Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dobbs and the Bear. Momyer hike, part deuce.

Josh and I were so struck by the beauty of Dobbs Camp on our day hike last weekend we thought it deserved an overnight to thoroughly explore the area. We arrived at the trail head around 11am.

While getting our gear out of the truck, Josh realized his bite valve was missing from his bladder. We scoured the truck and could not find it. He opted to make due and use the shut off valve.

Crossing Mill Creek the water level seemed higher, but was not difficult to traverse. We passed the wilderness sign and began our hot ascent through the oak groves.

Josh, learning his lesson from last weekend is chowing down sugar chews to keep his levels in check on such a hot day.

Finally out of the hot part of the trail we arrive at Alger Creek and sit down for lunch of peanut butter and jelly on tortillas and spicy beef jerky.

Yes, really spicy beef jerky.

We hiked out from Alger creek back into the exposed hillside, sharp buckthorn, and berry groves, grateful for the cloud cover and breeze.

We arrived at Dobbs to see a super full campground. There was not a single site available that wasn't on top of other campers. We trekked up the hill looking for a semi secluded place to drop pack when we were greeted by a fellow camper. "BooBoo went that way" he said. I looked at him confused until he elaborated that there was a bear in the area. He said it was the color of my hair and very beautiful but that he had caught him with his nose in his backpack moments earlier. I was a little shaken as this is one of the few trips I didn't bring the bear can. We thanked him for the information and continued to look for a camp site. The fellow camper asked if we would like him to move down to a spot closer to his friends so we could camp in his space. An offer I stupidly declined. Hind sight is 20/20. We hiked across a small ravine to a flat area and immediately hung our food in a tree 30 feet or so out of our camp and 20 feet in the air. 
We set up the tent and threw our quilts and sleeping pads inside.

We donned our light packs and set out to explore the creek. The brush was high on the banks so we hiked right up the middle of the flow.

Josh discovers quicksand on the banks of the creek and has a great time churning it up.

Finally we hiked as far up as the creek would let us and moved to higher ground. We checked our map and saw the big falls was down creek. Hungry, we slowly headed back towards camp, splashing around as we went.

We arrived at the ravine near camp when we heard someone call down. "Hey, are you guys set up on the far side of the camp?" He asked. We said yes and he went on to tell us that a bear had mauled our tent. A little shocked and totally bummed, we hiked up to survey the damage.

As we arrived more campers came to tell us the story: the bear did a belly flop on the tent and tore into it looking for food. There wasn't anything for him, so he moved on and the tent sprung back into shape. From a distance it looked a little wonky but not too bad. It wasn't until we got up on it that we saw he had shredded all four sides in the mesh and nylon, bent a couple poles and scratched a hole in my new Enlightened Equipment quilt, which I had not yet used. Such a bummer!! The damage was more extensive than we had duct tape to fix so we opted to use the remaining daylight to pack out and live to hike another day. Losing such expensive gear to poor decision making really stings.

After we packed up we hung our heads and bid some fellow campers farewell. Upon our ascent out of the canyon Josh stopped short and dropped a few choice words. I looked up in the direction he was looking and saw our friend and gear adjuster, BooBoo the bear, standing not more than 20 feet above us. Josh, me and the bear ran around each other like a scene from the three stooges, Josh heading back down the trail, the bear running up the hillside and me opting to slide down the hill in the other direction, both of us with jumbled sentences and expletives until we finally pulled our wits together and tried to form a plan. 
The bear was further up the trail in the direction we needed to go and there was no way for any of us to go around each other unless someone retreated. Josh started growling and yelling at the bear and I followed suit while we inched our way toward him. Much to our chagrin the bear decided to inch his way toward US and we locked into a game of chicken. Finally the bear conceded and ran up the trail, disappearing around the corner. Moving forward we did not see him and I played the punk rock band OFF! at full blast while Josh threw rocks and logs around blind corners.

Back up on the ridge line we walked REALLY FAST with music playing until we rounded a corner and ran into a volunteer ranger. We told him of our debacle and he decided to hike up the hill to the camp and check it out. We bid him farewell and pushed on.

Dropping back down into Alger creek, I am tired and hungry but running on adrenaline and the thrill of seeing my first bear on the trail. It is a whole different experience to see them in the back country than it is from the safety of your car, let me tell you.

Climbing out of Alger creek we see a mass of tawny feathers shoot silently across the trail. We stop and are lucky enough to see a Barred Owl take perch in a large oak tree. We stopped for a long time and took pictures of him. I played some Barn Owl 'kleek calls' from my phone to see what he would do. He fluffed up his feathers and seemed interested in the call of a different owl. Barred Owls have very interesting calls that can boarder on frightening if they're discussing territory amongst themselves.
Usually Barred Owls say "Who cooks for you? Who cooks for you alllll?"

EDITED 9/10/13: It turns out this is a Spotted Owl, not a Barred Owl. They look very similar.

By now, light is dwindling by the second. We tear ourselves away from the owl and continue our race down the mountain.

Finally back on the ridgeline we admire the alpenglow and continue to chase the sun down toward Mill Creek.

We're moving fast and Josh stops short on the ridge. We take a second to check out a tarantula crossing the trail. Crepuscular creatures have now officially given way to nocturnal ones. We spot one more tarantula as we enter the creek bed area and a couple bats darting about the sky.

Safely back in Mill Creek, just steps from the truck we admire the sunset and high five our achievement. What a day! Momyer trail has turned out to be a beast! We've been up twice now and still haven't seen the falls or the remnants of the cabin due to our encounters with 'the locals'. We headed down the mountain to Outback and ate our weight in steaks and salad.

The next morning Josh found his bite valve, on the carpet in the house. Luckily it was spared an encounter with the wild felines that inhabit my abode.

In closing, hindsight really is 20/20. I kick myself for leaving my gear in an area with such gnarly bear activity, especially because I was warned! What a dummy I am!! 
In my mind I thought my gear was safe because there was nothing in, or around it that had a smell, not even a tube of chapstick! Now looking back, a habituated bear would SEE a tent and think food, going beyond his olfactory senses. 
If I had it to do over again I would have sucked up my need for personal space and camped near the group. This would have saved my gear and kept the bear at bay. An expensive lesson, but a valuable one none the less. 
I am happy the bear did not get what he was looking for as it would have been a tragedy for his efforts to pay off. If you don't know, bears that are habituated to people are not relocated, they are killed. A fed bear is a dead bear. I don't want any part of that and I hope that other backpackers learn from my mistakes. 
For now, I wait to see if Big Agnes will help me repair my tent so it can go with me on future trips this season and the PCT in April. 

We live to hike another day, this time wiser.