Day 46-51: Farewell Desert, Hello Bear
We’ll begin by describing the most striking event of the last five days. Late at night on day 50, we had an encounter with a bear.
After a full day of hiking, we found a flat spot at mile 684.75, uphill from Fox Mill Spring, to set up the tent. The area was pristine except for one set of shoe prints. We put all our food and scented items, including trash, toothpaste, and sunblock, into our Ursack Minor food bag, which we placed 100 feet from the tent. We did not hang the bag as the trees were quite short, with tiny limbs. We ate dinner in a third spot, forming a triangle with the tent and food bag.
Shortly after climbing into our tent for the night, we heard the thudding footsteps of a large animal nearby. Assuming the creature was a deer, Shutterbug readied his camera, unzipped the tent, and peered out, but found nothing. Soon we both fell asleep.
Anna woke at about 12:30 AM to the nearby sound of ripping bark. Suspecting a bear, she began shouting to scare it off. This woke Shutterbug, who unzipped the tent, stood, and aimed his headlamp at a sizable black bear. The bear glanced up briefly at Shutterbug’s headlamp, then resumed tearing apart a log. We had no rocks to throw and did not want to approach the bear, so we eventually stopped shouting and remained alert in our tent. The bear continued digging, ripping, and biting for some time, mostly near our food bag. To our relief, the bear eventually moved off and we heard nothing.
About half an hour later, the bear returned, closer to the tent and more mobile. We heard ripping tree bark to our right, then soon after to our left. The bear grew so close we heard it panting, and we shouted as loudly as we could and beat the tent walls with our hands. Finally the bear sauntered off. Our hearts raced with adrenaline.
We were very uncomfortable with the bear’s aggressive behavior and decided to pack up and start hiking immediately. We quickly threw everything into our packs and spoke loudly and constantly. Together we walked over to our food bag and found its fabric ripped apart, with empty food wrappers scattered next to it. All our food was gone. The nearby log to which we had tied the bag was shredded in two. We tossed the trash into our packs and began hiking around 2 AM.
Walking by moonlight and headlamp was slow going, but we were relieved to put distance between us and the bear. As our adrenaline wore off, tiredness set in. Because we had no food, we decided to quickly walk the 18 miles to the Kennedy Meadows General Store. The walk was uneventful, though our bellies grumbled with hunger, and we were groggy from lack of sleep. Upon arriving at Kennedy Meadows, we immediately ate a full pint of ice cream each, then moved on to veggie burgers.
Most PCT hikers consider Kennedy Meadows to be the end of the desert section of the trail, and the beginning of the Sierras, which means the beginning of bear territory. However, we learned the hard way that bears are active prior to Kennedy Meadows, and there are very few trees there suitable for hanging food. Please note that the Ursack Minor food bag is not recommended for protection against bears. It only protects against rodents. We hope fellow PCT hikers learn from our experience and ship themselves bear cans earlier in the trip, perhaps to Tehachapi or Mojave. We also want to emphasize the importance of storing your food at least 100 feet from your tent. Our story could have ended badly if we had kept our food close to us.
We now have our bear cans and plan to carry them for the rest of the hike.
Other highlights from the last few days include:
– On day 46 our friend Dancing Feet caught up with us at the Kelso Valley Road water cache. We hadn’t seen each other since Silverwood Lake, almost 300 miles ago. Surprise visits with trail friends are a really fun part of this trip.
– At the end of day 46 we watched the full moon rise just as the sun was setting. We had an amazing 360 degree view from our campsite!
– For 24 hours starting with the end of day 47, we dealt with the windiest conditions we have ever experienced. The wind battered the tent walls so ferociously that neither of us slept well. By morning a layer of sand coated us and everything in our tent. Somehow the wind blasted the sand under the rain fly and up into the tent!
A record of the ground we’ve covered in the last six days:
Day 46: Near Landers Meadow (Mile 606)-Near Wileys Knob (Mile 627.5); 21.5 miles
Day 47: Near Wileys Knob (Mile 627.5)-Walker Pass Campground (Mile 651); 23.5 miles
Day 48: Walker Pass Campground (Mile 651)-Near Joshua Tree Spring (Mile 663.5); 12.5 miles
Day 49: Near Joshua Tree Spring (Mile 663.5)-Uphill from Fox Mill Spring (Mile 684.5); 21 miles
Day 50: Uphill from Fox Mill Spring (Mile 684.5)-Kennedy Meadows Store (Mile 702), plus .5 miles off trail; 18 miles
Day 51: Zero at Kennedy Meadows
While resting in Kennedy Meadows preparing for the Sierras, we reflected on our experiences in the desert section of the Pacific Crest Trail. We compiled a list of our favorite parts of the desert, and the things we will be happy to leave behind.
– Many wonderful trail angels shared cold drinks, filled water caches, and cooked meals at various junctions of the trail. We will miss your generosity as we head into the less populated northern sections of the PCT. Below is a picture of Tom’s internet setup for hikers in Kennedy Meadows. Thank you very very much!
– The blooming cacti and wildflowers were stunning. Their bright colors were especially attractive in this harsh dry climate.
– The spaciousness of the desert was quite beautiful. Often we could see for many miles, and this created a pleasing mental space.
– The quiet of the desert was similarly attractive to our ears. A backdrop of silence meant the sounds we did hear were more distinct, and we could appreciate them fully.
– We smiled every time we found a horny toad. They are both cute and ancient.
– We also loved our time in the desert for the same reasons we love backpacking anywhere: we enjoy living a simple lifestyle in peaceful surroundings, having new adventures, and seeing landscapes we have never encountered before.
Things we won’t miss:
– The heat sometimes made us wilt.
– Poodle dog bush looks pretty, but we have seen enough of it for a lifetime! We are glad we won’t have to dodge this itchy rash-inducing plant anymore.
– We enjoyed safe encounters with rattlesnakes and scorpions, but we are glad to relax our constant guard.
– Long dry stretches meant we had to carry lots of water. You don’t realize just how heavy water is until you carry it for many miles.
As we enter the Sierras, we expect our Internet access to be limited or nonexistent. We may not be able to post again for two weeks or more, and our location in the Tracking link may not be up to date. Thanks for reading, and we will post more stories and photographs when we can.