Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bears and Pigs

Just left Yosemite. I entered Yosemite via the eastern entrance. Most visitors enter the park via Yosemite Valley, which is a western entrance. Yosemite Valley is the most visited part of the park, but it's only about 5% of the total park area. My plan was to backpack across the park from the eastern entrance to Yosemite Valley, then take a couple of days to see the valley's sights. I picked up my bear resistant container and a wilderness permit at one of the park offices. I immediately named my container "the pig" since it was heavy and I was going to eat it's contents. I filled it with a week's worth of food and started walking.

My first impression of Yosemite was that it gets a lot of visitors. Even on a weekday in the backcountry of the park you can come across a lot of people. Many trails look heavily used. If you're on a popular backcountry trail you may be sharing the good campsites with 100 other people. Supposedly I was visiting during the off season, so it must be even more crowded during the peak summer season. The closer I got to the valley the more people I saw. These were day hikers who had entered the park via the Yosemite Valley entrance. At some point I started feeling like I was in Los Angeles. I remember seeing guys that looked like gangsters from south central LA hiking up a beautiful canyon with a tall waterfall. It felt even more like LA when I got to valley floor and hopped on the free park bus. It looked and felt like a city bus, but people were dressed a little differently than you would see in a city bus. I remember hearing that Yosemite had begun offering the free bus service within the valley to combat smog from visitor's vehicles which was ruining the views. Since I had left the Buffalo at the east entrance, and my feet were tired, the bus service proved handy for my explorations of the valley.

The valley itself is a dramatic landscape of thousand foot cliffs, waterfalls, big trees, and beautiful meadows. I didn't even try to take photos that would do justice to the place. It seemed like a futile endeavor. The first day I used the bus to visit various parts of the valley. I learned at the visitor's center that the word "Yosemite" means "Those who kill." I wondered who or what "those" referred to and who they killed. The second day I rented a bike (which seemed to have become a popular way to travel in the valley) and day hiked a bit. That afternoon, while packing up, I saw a bear. I was in the backpacker's camp in the valley at the time. My belongings were sitting on picnic a table. I had just put the pig in my backpack. When I first saw the bear he was some distance away, but moving in my direction. I managed to get a couple of photos of him before my brain became too occupied with other matters. I was standing between the bear and the picnic table. I was surprised at how close he got to me before stopping and staring at me. It was close enough for me to see how big he was and to notice his long dagger like claws. I quickly realized that he could do a lot of damage to me. I wasn't sure what I should do, so I swung around to the other side of the table. The bear was now on the opposite side of the table from me. He started moving towards my orange snack bag on one end of the table. I quickly snatched it from right in front of him, then retreated a bit in case he tried to attack me. The bear then went for the backpack. He pushed it over and started looking for a way to get to the pig. I didn't want him to destroy my pack, but I still wasn't sure what to do. Fortunately there was another guy in the camp behind me. I asked him if he knew what I should do. He said to spread out my arms and make loud noises while moving closer. So that's what I did. It started to work, then the guy behind me joined in, and it worked even better. The bear gave out a loud snort then ran off into the forest. The pack had suffered only minor scratches and a wet spot where the bear's snot had landed. Later I learned that these bears can weigh up to 350 pounds and lift three times their own weight.

Having survived the bear encounter, I made my way to the bus stop. I was planning on taking a regional bus back to the east entrance of the park. It was something like $8 for the two hour trip. I got back to the Buffalo late. After a good night's sleep I decided to head out for another trip into the Yosemite backcountry. This time I was going to do some cross-country hiking in less popular areas of the park. I decided to do this trip thin. I didn't bring any food at all, which also meant I had no need for a stove, fuel, bear canister, or cookware. It saved a lot of weight. I headed off again. It had gotten colder and cloudier. Up to this point I'd had clear sunny skies every day. There were less people, and when I headed cross-country there were no people. I spent a couple of days checking out high alpine lakes. There were many of them at the higher elevations. On what became my last day out it started snowing. I had found a wonderful shelter underneath a huge boulder that was near a good water source. Staying dry and warm were not going to be a problem. Even with no food I could easily stay out for many days. However, hanging out under a boulder for a whole day or more didn't seem terribly entertaining, so I headed down. By the time I got back to the Buffalo it had gotten nastier and I was glad I hadn't stayed out longer. Soon enough I was making my way across the sunny, dry deserts of Nevada.

Right now I'm in southwestern Utah, a couple of hours northeast of Las Vegas. My plans are to continue east through southern Utah, eventually crossing into southwestern Colorado. While there I'm planning on visiting Mesa Verde National Park. I just spoke at length with my younger sister Nina and decided that I should expedite my trip a bit. Potentially I could arrive at Texas City in a week or so.

Photos from the Yosemite leg of the trip are here. Unfortunately I forgot to bring the camera on my second outing in Yosemite.

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