Picture this: the perfect campsite, 20
feet from the Tuolumne River, between two cascades, at the edge
of a pool perhaps a hundred yards long, just jumpin’ with
hungry trout (the pool, not us).
It’s early July, 1987. Russ,
brother Charlie and I are in the last 2 days of a wonderful week
in Yosemite’s wilderness, having packed into Roosevelt Lake
from Tuolumne Meadows.
The three of us had hiked in to Young
Lakes (get a map reference, if you'd like), and dropped over a
ridge down to Conness Creek. After spending several days
of glorious solitude at Roosevelt Lake, we came out following
Conness Creek into Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, and found the
Camp full of Saturday night wonders, sitting in their lawn chairs
around the group campfire guzzling beer and telling lies.
Not our sort of folks. The entire area
seemed full to capacity, very few unoccupied "designated
Disheartened, we crossed the bridge to
find a lone unoccupied camp site, out of sight from the boisterous
Group site, and isolated from their noise by the white hush of
the cascading falls.
We couldn't believe our luck! We quickly
set up camp and fished a bit, coaxing little Brookies from the
big hole and from just below the bridge.
On the way in this trip, Ranger Rick had
warned us about the presence of Black Bears in the high country,
and briefed us on the fine art of hanging counterbalanced food
bags. "Balderdash" muttered Russ, as we left the permit
kiosk. "These guys have a bear fixation. They must be thinking
of Yellowstone, where bears are a problem. Makes 'em feel important
to be the Rule Givers, I guess."
That night, we drifted off to blissful
slumber, well acclimated by nearly a week at over 10,000 feet
near Roosevelt Lake.
Around 2 AM, we awoke to the (later to
become all too familiar) sounds of a bear effortlessly and artlessly
separating Russ' bag of precious trail mix from his now-eviscerated
You should take a moment to understand
Russ (I've been working on this for 45 years, now, and I'm no
closer than when we first met). He was, quite simply, born a century
too late. There was a glitch in the overall scheme of things,
and somewhere back in the Western Frontier days there was probably
a natural-born computer geek, adrift in a world he wasn't meant
to occupy. These things happen.
We awoke to the ripping, snuffling, UNNNPHing
of the bear doing his nightly shopping. Charlie and I groped for
our flashlights, pants and shoes, in that order. Russ grabbed
for the bear and his trail mix, in that order.
By the time I got out of the tent and
looked around, neither the bear nor Russ was in sight. I had no
difficulty finding them, however, I just followed the grunting
and bellowing noises up the dry creekbed to find Russ, no pants,
no shoes, no sox, not even a flashlight, grunting bellowing and
cursing, chucking fist-sized rocks at the well-fed sow bear.
She would amble 20 yards or so up the
creek, turn, have a bit of Russ' dinner, and wait for Russ to
pelt her, once again ambling grudgingly up the creek.
I got a front row seat for this comedic
drama, providing light for Russ to find footing and artillery
as the three of us worked our way a good hundred yards up the
dry creek. The show stopped when Russ recovered the empty and
shreaded food sack and headed back down, mumbling something like
"Damn bears, they oughta shoot the lot of 'em."
By 2:30 or so we were snuggled back in
our bags, and asleep once again. And once again, around 3 AM,
we woke to the sound of Unnnph unnnph, rip, chomp chomp, unnnph....
We were ready this time, and dispatched the same sow bear with
our recently collected collection of granite grenades.
More of Russ' stuff gone. Russ is by now
He'll never come here again, and
When he does he'll be by God ARMED.
Unbelievably, the same bear, same game,
at 4 AM.
All right, we've all had quite enough,
thanks. We have come to the realization that there is a good reason
this particular camp remains unoccupied. To the bear, it represents
the lone straggling B-17, 2 engines shut down, trailing smoke,
falling behind and below the retreating formation heading for
the safety of England.
It's time, we agree, to head for the (presumed)
security of the Group Camp. Have you any idea how much fun it
isn't, packing a weeks worth of gear at 0-Dark Thirty in the morning,
freezing your buns, delirious from frustration and lack of sleep,
and trying to get it all across the bridge and across Conness
Creek to the main camp? Well, we do. And we did.
Conness Creek. No bridge there. The crossing
is a series of stones set randomly across the shallow but swift
current of snowmelt. No big deal in the daytime, with a tight
secure stable pack. At night, with moonlight barely picking out
the white riffles which precede the step rocks, with your gear
precariously stuffed and balanced overhead, it's no picnic. Not
Russ and Charlie made it safely and dryly
across the stream, and I was last to cross. They wait and watch
as I make the crossing. Slowly and carefully, ever so carefully,
I pick my way across, adeptly balancing on one foot, rock to rock,
a foot or two at a time, to the last rock at the edge of the current.
Success! "TA-DA!" I exclaim, arms out in a slight bow
to the adoring crowd. And "splash", as my sleeping bag,
my precious warm dry sleeping bag, quits its precarious perch
atop my gear for the stability of the water below. You know it's
going to be a bad night when....
No, the saga isn't quite finished just
Sadder, wiser, colder, tireder, and a
bit wetter, we walk through the sleeping camp looking for any
available site on which to dump our gear and selves. Finding none,
we reach the far side of the camp and phlumph our stuff down on
rough ground a few yards from the Creek.
Looking for a spot to hang the rest of
our food (remember I did say wiser...), all we could find was
a single limb from a single nearby tree. We consolidated our food
in one bag and tied it to the limb, secure in the (specious) knowledge
that the bears were all on the other side of the River.
Sleep, at last! Not at long last, however,
for we soon awoke to find THREE bears, a sow and 2 cubs, demonstrating
great interest in what we had placed there for them. Oh man....
They can't DO that, can they! Jeez.
So, once more into the fray: pants, shoes,
flashlights, suitable projectiles, and with much yelling and screaming
and chunk-chucking, we banish the lot of them across the Creek.
Now, we're faced with the knowledge that: