This is Part II of a story that I started a few weeks ago….
The temperature dropped quickly after the sun settled behind the ridge. Before it got totally dark I had gathered up some rocks and made a tiny fire pit on the ledge. There was enough kindling and scraps to make a small fire. I couldn’t imagine trying to keep it going all night and it wasn’t needed for a signal fire – yet. I was also a bit paranoid about setting the San Gorgonio Wilderness on fire and ruining the forest for everyone else. In 2003, the San Diego County Cedar Fire burned over 280,000 acres, destroyed 2,820 buildings and killed 15 people. It was caused by a lost hunter who lit a signal fire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cedar_Fire Eventually, I let the fire go out.
I finally settled into an uneasy sleep, not really asleep but one like you’re in a strange hotel room and you wake up confused.
The sound was strange, in my dream it was a rustling sound. Except it wasn’t a dream. I woke up under the space blanket and peeked out from under to see what the sound was. My eyes strained to see the shape that was nearby. The shape snorted and began to move away. Omigosh, it couldn’t be! A bear came upon me and was dragging something. I shouted at him, “Hey that’s my backpack!”, but Yogi kept taking my bag away. Knowing better than to wrestle a bear for my belongings, I tried throwing rocks at him. Probably not a good idea, but I was mad and not thinking properly.
The rocks only made him trot away with my bag and he disappeared. I went back to my bed of pine branches and sat down. As the adrenaline faded, I started trembling from the encounter of a black bear only a couple of feet away from me. Thankful that they aren’t normally carnivores with human appetites, I was demoralized from losing my belongings to a stinkin bear. It was impossible to sleep from that point on as the thought of another ursine visit plagued me.
I was down to a cell phone, my wallet, keys and the clothes on my back. My pack had the water, emergency supplies and food. I began to wonder what else could go wrong when something cold landed on my nose. I went to flick it away and nothing was there. Another piece of coldness landed on my eyelash and then another. Wonderful, the 30% chance of snow flurries just turned to 100%. Clouds must have rolled in over the last couple of hours because I could no longer see the moon or stars. For a moment, I felt like Job and asked God if he hated me. However, Job knew that God loved him and so did I. He would see me through this.
The flurries turned to a light snow and I noticed the landscape became somewhat brighter. I huddled under the pine tree with my space blanket and thought about my wife and warm bed 100 miles from here. I knew that I would get out of this situation and continued to pray for safety and that the temperature wouldn’t drop much more.
The night seemed to last forever and the sound of pine cones and branches falling unnerved me for several more hours. The snow would continue and provided a cold blanket over the barren landscape. Eventually, the sky started to gain some color. I made up my mind that once there was enough light to make out east from west and some landmarks, I was getting the heck out of here.
It was overcast, and the snow had stopped. I couldn’t see the sun, but was able to make out the general direction of where it was. Knowing that I needed to head west-southwest, I began a slow traverse toward what I hoped was the trail. The snow had accumulated a couple of inches, so it wasn’t difficult to walk. Eventually, I broke out into a meadow with a lot of downed trees. It looked vaguely familiar, but the dusting of snow covered any trail that might exist. Continuing in a westerly direction, I heard what sounded like water flowing. That was a good sound and immediately boosted my morale.
The stream was a vernal one, but ended up cutting through a trail. Hallelujah!, I found the trail. I almost ran to Alger Creek, but saved my energy and focused staying on the path. Crossing Alger, I knew that cell phone reception was within 30-40 minutes. The path had less snow and estimated that the altitude was around 7,000 ft. Seeing Mill Creek Canyon through the trees ahead, I tried the cell phone and got two bars.
The phone was working and I was able to get through to my wife. I explained some of what happened, leaving out the parts about falling down a steep hill, the bear and snow. No need to worry her you know.
The snow disappeared around 6,000 ft. and I emerged into the Mill Creek Wash where I ran into a day hiker heading up. It must have been around 8 a.m. I didn’t tell him about my ordeal, but he did give me the strangest look. After I got to the car, I could see why. My face was covered in dust and I had abrasions on my cheeks. On my drive home, I had plenty of time to think about the past 24 hours. In my rear view mirror, Ol’ Greyback (Mt. San Gorgonio) faded in the distance.
While this was my attempt at fiction, the fact is solo hikers get hurt (and lost) a lot. It’s always a good idea to let someone know where you are going. It will give the Search & Rescue team a good starting point. Also, check the weather forecast and do not throw rocks at bears. Don’t forget the 10 essentials in your backpack:
- Navigation (map and compass)
- Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
- Insulation (extra clothing)
- Illumination (headlamp/flashlight)
- First-aid supplies
- Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
- Repair kit and tools
- Nutrition (extra food)
- Hydration (extra water)
- Emergency shelter
Credit for the 10 essentials – Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills, by Mountaineer Books.