my mother fuckin’ tent, got in, then it stopped!  Like someone just flipped a mother fuckin’ switch!  I fell back to sleep only to wake up to more mother fuckin’ noises.  I pick up a rock and the same mother fuckin’ bear is over there!”  Trooper recounted with full arm gestures.

“That’s an impressive amount of ‘fucks’ you got in that story,” I laughed.

“I was fuckin’ pissed!” Trooper said, not laughing.  “I got up at 7:30am, but ended up falling back to sleep until 11:40am and left at noon.”

We hiked awhile longer and ate dinner by a locked old forest service cabin.  While we ate, we saw kids out of no where and we asked where the road was because that many kids that young did not come in that far.  After asking several times, we discovered a road 4.5 miles away by an easy side trail.  Two forest service types came over to chat as well for a bit.

When we finished dinner, we set out to climb up and over another ridge to camp near Paradise Lake.  The trail became fairly overgrown for that stretch and I cursed Yogi’s guidebook which told me the overgrown trail would be over after section o.  The only other notable thing we saw were the goat people the forest service people told us about camped right on top of the ridge.  With the wind raging, they seemed to need a fairly large campfire, for what, I’m not sure.  Let’s think about this a minute.  Windy ridge.  No near water source.  Extra dry conditions. Large fire.  Not smart dude.

We found decent camping and passed out down by the lake outlet after I almost stepped on an extremely large toad.

The trail only had one more climb before it took a slow, long descent into Seiad Valley, filled with poison oak.  It’s hard to watch for it when your body wants to barrel downhill toward beer.  Before I gave into listening to music, I heard a large animal noise only to look over up the hill at the biggest black bear I’ve ever seen about 30 feet away from me.  It quickly ran away, up the hill, fast for what seemed like a 400 pound, musky smelling bear.  It stopped at the top of the hill and looked back at me for a moment before running over the other side.

I put on some music and cruised downhill trying to avoid the poison oak as best as I could.  At the bottom, we hit a dirt road on which we had to walk almost three miles down to the Klamath River, then a paved road around to the bridge and into Seiad Valley.  Hop-a-long and I had a brilliant beyond brilliant plan to cut off the paved section by swimming across the river while floating our packs on our sleeping pads.  Since I had floated down the river already, I knew there were calm spots and super shallow spots, but the terrain shot our plan down.  From the road, a 40 drop through poison oak and blackberry bushes separated us from the river.  We chose not getting poison oak, walked around and complained about the pavement.

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When we walked into “town” we discovered everything was right in one spot.  The post office, the store, and the cafe were in one building and the hiker friendly RV park run by Bruce, wearing a Dead shirt, was immediately next to it.  That was town.  We camped at the RV park for $10 and got some tasty beverages at the store before it closed at 9pm.

We decided to leave figuring out the fire detour for the morrow.

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Setting out from Burney Falls alone was super weird because Hop-a-long and Inspector Gadget were ahead and Dead Animal had to get off trail, but within 6 miles, I ran into the crew that had chilled and loitered at the store with me as well as Spins and Baboon who I hadn’t seen in about 1000 miles.

After cooking dinner with that crew, I hiked just under 5 miles further uphill to the next water and camped there.  I threw down right next to the trail and heard Dancing Feet and Not-so-bad talking in the only actual campsite there.

I started flying since I wanted to make a college buddy’s birthday at the Etna Brewery.  My plan was to wake up at 4:30am and hike as long as possible to pull a series of 27-30 mile days til Etna.  That meant morning night hiking.  Woohoo. Hmmm.

That entire morning, I would have been better off with a machete than trekking poles, it was so overgrown.  Poison Oak also grew precariously underneath the bigger bushes to bash through.  On top of that, cob webs began to encase me since I was the first person up and going.  I pulled the waving a trekking pole up and down in front of me.

All of a sudden, I saw something in the middle of the trail.  It turned out to be Scooter who had crashed there for lack of a better start and sat up bolt upright.

That whole mid morning to late afternoon the trail passed through lots of logging territory. This destroyed much of the shade and made our water more difficult to find since the sources were few and far between and down random unmarked logging roads.  Luckily, someone had written “H2O” with an arrow in sticks at the correct ones.

At my lunch break, Scooter caught up and ended up hiking with me the whole afternoon.  We ended up camping in the middle of the trail again after two large, bright meteors flashed overhead and we stopped and stared at the sky in the clearing.  That night I saw several more from the incoming meteor shower.

In the morning, we morning night hiked past Dazzle doing the same thing and all he said was, “Man, the days keep getting shorter when we need them longer!”

At the next water, we ran into a long section hiker Janet who was also vegan.  Then we scurried off and down to the icy McCloud River where we went for a super refreshing swim and laundry.  After a two hour break from the suffocating heat, we went back up the other side of the valley and over the top.  We stopped and ate dinner with Janet and then began hiking a few miles more.

Thru-hikers tend to have this night hiking habit of having their headlamps ready and on their heads, but won’t turn them on until they start stumbling and tripping over things.  This was one of those times.  It had gotten dark, but we weren’t stumbling yet.  That is, until SCURRY SCURRY SCURRY.

Startled, we immediately flipped the headlights on and in the direction of the scurrying down hill.  We could tell it was two or three animals.  It definitely wasn’t a bear; it wasn’t loud enough.  It definitely wasn’t a deer; the sound wasn’t bouncy and the eyes that stared back at us were different.  It definitely wasn’t coyotes; we hadn’t seen any of their scat and they run further away.  Then Scooter moved from side to side to make his headlamp move and the eyes followed the light.  We caught the faint outline of a mountain lion cub.  Ten feet further, we saw the other two and their tracks in the trail.  Ohhhhhh shit…where is momma??  We heard something above us and we mooooved out of there right quick and hiked fast to Squaw Creek where we ran into Kristo and Heehaw who saw a bear bigger than them that day.  That explained the huge amount of bear scat in the middle of the trail.

The next morning, I got up super early again and made 17 miles into Dunsmuir by 12:30pm.  The trail pulled a few of those large obnoxious switchbacks that added at least 3 miles onto the trail to keep the grade down.

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