Monday, August 20, 2012

Day Five: Sierra City and Ursine Friends….

I didn’t even think about the bear footprint I saw until the next morning. I had collapsed into a coma in my tent; I left the food in my backpack just a few feet away from my tent. Bear, obviously, are in the area but I was lucky: no ursine visitors during the night.
It is only four miles to Highway 49 and, according to the map there is a short cut to Sierra City. Again, I skip coffee, drink water and pack up my tent and sleeping bag. It is early and I am anxious to get to Sierra City to call Joni to let her know I am okay. I know she is worried about me.

I heave the pack on my back and begin the walk to Sierra City. It is a delightful walk. Cool. Refreshing. Easy. Much needed.

But the adventure isn’t quite over yet.

I am hiking a very narrow drainage, v shaped canyon. The side walls are steep and relatively narrow. I come around a corner in this drainage and there, maybe forty feet ahead of me, is a female sow bear with one cub behind her. The sow has a beautiful cinnamon color to her.

They are walking the Pacific Crest Trail too.

Now I am carrying lots of smelly trash in my backpack. I have salmon and spam wrappers. In addition, I have around ten pounds of food in my pack. I freeze when I see them. Only one cub? Is there another cub nearby?  Am I between the sow and another cub? And why doesn’t this bear acknowledge that I’m here? Should I make a noise and get the bear’s attention? Should I stay quiet?

I do try and get my camera out of my pocket. And then I start to think that making any movement is not a good idea. I wait for the bear and her cub to leave the trail and head to the creek. I notice the huge paws on the mama bear as she leaves me behind.

The drainage is only fifty to sixty feet wide. That bear is down by the water. How long should I wait before resuming this hike? Again, should I make noise? I elect to wait for a few, very long, minutes and then scurry ahead on the trail as fast as possible. I look over my shoulder as I go through the section to see if I am about to become Bear Chow. One might say that I make record time the rest of the way to Sierra City.

At long last I turn off from the trail and take a short cut through Wild Plum Campground. From there a pickup truck stops and offers me a ride into town. I’d hate to have this good man’s generosity be rejected by turning him down, so I accept the ride. The gentleman who picks me up just happens to own The Red Moose in Sierra City. This is the place where all the hikers stop as they pass by on the PCT. Robert, the owner, has an “Obummer” bumper sticker; we don’t share the same politics; we do share a love for the PCT.

The owner tells me that I am welcome to camp in his backyard as long as I want to. He offers me a free shower. He tells me that I am the 1,249th hiker who has visited his restaurant and haven for hikers this season.

At The Red Moose I order breakfast (biscuits and gravy with eggs, delicious!). My cell phone doesn’t work, so the owner lets me use their phone to call Joni. Joni answers on the first ring: she had just posted her fears on Facebook and was thinking about driving to Sierra City to start looking for me. Joni is relieved that I am okay. She agrees to come get me: I am done hiking for this year.
You see the next section I had planned to do would have been much tougher. Even lonelier. Water is getting hard to find and I just didn’t think I had it in me for any further adventures. Time to go home.


  1. Kia ora Allan - Kia kaha e hoa. I enjoyed following along on your five days. Congratulations on your effort and the mere fact you did it. I enjoyed your observations and honesty along the way. Had I come across you along the way I would have hoped to share a wee bit of the Crown Royal with you. You would find New Zealand a bit hard on the ups and downs and lack of real "trails", but drinking water is rarely a problem aside from open top stretches in summer. Rivers and streams are never too far away. Well done mate.

  2. I enjoyed the journey Allan. It is fun hearing you describe the trials and tribulations. Although I enjoyed a couple of solo trips. I believe at this point of my life I am better off brining a partner to help fight through the struggles.

    A fun read!

  3. Kia ora Allan - Larry I have to write as one who does still travel frequently alone in mountain terrain, that I actually find myself far more aware and in tune with what I am doing, and far more willing to pull the pin when approaching a situation possibly over my head. When I am with others, especially those whom have more experience or whom I consider better than me, I tend to relax far more, perhaps paying attention to the scenery or the company, and perhaps not keeping an eye on other important things, the weather, river levels and clarity, steepness of terrain, time, ect. So for me, and reading of Allans journey, I suspect for him in ways as well, there is great value in time spent in wilderness alone. Especially when we cannot find that someone to accompany us. Be cool to discuss all this with you, Allan, and a fresh bottle of Crown Royal. Te Hei Mauri Ora!

  4. Hi Larry and Robb,

    Such a wonderful question. I made multiple mistakes with this trip. I packed my pack too heavy (15 days worth of food?). I chose a really, really hot time to travel. I didn't train. I didn't have an adequate understanding of distances between water. I know that my spouse worried terribly about me.

    Still, I would do it all over again. Being alone on the trail, not seeing anyone; coming across a bear. Seeing the beauty. I love it! And I will do it again. You can't plan for everything; there is always a new problem to deal with every trip. But that is part of the fun.

    However, I might invest in ultralight equipment, pack less food, maybe get one of those trail gizmos that tell you where you are and how far it is to the next water. And I'd take my time and not promise to be at such and such a place by such and such a date. So, I'm with you Robb. I'm glad that Joni puts up with these urges I have to travel by foot once and awhile.