Sept. 26, 2015: Bear Lake to Gem Lake
Mileage: 12.65 miles
On our second day in Emigrant, the differences between the national park and wilderness area became more apparent. In Hetch Hetchy, people seemed to be really good about following Leave No Trace. In Emigrant, however, we started to notice trash left behind by previous campers, especially at the lakes closest to the trailheads: pieces of rope still attached to trees, used toilet paper poking up from the ground, an empty liquor bottle, a pile of pistachio shells.
Another difference was the trail markers, or lack of them. At times it became difficult to keep track of which was the correct route; little side paths would split off from the main trail with no signage to indicate which was the correct way. More than a few times, we would explore another route for a bit before backtracking or questioning our choice, or pull out the map to confirm where exactly we were.
When we reached our destination, Gem Lake, we saw a tent already set up on the near side of the water. In search of more privacy, we continued hiking around the lake to the other side and found a nice, solitary spot. We did, however, run into one of the campers, who had circled the lake looking for a good fishing spot. The guy was pretty cool so we chatted with him for a bit; he was traveling from San Francisco with his dad and sister. One thing we noticed when we talked to other hikers in Emigrant is that everyone we met was from California. It seemed to be the locals’ choice for a weekend getaway.
After camp was all set up, Kurt wandered around the area and made a few interesting discoveries. First, after peeking behind a rock, he found what seemed to be a bobcat litterbox (a giant pile of big cat turds). Then later while hanging out at his fishing, he spotted an empty BB gun.
Since we had done a lot of hiking that day, we both needed a shower. We climbed down the rock to the water and immediately gasped once our feet dipped into the cold water. Sucking it up, I dunked my head underneath to rinse the sweat out of my hair. “I love swimming at 8,200 feet!” Kurt exclaimed after immersing himself. Shivering but refreshed, we bundled up in our warm clothes. The nano-puff jacket I had barely used in Yosemite was becoming a regular nightly staple in Emigrant.
After nightfall, we went into the tent to read by headlamp. I woke up shortly after falling asleep, around 11 pm. There was the soft sound of something walking around outside our tent. I admit that when I’m camping in the backcountry I often hear “animals” that turn out to be noises coming from the large mammal in the sleeping bag to my right. This time, however, I could hear distinct footsteps and something sniffing at our tent. I froze, wondering if I should shout to scare it away, or shine my headlamp at the wall. I didn’t need to do either; the animal suddenly ran off on its own. From the thudding of its paws, it sounded larger than our 40-lb dog. I sighed, closed my eyes, and wondered how I’d get back to sleep after that.