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Wildlife

Bears, goats, and automobilesWhen I ran into my first bear on the PCT, I froze and didn't want to make sudden movements to spook the bear. By the time I got my camera, the bear got away, just leaving tracks in the snow. The other three bears I saw (two cubs and a mom) were also hard to photograph. But since everyone like bear photos, here's one from Olympic National Park, which Maiu shot during one of our training hikes. The llamas that were near us were freaking out.

One of the most frequently asked questions people ask me is, "Do you run into wildlife on the Pacific Crest Trail?" And, "Is there any correlation between the name of a place and the creatures who live there? For example, are there really elephants at Elephant Butte?"

Here are some encounters:

Bear: I was walking alone during my 70 mile adventure in the North Cascades. This section has grizzly bears. You are supposed to make noise while you walk so the bears know where to find you and kill you.
Pika peeking out of the rocks in Washington. Maiu sat patiently with her camera ready to shoot this excellent photo. She had zoom lens, so she had to get quite close and hope the curious little fella would stick his head out. We heard pikas often, a high pitched squeal, like a bird. Pikas are much more curious than marmots, but share the same habitat as a marmot - rocky places at high elevations.
Although I would talk to myself, after a while the conversation got a bit boring and predictable. Partly due to my sleep deprivation, I began to hallucinate and see bears everywhere. However, when I was silently going up a rise and I saw the biggest bear I have ever seen, I knew this was no illusion. This enormous cinnamon colored bear was standing on the snow, showing off his massive profile, when he turned his head to stare at me.
I froze. I tried to look like a tree. The bear grinned and kept staring me down. He wasn't buying my ruse.
I wanted to get my camcorder, but I felt my movement may startle him. Besides, he looked like the kind of bear that eats the paparazzi for lunch.
As we stared each other down for an eternity, I felt like I was in the Clint Eastwood Western, "The Good, Bad, and the Ugly." The only difference was there was no Good guy. Just the bear, the Most animals are quite shy. But some, like the pika and this guy, were just as curious about us as we were about them. This deer blocked the overgrown PCT and walked toward us! We saw deer everywhere on the PCT, but this one was unique. Bad, and me, the Ugly.

The turning point of our stare down was when the bear checked out my ice axe. I could sense his fear of my intimidating weapon. The bear tried to hide his urge to beg for mercy, but I knew how he really felt.
He slowly turned and lumbered away, across the snow, and into the woods. I ignored the yellow snow under my feet.
After the bear had left I examined his paw tracks. Despite his tremendous size, he was no Grizzly. He lacked the claw marks and the attitude.

Curiously, I encountered this big brown colored bear less than one kilometer from the "Brown Bear Mine."

Goats: I was on the look out for mountain goats when I entered the "Goat Rocks Wilderness." Maiu spotted them first. When we were over 6000 ft on the rocks, three pristine white mountain goats were grazing the alpine grass. Knowing they crave salt, I brandished some pretzels, but they bolted.
Companies that make water filtration devices put cows on the PCT to make sure we buy their devices. This baby calf came right up to me to see if she could contaminate my water. Cute little fella.
Porcupine: In the North Cascades crossing river can be tough, especially in June when the rivers run high. We faced a challenging one in the evening, so we decided to wait until the next morning to ford it. Creeks usually are more intense late in the day because the sun melts the snow, resulting in a higher flow rate than in the morning.

With nowhere to camp at 9pm we camped in the middle of the trail, assuming that no one would need to use the trail for at least 10 hours. We were wrong.
Around 4am, just as I was waking up, I saw a large rock 3 meters/yards from me in the middle of the trail. "I don't remember stepping over that rock last night," I mumbled.

Suddenly, the "rock" started to move. "That's no rock," I said in awe, "That's a space station! "This lizard was well hidden until the flash went off on the camera.Ooops, wrong movie.

The "rock" was a porcupine, and he was pissed because we were blocking the animal highway. Indeed, elks, bears, and even quail use the trails to get around. The trail is their freeway and their off ramps are numerous.
This porcupine should be happy that I had enough food. Porcupines are one of the easiest mammals to kill. All you need is a big club (or ice axe). Just run the slow moving sucker down and BAM! Dinner.
Although I crossed "Porcupine Creek" just north of Rainy Pass, I didn't see this Porcupine there.

The Horned Toad is another creature that has amazing camouflage. Ducks: I g ot excited when we were headed to "Sheep Lake" in the Indian Heaven wilderness. However, it ain't no lake and there are no sheep. It really should be called "Duck Pond."


Mosquitoes: Despite the Sheep Lake letdown, I was a bit leary when I saw that the trail passed "Mosquito Lake." I was hoping someone had misnamed that. It is located on the edge of the "Indian Heaven Wilderness," which is HELL in July. Although the abundant lakes are beautiful, its denizens are not - mosquitoes, millions of them. Mosquito Lake certainly lived up to its name. Still Maine in June is worse.


Sponsor spotlight: GoLiteWe saw about 10 tarantulas in Southern California.

GoLite plays the most important role in our bug defense. GoLite has sponsored our trek by supplying us with their Lair and Lair Nest. Together they provide one of the lightest 100% bug proof systems out there.

Fortunately most of the bugs call it a day by the time we stop hiking at 9pm, and they continue to doze when we wake up at 4am. However, when it gets hot like it did in the Indian Hell Wilderness, then it is great to have the Nest and sleep soundly.

GoLite has also provided me with their lightest bug proof clothing. The Ether Wind Jacket weighs a paltry 3.5 oz and the Whim Wind Pants weigh just 4 oz. I love them both and wear them everyday. Then again, those are my only clothes :). Although I miss having pockets, I adore their minimalism. And bugs go crazy trying to bite through their tight mesh. Justice at last.

Learn more at www.golite.com.

Special deal on my book: Get a great discount and free shipping when you order multiple copies of my book, Hike Your Own Hike: 7 Life Lessons from Backpacking Across America.

7/24/2006

 

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