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Bears at Glen Aulin A True Story by Dave Norton



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 camp sites".

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 pack.

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 swearing that:

1.        He'll never come here again, and

2.       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 so easy.

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 yet!

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:

  1. It’s now an hour before daybreak.
  2. Wherever we park our carcasses, there's going to be a damn BEAR.
  3. There's no suitable place to keep our food out of their reach.
  4. We need the food to make it back to Tuolumne Meadows.
  5. The closest thing we have to a food-hanging branch is the one we had just used, and which the bears found quite manageable thank you very much.

So, (and this is where you will gain a deeper understanding of the complex person that is Russ Miller) we gather our 2 warm dry (and my cold wet) sleeping bags around this one tree, and Russ places his own punkin head directly beneath the hanging food bag (“If they want it bad enough, they'll have to fight me for it, and they ain't goin' to win”).

As I finally ease back into the (relative, everything is relative out here) comfort of my slopping (wet, remember?) bag and drift into totally exhausted slumber, I can just make out the first blush of the coming day in the eastern sky, and hear the first call of "Oh-Boy-Daddy-it's-daytime-can-we-get-up-now?"

And I tell you it's ALL (right up to the Oh-Boy-Daddy part) TRUE!

Dave Norton

AKA Trouthunter Dave

©Dave Norton 2001



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