Yosemite Diaries: All the Bears

Sept. 21: Laurel Lake to Lake Vernon

Mileage: 7 miles
‘Floors’ climbed: 69

In the morning, I peeked out of the tent door to check on our bear canisters like a kid on Christmas Day, wondering if they’d be knocked out of place in with fresh claw marks on the side. But they were just as we left them the night before. We made a breakfast of powdered eggs, dehydrated hashbrowns, coffee, and tea, then packed up our tents and packs.

The route to Lake Vernon traveled out of the grassy meadows and onto the granite rocks that Yosemite is famous for. We quickly learned that the trail, when traveling over rocks, was much harder to follow. Looking ahead for cairns quickly became a habit. The hot sun bounced off the white rocks onto our arms and faces. After we crossed over the peak, the rest of the trail snaked downhill towards the lake. We followed the trail halfway around the lake, looking for a spot where it got close to the water; we needed a good entry point where we could filter clean drinking water. After going a bit off trail, we found a grassy spot where Kurt could crawl out onto a log and dip the gravity filter bag into the lake. We took a lunch break while filtering 3 Nalgene’s worth of drinking water, then came up with a game plan to backtrack and continue along the trail to an area on the opposite shore that looked like a small sandy beach.

As we bushwacked back to the trail, Kurt pause in front of me. “It’s a bear,” he said. About 25 yards away, I saw the furry rounded back behind a bush. The bear briefly lifted its head, looked at us, then returned to its bear business. “HEY BEAR!” we shouted, waving our arms to look bigger, following the ranger’s advice. Slowly, we backed away, keeping an eye on him while continuing to wave our arms and make noise. He showed zero signs of wanting to follow us, or any interest in us whatsoever, so as soon as we reached the trail we walked away like normal humans (with pounding hearts).

IMG_5954On the other side of the lake we found an ideal campsite–a sandy beach with easy access to the water, and a primitive trail leading into a wooded area with a fire ring and enough space to pitch our tent. We set up camp and relaxed; Kurt fished while I read my trashy time travel romance novel. At one point while sitting on the beach, I heard the padded footsteps of something behind me. I spun around; a young bear had spotted us and ran away. I remembered the ranger’s words: “they’re afraid of us.”

At dinnertime, we took our Jetboil and baggie of dehydrated mac and cheese and hiked partway up the ridge to watch the sunset. No picture can capture the beauty of a Yosemite sunset. The tops of the granite bluffs took on a rose hue as the sky darkened, reflecting its mirror image into the glassy lake. Further up the ridge and in the distance, we spotted the shape of a black bear rambling along the rocks. As the last remaining light waned, we walked back down to camp. Kurt noticed a fresh pile of bear scat by our fire ring.

We made a toasty fire and laid out the socks that we had rinsed and wrung out earlier on the rocks to dry (camping laundry). With the moon behind the ridge, the stars began to come out. I caught a glimpse of a shooting star. When we turned off our headlamps, the nighttime view was breathtaking; the white rocks glowed in the moonlight, creating an otherworldly vision of another planet. In the warmth of the fire, we reflected on the views, the stars, the stillness. This was everything we came to the backcountry to experience.

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