JMT Day 14: Bear, bear, BEAR
JMT Day 14, August 16, 2013, Saturday
WE SAW A BEAR!!! Just as we were turning left at the Middle Fork trail junction, I spotted the back of a head, and the back of a large, black animal. My first thought was dog, but then I realized it was a bear. It was up on the left, slowly moving uphill. I stopped and pointed it to Russell, and managed to get a quick pic of its back.
Russell noted that it was full-size, so not a cub, and we looked around to see if there were any others (no). We moved down the trail past/away from it, and it kept going uphill. At one point it turned around and looked directly at us, and turned away & kept moving. As we walked forward, I spotted a doe on the hillside, completely motionless, eyes glued to the retreating bear.
No vomiting last night, so that’s good. I felt good today, though the walk was hot hot hot. My ankles were sore from yesterday’s long day.
The rest of Le Conte Canyon was pretty — meadows, and the tumbling creek. The canyon / valley we’re in now is less pretty. There appears to have been a fire some time back, and there are whole stands of white dead trees, and many areas with little cover or shade. The mountains are gorgeous as usual.
Most of the 10 mile walk was down, with 800 ft up in the last 3.5 miles. There’s a nice big camping area at the last meadow before the Golden Staircase (Deer Meadow), and we got there around 12:30 pm. There’s a nice Scottish man named Rob camped there as well — he’s been good company. Also some people on the other side of the camping area, who we haven’t talked with; one was playing a flute.
We saw 3 deer — 1 doe and 2 fawns — across the creek. How apt. This afternoon has been a really nice rest. My feet felt better already. I think this is the last night we will have to hang the food — YAY!
Feet: my R pinkie did okay with no bandage today. There’s still one angry red spot on the front and the toenail looks precarious, but it’s def doing better. I put just duct tape on the heels and that seems better — still on so far.
Body: good. happy to not have more stomach issues. only one small poop this morning. had to pee frequently. sunburn felt a bit bad — will wear pants tomorrow.
- JMT miles: 10.0 today, 145.4 total
- Total miles: 10.0 today, 174.4 total
Near Big Pete Meadow ~9360′ → Deer Meadow ~9000′
Note: There were big dark storm clouds over the pass [Mather], and we could hear thunder. It cleared up entirely around 6 pm.
Seeing a bear was one of my dreams for this trip. A friend that had hiked it the previous summer had seen a few from far off, and rangers kept warning us of aggressive park bears that would steal our food. My prior wild bear experience was limited to sitting in a car, watching as a mama black bear and pair of cubs crossed the road near Mt Baker in northern Washington. It was dark, and I didn’t get a good look. This time was very different.
The black bear looked shorter than I expected — its back barely came above the chaparral bushes. Its bulk was unmistakeable though, once I looked harder. I wanted to take more pictures, zoom in more, wait for it to look at us so I could get a better shot.
Russell played the voice of reason. “Keep walking!” he quietly insisted. My blood was up, adrenaline rushing through me — I didn’t feel frightened — and it took effort to make myself keep moving and leave the bear behind.
While the ursine sighting was thrilling, seeing the frozen deer was fascinating. For me, the bear sighting was a gift, a long-hoped-for dream to see such a magnificent creature in its natural habitat. It was something else for that doe. I have never seen any creature, human or animal, so motionless and intent on anything as she was in that moment.
The bear encounter kept us mentally occupied for the rest of the morning. We saw it right before the trail turned up Palisade Creek towards Mather Pass, and camped just a few short miles later, having been advised to tackle the upcoming switchbacks first thing in the morning by a hiker at VVR.
Finishing our target mileage before lunchtime was a new speed record for both of us, and it was great having the rest of the day to just lay about and let our feet relax. We weren’t at the 10 (miles) by 10 (am) pace I’d heard about from Appalachian Trail (AT) hikers, but we were learning our abilities, and it was exhilarating.
Or maybe that was still the WE SAW A BEAR adrenaline talking.
The thunder that afternoon was the start of a weather system that affected the remainder of our hike. Up until that point I had enjoyed blue skies, warm air, and just enough breeze to cool me off after a sweaty climb. Nature decided to up her game, though, and we were about to learn how our mental preparations and gear would support us in the face of rain, hail, and lightning.