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Bears at Glen Aulin A true story by Alex Forbes

Falls Bridge, Tuolumne Meadows. Click for larger image.


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 badly.

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


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