I arrived in Tuolumne Meadows very late
in the day, to begin my first really long solo backpack trip (7
days) in the '70's. As a seasoned veteran of shorter hikes one and
two days' distance into the backcountry, I knew better than to press
on into darkness. My goal was just to get well away from the Meadows
and find a nice spot for my first evening's camp.
As luck would have it, I found a picture-perfect
spot next to the river, within sight of the bridge at Glen Aulin.
I cooked a simple meal and took a last good look at the terrain
around me in the fading light. I cleaned up scrupulously and slung
my backpack high up into a tree, for I knew it was Bear Country
in these parts.
Turning in to my tent early to get a good
start the next morning, I had a hard time sleeping. There were the
usual noises to try to identify in the dark, and some that I couldn't.
Then there was a distinctly louder noise out there somewhere. But,
when I turned on my flashlight and peered out into the darkness,
I could see nothing. I rested fitfully until finally I could allow
the sound of the rushing waters to lull me to sleep.
At some indeterminate time later, I was
awaked by a loud CRASH! I lay still and quiet in the tent, now fully
awake, but could hear nothing at all.
While fumbling for my flashlight, I cautiously
unzipped the tent (still no noises out there) and stuck my head
out and THERE IT WAS!
I tired to cry out in alarm, to fend it
off, but my voice box froze, like in a bad dream. The only sound
that came out of me was a huffing squeak, like those Chihuahuas
that have had their voice boxes removed. It was moving toward me.
It was right in front of my face. I switched on my flashlight!
As my eyes focused, I saw green aspen leaves
swaying and fluttering gently in the evening breeze, right in front
of my face. In disbelief, I tried to spot the bear, that moving
critter of any kind around my tiny camp that must have scared me
so badly. But there was absolutely nothing out there, but this one
friendly waving tree branch. It took quite a while for me to satisfy
myself that my imagination, and a tree branch, had betrayed me so
I found out the next day the loud crashing
noise was due to a raccoon that had raided a camp somewhere across
the river and downstream. I, Mr. Intrepid Explorer, had never even
noticed the camp the evening before.
There are three things out of that event
I will never forget. First: the awful feeling of paralyzing terror
that can be generated, even by something that doesn't exist. Second:
my sense of absolute foolishness and certainty that no one must
ever know about this. Third: my next-day realization that some stories
are just too good not to share, even when we earnestly wish they'd
never happened to us at all!
©Alex Forbes 2001