Monday, February 27, 2017

Day 20: Bear! Bear! RUN!!!!

I woke up to beautiful, clear skies. Karolina was still sleeping in her tent, but I got up and wandered out into Grouse Meadow to admire the views and watch the beginning of the sunrise. I was out there for a couple of minutes when I heard something off to my right at the far side of the meadow. I looked over and saw a small, black animal moving towards the river. A bear! A bear! It's a bear! It splashed into the creek. A skinny dipping bear! It wasn't sticking around in the water, though, swimming across quickly to the land on the other side.

I went out to admire Grouse Meadow and take this photo, when I heard it... a bear! (Unfortunately, I got no photos of the bear. But the bear swam across the creek on the other side of the meadow. This is bear-infested water!) Eventually, it would head up that slope and into the trees on the right.

I knew Karolina would want to see this since she had never seen a bear before--not in the wild, at least. Heck, I've seen lots of bears in the wild still get a thrill out of seeing of them! I rushed over to her tent and scratched on the fabric. "Karolina!" I whispered urgently.

She let out a small scream.

"Shhh! There's a bear out here!"

She mumbled something unintelligible, still half-asleep.

"There's a bear walking through the meadow, and if you want to see it, you need to get up now!"

In seconds, she was unzipping her tent and poked her head out, then the rest of her body quickly followed.

Karolina followed me out into the meadow, barefooted not even wanting to waste time putting on shoes.

The bear had moved behind some brush in the meadow and was difficult to see, but we'd catch sight of the moving black mass between bushes getting only the briefest of glimpses of the bear. It continued moving along the far edge of the meadow, further and further away from our vantage point. There was a small boulder next to the creek--and we climbed up it for a better view. The bear continued ambling away, getting smaller with each passing second. Then we'd lose sight of it for several seconds, then see it flit between two bushes. "There it is!" we'd whisper excitedly to each other.

It slowly moved along the edge of the meadow for about five minutes, then veered directly uphill into the trees. At this point, it was just a black dot, not even recognizable as a bear, and it became increasingly difficult to follow after heading into the trees so I called it quits. The bear sighting was over.

Karolina continued to watch a bit longer but eventually followed me back to the campsite.

We were both thrilled to have seen the bear, and I told her about what she had missed--the bear splashing into the river and swimming across. I'd never seen a bear do that before, and it was kind of exciting to see it do something new like that. =)

I couldn't tell her how long the bear had been in the meadow. I didn't notice it at first until I heard it make a sound and when I looked over, and there it was. It could have been there all morning for all I knew. Neither of us got any photos of it, and even if we had, we were never close enough to have gotten anything but a small, black, blurry dot.

"Why did you scream when I woke you up?" I asked.

"I thought a bear was attacking me," she replied. I shook my head. So apparently, Karolina had trouble telling the difference between me and a bear.

By now, Karolina was wide awake, which I was happy about. The weather forecast for later today was decidedly unpleasant and the earlier we got started, the better. More time hiking with clear blue skies in the morning, and less time hiking in miserably cold, wet weather later in the afternoon.

Before we left camp, we decided that it was time to put an end to Madam Butterfly's suffering. She had carried herself the first day, floating over our heads. On the second day, she couldn't stay afloat anymore, but we carried its half-inflated carcass on the outside of the pack. Today, though, we decided it was time to pop her so we could add her to our trash bag. But we wanted her empty of air so it wouldn't take up so much space.

The death of Madam Butterfly

I was put in charge of deflating her, which I planned to do by jumping on it. It didn't work very well the first time I tried it because the air shifted from one part of the balloon to the other, but the second time around I arranged the balloon so the air had less space to shift and got it to pop with a loud, satisfying boom. (Although I'll note that in the video, my camera didn't really pick up the loud booming sound, so the video is a bit disappointing.)

With Madam Butterfly officially dead, we soon got going on the trail, although I couldn't tell you at what time because I failed to make a note of it in my journal. We hiked for a couple of hours, taking a short break near Deer Meadow, but angry-looking clouds were already starting to roll in. Much earlier today than in previous days. That didn't bode well.

While taking our snack break, we heard the first thunderclap and a short while after that, she the first lightning flash across the sky. We cut our break short and pushed on and it started to sprinkle. Not a downpour, but a very consistent sprinkle making sure we would become thoroughly wet. Blah.

We passed a large group of people camped just off the trail who had build a sizeable campfire and set up enormous tarps across their site. When we were in Bishop, we had heard that there was a campfire ban and Karolina asked if that was an illegal campfire. I hadn't really paid much attention to the details of the ban since we're too lazy to create campfires, but as far as I knew they weren't supposed to. We had considered stopping early for the day near that location, but neither of us wanted to camp near such a large group building a possibly illegal campfire (not that either of us were concerned about forest fires given the wet conditions at the moment) with their house-sized tarps set up everywhere and pushed onward without stopping.

Then we started climbing the Golden Staircase, a relatively steep section of trail that zig-zagged up a narrow canyon with fantastic views looking out. Although the views would have looked a lot nicer had they not been so full of so many angry-looking clouds.

We passed a couple of people doing trail work on the Golden Staircase. It looked like they were building new steps into the staircase, and they were caked with mud from head to toe from their work in the wet conditions. I thanked them for their trail work, but it was much too cold and wet to stop for an extended chat and we kept moving.

Then I suddenly put two and two together and realized that the large group we had passed at the bottom of the Golden Staircase with the possibly illegal campfire and giant tarps--I bet they're part of the work crew. Most of them decided to take the day off because the weather was so crappy and kept the campfire burning because if it went out, they'd have a lot of trouble getting it started again. But if it was a work crew, that would explain the semi-permanent state of the camp we had passed. They might be camped in the same spot for the better part of a week, and they likely had horses that brought up all that gear like the giant, heavy tarps. It all made sense now. Although if there was a campfire ban in the area, it seemed like they would be setting a terrible example by lighting one illegally.

We continued marching upwards, getting wetter and wetter along the way. The wetter we got, the colder we got. The cold started seeping into our bones despite our exertions while climbing the Golden Staircase. We stopped briefly to add an extra layer of clothing, then immediately pushed on again. I didn't pull out my umbrella because it was still just a very light (but persistent) sprinkle. I'd use my umbrella when it started raining harder, but the hard rain fortunately stayed away.

By 1:30 in the afternoon, we had reached Lower Palisades Lake. We'd only covered 7.7 miles, but we had written a particularly short day into our schedule today because of the weather forecast we had seen back in Bishop. We had reached our minimum goal for the day, and it was only 1:30 in the afternoon!

Karolina helped me quickly set up my tarp. I was grateful for the help and a little surprised that she wasn't setting up her own tent. Then I realized that we wanted to wait out the rain under my tarp because it had more room than her tent. Ahh.... Sneaky.... =)

So we got my tarp up, then ducked into it wrapping up in our sleeping bags to stay warm. And not a moment too soon because within a couple of minutes, the heavy rain started falling in torrents. Buckets and buckets of rain.

We were both low on water, but neither of us wanted to go out in the rain to collect water from the nearby lake--but why would we? It was raining after all. And hard! We just had to collect runoff from my tarp.

I threw my pot under one of the streams flowing off my tarp and collected enough water to last me for the entire night in about 20 minutes. Karolina seemed astonished at how much water I could collect in this manner in such a short period of time, all without getting wet in the rain, and proceeded to do the same.

About two and a half hours later, the rain had finally stopped, and another hour or two later, the clouds had mostly blown away as well. By sunset, the skies were mostly clear and we could see a fresh powder of snow--snow!--on the mountain tops surrounding us. It had snowed today! Not at our "low" elevation of 10,610 feet, but there was probably a dusting of snow on Muir Pass where the trail goes over just a few miles away.

After the rain stopped, Karolina left the confines of my tarp to set up her tent and we both sat out under the open sky to cook dinner and relax for the rest of the evening. And that was the end of our day.

Beginning the climb up the Golden Staircase. (This is looking back from the direction we had come.) The weather had certainly taken a turn for the worse!

I like saying the phrase "Golden Staircase." It just sounds so wonderful, doesn't it? But here's one of the series of switchbacks that defines it. =)

Karolina collects water from the stream running off my tarp into her cooking pot. It probably took all of about five minutes to fill up the pot this much!
When the rain stopped and the clouds started to part, we could see a dusting of freshly-fallen snow in the mountains surrounding us. Yep, it was definitely cold!
Once the rain had stopped, Karolina went out to set up her tent next door.
By sunset, the skies were only partly cloudy and not particularly threatening at all. It was beautiful!


Mary said...

Not being a camper, I've wondered about your tarp allowing the ground to become soaked. Doesn't the water run in on the open sides and saturate the ground under the tarp?

Anonymous said...

The sunset picture needs to be on the front of next year's calendar. Just amazing. I keep saying that you need to make a calendar of just some of your contest.

Karolina said...

As of today, our blogs both describe the same day on JMT. And it is the bear day! 😊

Ryan said...

The idea is to set your tarp up somewhere so water that runs down the side won't run under the tarp. A slightly elevated place is ideal so water just flows away from you. If the ground is porous, though, most of the water will seep into the ground rather than under the tarp. On rare occasions, I've had to carve a small "trench" around the edge of my tarp to get the water to flow around the edge rather than under it. That's not ideal, though!

The bigger problem is usually wind-blown rain blowing under the tarp. In that case, I set up the tarp as low as possible and so that the wind hits the side of the tarp rather than coming in through the ends. If the wind shifts, though, I'll take my umbrella to "plug" the hole at the end of the tarp that the wind is blowing the rain into.

Setting up a tarp is an art! Definitely trickier than a tent! =)

Karolina: I noticed the same thing! Starting tomorrow, you're blog is going to have to play catch up to mine! Ha! =)