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Halloween in the Sierra? Not exactly

PostPosted: Sat Oct 29, 2011 11:18 am
by balzaccom
The first pack trip that I ever took was to Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon. I was twelve years old, and went off with my older sister and her best friend, both of whom were about sixteen. We were young and adventurous, and prepared for just about anything.


Actually, we were green and a little nervous, but what could go wrong on a simple overnight trip? My pack was cleverly contrived out of a pair of my father's pants: the two legs became the shoulder straps, tied into the belt loops, and my sleeping bag and clothes went into the torso section of the pants. The two older girls also carried the food and a tent.

And in those days, we drank straight from the stream, out of our Sierra Club Cups.

We hiked about seven miles up to Paradise Valley, and managed to get there in plenty of time. We set up camp and had a pleasant evening around the campfire. Paradise Valley really seemed like paradise!

It was so peaceful...too peaceful!

Near dusk, as the sun settled behind the canyon walls and shadows reached over the forest, we began to hear a metal clanging noise--a bit like the noise of someone pounding metal tent stakes into hard ground. WE had thought we were the only people there, and yet...

We let it go on for some minutes...and the more it continued, the stranger it seemed. Ping ping ping.

We tried to find the source of the noise, but it was getting dark, and we didn't want to wander around the forest and away from our campsite. We'd seen enough horror films to know that was a bad idea. The noise stopped for a while, then started up again. Ping, ping, ping.

Now we were getting worried. We tried calling out, to make some kind of contact--but there was no answer. We called louder. Still no answer. That was weird. Ping, ping, ping.

We convinced ourselves that the person making the noise couldn't hear us, because we were close to the river, and the noise of the rushing water obliterated our voices. But we didn't really believe that.

And then the noise started getting closer. Now we knew it wasn't another camper,m pounding in tent stakes. As we discussed the matter among ourselves, we tried to imagine what was making the noise. Then we began to realize that this might be a bell attached to an animal. And what kind of animal would require a bell in a National Park?

Our best guess was a dangerous bear--one that needed to warn people of his approach.

And still the noise got closer. Ping, ping, ping.

We climbed into the tent and huddled inside, hoping that the bear would pass us by. The pinging came closer and closer to our camp. As we listened intently, the noise got closer and closer, until it was just outside the camp site. Right outside. Twenty feet away. Maybe fifteen. Right in front of the tent. Our eyes were huge as we looked at each other. What should we do?

We could take the suspense no longer. We threw open the tent and flashed our lights in the direction of the noise.

There stood beautiful stag, rather stunned by the bright lights in the night.

We watched for a minute, just to make sure that this wasn't a Dangerous Deer, and then closed up the tent and fell asleep to the sound of ping ping ping walking away in the forest.

The next morning we felt good enough to laugh about the incident.

When we returned to Road's End, we mentioned the deer to one of the rangers. He immediately asked us what color the bell had been--this was a new program to track the deer within the park. We thought the bell was either silver or blue.
He smiled indulgently, and told us that there were no silver or blue bells in the program.

hmmmph. It seemed like a stupid idea to us at the time---and I bet they don't bell stags in the parks anymore, either!

Re: Halloween in the Sierra? Not exactly

PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 8:49 pm
by rick56
Cool story, can I indulge you? I used to live in McKinleyville in Hunboldt county in the late 80s early 90s. On one short overnight backpack trip I drove North up to the Redwood Parks Headquarters just off Hwy 101 near the ocean. In order to backpack in the area of the tall trees you had to get the combination from the rangers at the headquarters, then drive up near Orick and follow a dirt road to a gate. You hopped out unlocked the gate, then drove in and locked it behind you. I'm not sure why but the rangers told me to do it. A short drive down the road was the trailhead. Now if memory serves I remember the park rangers telling me that normally they did not allow people to overnight camp along the creek/river right there by the grove of tall redwoods. But since I was alone and only staying one night they let me. The trail down to the grove was a gentle downhill of less than one mile through post card beauty, lush green just amazing. Once down at the grove I found a nice sandy spot maybe 15 or 20 feet from the gently moving stream and pitched my tent. I used dehydrated food and had watched a family in the Trinity area deal with "visitors" at night because they had carried in fresh meat. And the teenage boy did not use common sense regarding the food attracting animals. I used backpack food and filtered my water as I went. Well after some exploring and dinner I went to bed. Late that night I was awoken by a loud crack! I laid there in my tent feeling just like you and your sister and her friend wondering what kind of critter was out there? I heard several loud snaps of branches and crashing noises that night. I finally managed to collect my wits and realize that it must be one of the huge Elk known in the area crunching through the forest. I never heard a call, now that would have been cool. I fell asleep and the next morning while I made some hot chocolate I noticed fresh tracks along the stream right there by my tent...bear tracks! Some time that night as I slept and bear had walked right next to my tent checking me out. The paw prints were about 6-7 inches long so I guessed it was a small cub. But my hair stood up thinking mom could be near by? I broke camp and hiked up the trail to my car. I'm an old Army grunt so I like to be quiet when I walk, no bells, no jingling things. About halfway up the trail I came around a turn and there was a dear standing on the trail drinking not 15 feet away. I froze, slowley I tried to reach for my camera, but it saw me and in two seconds must have leaped ten feet and was gone. Now when I hike I like to keep my camera on my sternum strap close. Thanks again for your story, hope you liked mine.
Rick M
Lincoln, CA

Re: Halloween in the Sierra? Not exactly

PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2012 10:55 pm
by balzaccom

And ain't it always the case that by the time you get out the camera, the animals are gone?