I sat up abruptly in the dark, like I had done a half hour before,
and also a half hour before that. This time it was louder and closer. The rocks rolling down the mountainside were large.
It was that hollow crack and thump, a ringing echo of boulder against boulder, and then the crunching sound of rocks and tinkling
tone of stone debris.
It was only a few hours ago that we climbed inside
the tent and zipped the fly against the cold mountain air and the thick darkness that settled upon our remote camp. We had
hiked and climbed since morning, from the Whitney Portal area, passing several day hikers and deer, and ascending ever higher
into the wilderness of Meysan Lake. Exhaustion turned into relief as we crested a mountain pass onto a saddle which gave way
to a wooded narrow meadow of rugged terrain. Ptarmigan, big as turkeys, strutted fearlessly in our path, probably having never
seen humans before, here at the final edge of timberline.
was wearing on us, and the 11,200 foot elevation would bring on the effects of altitude sickness. Dusk signaled it was time
to setup camp for the night among the granite outcrops and pines. The remote setting was beautiful, but somewhat eerie. We
had trekked many miles into the wilderness, and we were the only living souls in the alpine back country.
hiked to the other side of Camp Lake and found the spring that was feeding it from Meysan Lake, 300 feet above. As I
filled our water vessel from the trickling stream, I gazed across the still lake toward our Spartan campsite, which paled
in the distance. Without noticing, I had ventured further than I thought. For a moment, I felt very much alone on the far
side of the lake, and we were deep in bear country. I glanced cautiously behind me as I capped the now heavy water container,
and then scrambled up the marshy embankment, gingerly making my way back around the lake to camp.
was falling, and there was much to do. The night chill was upon us as we boiled water, and our freeze dried rations magically
changed into chicken, rice and vegetables. We downed the mountain meal and quickly cleaned our utensils, plates and cookware,
and tightly secured tomorrow’s breakfast in our bear box. Rangers warned us that this is a high activity bear habitat.
Fatigue weighed on my eyelids as I retreated deeper into my sleeping
bag and dozed off again, only to spring up promptly at the noise of crashing rocks, so loud it seemed they would tumble into
our camp. Bears were digging in the steep rock slides surrounding us, hunting for the moths that earlier in the day burrowed
into the dark crevices away from the bright sunlight. Their clawed powerful paws are well suited to tear open the rocky hiding
places of these small but fatty winged delicacies, which they can consume by the thousands in a night. Our nylon home would
provide little shelter against a hungry bear wandering thru the darkness in search of food. It would be a sleepless night,
and I was anxious for the first glints of sunrise.