Thursday, August 13, 2015

Sequoia National Park: Aborted Backpacking Trip #1

A friend was going up to do the Rae Lakes Loop in King's Canyon and invited me to join her. I didn't have time to do the whole thing, but I could not pass it up altogether, so I decided to hike in for 2 days and then hike back out the third day. And since I had to be in LA a few days before, I decided to go directly from LA to Sequoia, do an overnight backpack there, and then meet my friends the next day in King's Canyon. In theory, this all would have worked.

Up in Sequoia I talked to a ranger and got the scoop on the trails. She recommended going to Pear Lake by way of the Watchtower. But then there was the General Sherman tree, the biggest tree in the world, and that was on a different trail. I looked at the map and came up with a plan to head out on the Alta Trail from the Giant Forest museum and hike as far as Panther Gap, then head north to hit the trail to Pear Lake, camp there, and return via a different route that took me past the General Sherman tree the following day. I got a bit of a late start, but I had just enough time.

I parked by a raspberry patch and helped myself to a few berries. I worried about eating food that wildlife like bears needed for survival, but they wouldn't come right up to a parking lot to eat berries, right?

Then off I went. The sequoias were massive and impressive, but I could not even figure out how to take a decent picture of them to truly capture their size. Instead, I went for the flowers:



And butterflies:





Then I heard a rustling in some foliage behind me. It was something about the size of a raccoon or larger. And... out walked what I assumed was a baby bear with a green ear tag. (So young to be in trouble already!) I worried that his mom was nearby and started singing to alert her to my presence. I let the little bear pass, and then made my way back to the trail once he was gone. And I continued singing, pretty much anything that came into my head.

Green Ear Tag Bear

Before long, I saw the little bear again. This time I was on the trail and he was what seemed a safe distance from me. And a few other hikers had now gathered to gawk, so I felt better about meeting Mama. We watched him for a little while, as he dug a hole (looking an awful lot like a naughty dog) and scratched up a log.

Green Ear Tag Bear

I was following signs for the Alta Trail, because my map did not have the many, many trails near the Giant Forest Museum clearly marked. I saw this sign and took a right. It was not until I saw the same sign the next day that I looked closer and realized I should have gone straight.

Poor Signage

Instead of taking the Alta Trail, I went up Bear Hill and accidentally made a short loop around the museum. When I realized I was stuck, I was fed up with the bad signage and decided to just go back to my car and car camp for the night. I'd do a big hike the next day. I want back to my business of photographing flowers and headed for the parking lot.

Yellow-throated gilia

Back at the car, I got a real surprise. A few guys near me yelled "Oso!" and pointed toward the raspberry patch near the bathroom adjacent to the parking lot. There was a little cinnamon colored bear eating raspberries. Oops, I guess the bears DO walk right up to the parking lot to eat berries. The guys were whispering, trying not to alert the bear to their presence. I think I annoyed them by speaking at a normal volume, but I did not think surprising a bear was a good idea. We ought to let the bear know there were humans around if he or she wasn't already aware. In retrospect, I think the bear knew and entirely did not care.

Bear Eating Raspberries #1
"Hmm... humans"

Bear Eating Raspberries #1
"Yeah, whatever."

Then another little bear shimmied down a tree and joined the raspberry feast. His (or her) ear tag identifies him as C15.

Bear #C15 Eating Raspberries

Bear #C15 Eating Raspberries

Bear #C15 Eating Raspberries

Bear #C15 Eating Raspberries

Bear #C15 Eating Raspberries

Then a third bear appeared, and climbed a tree.

Bear Climbing Tree

And... a fourth...

Black Bear

Black Bear

The fourth one was the only truly black colored bear, even though all of the bears in California are black bears. Many of the black bears in California are more cinnamon or blonde colored. The last bear was the biggest of the bunch, but still not that big at all. I had envisioned bears being much larger. Still, the last one became a lot less cute to me when he or she walked right next to my car. That was when I decided I'd seen enough bears and it was time to go get a camp site. And you'd better believe that I took every possible precaution with my food, anything I had that smelled, and even anything that did not smell but looked like it could contain food (like cardboard boxes full of camping gear in my car) that night. Everything went in the bear locker!

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