The first pack trip that P ever took was to Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon. He was twelve years old, and went off with his older sister and her best friend, both sixteen. We were young and adventurous, and prepared for just about anything. Almost.
Actually, we were green and a little nervous, but what could go wrong on a simple overnight trip? P's pack was contrived out of a pair of his father's pants: the two legs became the shoulder straps, tied into the belt loops, and his sleeping bag and clothes went into the torso section of the pants. The two older girls also carried the food and a tent. And in those days, we drank straight from the stream, out of our Sierra Club Cups.
We hiked about seven miles up to Paradise Valley, and managed to get there in plenty of time. We set up camp and had a pleasant evening around the campfire. Paradise Valley really is paradise!
It was so peaceful...too peaceful!
Near dusk, we began to hear a metal clanging noise--a bit like the noise of someone pounding metal tent stakes into hard ground. We let it go on for some time...and the more it continued, the stranger it seemed. Ping ping.
We tried to find the source of the noise, but it was getting dark, and we didn't want to wander aimlessly around the forest. It stopped for a while, then started up again. Ping, ping, ping.
Now we were getting worried. We tried calling out, to make some kind of contact--but there was no answer. That was weird. Ping, ping.
And then the noise started getting closer. As we discussed the matter among ourselves, we tried to imagine what was making the noise. Then we began to realize that this might be a bell attached to an animal. And what kind of animal would require a bell in a National Park?
Our best guess was a dangerous bear--one that needed to warn people of his approach.
And still the noise got closer. Ping, ping, ping, ping.
We huddled in our tent and hoped that the bear would pass us by--but that wasn't going to happen. As we listened intently, the noise got closer and closer, until it was just outside the camp site. Right outside. Twenty feet away. Maybe fifteen.
We could take the suspense no longer. We threw open the tent and flashed our lights in the direction of the noise.
There stood beautiful stag, rather stunned by the bright lights in the night.
We watched for a minute, just to make sure that this wasn't a dangerous deer, and then closed up the tent and fell asleep. The next morning we felt good enough to laugh about the incident.
When we returned to Road's End, we mentioned the deer to one of the rangers. He immediately asked us what color the bell had been--this was a new program to track the deer within the park. We thought the bell was either silver or blue.
He smiled indulgently, and told us that there were no silver or blue bells in the program.
hmmmph. It seemed like a stupid idea to us at the time---and I bet they don't bell stags in the parks anymore, either!
We've had our share of wild animal adventures in Lassen Volcanic National Park, but this is the closest we've ever come to hand-to-hand combat with a wild animal.
It was evening in the Manzanita Lake Campground, and M had just set up her kitchen to get ready to cook dinner for the family. The food was out on the table, and it occurred to her that it would be a good idea to go get some water from the local standpipe.
When she returned to camp, there was a mid-sized doe carefully studying the food on our camp table. And as M approached, the deer very carefully selected an unopened bag of marshmallows and tried to make a run for it.
M was not to be cowed. She grabbed the bag of marshmallows and tugged on it, while yelling at the deer. "Hey!" she cried. "Give me that!"
And she was very surprised when the deer refused to let go!
There they were, M and the deer, both with one end of a bag of marshmallows, looking at each other and tugging.
M suddenly realized that she was WAY TOO CLOSE to this deer, any deer, and in the instant it took her to decide to let go of the bag, the deer made the same decision.
In the end, M saved our marshmallows, and we were able to make s'mores that night. But M also learned a valuable lesson. The next time, the deer gets to make s'mores for her fawns.
(editor's note: Deer kill more people than bears and mountain lions combined in the USA every year. Don't get this close to a deer, no matter how big the bag of marshmallows.)
Runs With Deer in Yosemite
It had been a long day's hike, from Ottaway Lakes at about 10,000 feet back down the Illiluouette Canyon to the junction at Illiluouette Creek. It was more than twelve miles, and it was a hot day. That section of the trail goes through a burned area for about five miles, so there isn't as much shade as you might like, either,
All of which helps explain why we decided to camp right there, near the junction. Plus, it was another three miles (most of it uphill) to our car, and we saw no need to push on or end our trip a day early.
The campsite was large, with a well-establish fire ring, and we settled in to rest in the late afternoon. P went fishing, and M read a bit of her book and found a nice quiet spot to meditate as well. It was a perfect afternoon in the peaceable kingdom.
We had a nice dinner, and stayed up well past dark to see the stars on our last night in the wilderness. There were four or five nice bucks who were visiting from time to time, and that added to the evening's entertainment.
Boy, did they ever.
Because after dark, those bucks were clearly accustomed to using that area for their own private barn dance. The thumped, they ran, and they thundered around the campsite all night long. Sometimes we thought they were fighting for a chance to lick up some spilled food from a previous camper...but most of the time they just seemed to think that this was their own little playground, and they really didn't care if they interrupted our sleep...many, many times.
What a night. We were happy to get the heck out of there the next morning, with dreams of our own sweet bed in our heads.
On the other hand, it did give us a whole new understanding the term "stag party!"