Day 2- Chicken Spring Lake to Soldier Lake

“How backwards and removed from ourselves we have become that returning to nature is perceived as courageous and dangerous.

 –  Carolyn Higgins

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

6:00 am: It’s my first morning waking up on the trail (the Pacific Crest Trail!) and it’s surprisingly warm (guessing around 55 degrees).  I’m still lounging in my sleeping bag sipping my hot coffee and waiting for the sun to fully rise over the eastern peaks behind me to bring Chicken Spring Lake back to life. I’m basking in my freedom and beaming with gratification that all I have to do for the next 29 days is walk and experience all that Mother Earth has to offer.

I’m excited about the adventure that awaits me. There is so much to experience and learn! It’s only Day Two and I’m already learning new things! Like making sure my map is safe and secure in my pocket at all times, not drinking an entire liter of water before bed, and watching where I make my bed.

sunrise at chicken spring lake morning 1 on trail
Sunrise at Chicken Spring Lake morning one on trail

I didn’t sleep very well, but I’m not too disappointed. It gave me the opportunity to scan the starry sky all night for meteors from the tail end of the Leonid meteor shower. I only saw a few small ones (a bit disappointing in that regard) but I can’t complain too much. After all, I got to gaze at the stars all night!!!

At dinner I felt a migraine coming on again (woke up with one yesterday). I decided maybe I wasn’t hydrated enough so I guzzled an entire liter of water. I swear I must have gotten up to pee nine times – no exaggeration – NINE times (I lost count after six). Every time I felt like I was about to drift off my bladder would punch me awake with that urgent “I have to pee” ache. Ughhh. I have to get up AGAIN!  Lesson learned: Do NOT drink a ton of water after dinner.

And if it wasn’t my bladder, it was something busily scurrying and scratching beneath my pillow (made up of my empty backpack with my Sea to Summit inflatable pillow on top of it, propped against a big rock).  At first I just laid there thinking to myself, I must be hearing things. My imagination is getting the best of me, there’s nothing moving around right underneath my head. I’d ignore it and squeeze my eyes shut trying to race my full bladder and the imaginary noise to sleep.   OH SHIT!  The frenzied scurrying would jolt me up again. What the hell? I’d rearrange my backpack and pillow on the rock, grab my headlamp and scan the area around me. Seeing nothing, I’d convince myself the noises were from my backpack shifting and settling beneath my head. I’d lay back down only to be jarred again by the noise a few minutes later. This went on for a good hour; I’d shift my pillow to prove the noises were a figment of my imagination, lay down and get comfy, and finally start to doze off only to be jarred again by scurrying beneath my head.  I started to think maybe the noise wasn’t so imaginary and finally turned on my headlamp to perform a thorough investigation, tearing my backpack away and examining the rock it had been resting on. Oh my god. I laughed out loud as my light beamed directly on a hole in the sandy ground beneath the rock. It was obviously home to a mouse or some other rodent-like critter.  I was blocking its door! The poor thing was trying to get out but had to dig through my backpack to do so!  

I had to laugh at myself for not being smart enough to check around the rock before making my bed there – well of course there’s wildlife out here, silly!  I should probably watch for that in the future.  Lesson Learned: Do not sleep on critters’ porches.

My second spot on Chicken Spring NOT on a mouse hole

I slid my Tyvek ground sheet with all my bedding on it across the sand a few feet to make a new bed, carefully scouting the area to make sure I wouldn’t be preventing some poor rodent from leaving it’s home to do its nocturnal nut gathering.  The last thing I wanted was to wake up with a mouse scurrying across my face or tangled in my hair.

My new location provided a new noise: scurrying, rustling, and scratching around in my wadded up tent on the ground next to me. Ah screw it, at least it’s not under my head. 

I think I finally dozed off for a few minutes only to be awakened by what sounded like footsteps. Something was walking around my camp not five feet away! I held my breath and froze for a few minutes so I could hear without my noisy breathing getting in the way. Yep, something is walking around over there. It sounded like deer, so I just rolled over and tried to go back to sleep.

As comfortable as I like to think I’ve become sleeping in the wilderness alone, every little noise still causes me to tense up and hold my breath so I can listen and investigate with all my senses while I tell myself, nothing out here wants to hurt me. Nothing wants to eat me. They’re just going about their business like they do every night.  This has become my solo-hiking “I’m ok, Nothing is going to attack me” mantra to calm my nerves in scary situations.

view of solder lake from meadow
view of solder lake from meadow

I learned this trick when I was backpacking alone in Buck’s Wilderness last year.  It was my second night out and I’d hiked cross country to Gold Lake, a picturesque and remote glacially carved basin filled with cobalt blue runoff. I’d just lay down in my tent for the night when I heard a bear frolicking in the lake a couple hundred yards away. I knew it was a bear because it was making a ton of noise walking through the reeds on the shore (CRUUUNCH….CRUUUUNCH…..CRUUUUNCH) and splashing in the water (SPLASH! PLUNK….PLUNK) and because I’d stepped over very fresh bear poop on the way in.

Before heading into Buck’s Wilderness alone I thought I was a pretty experienced backpacker. Even though I’d only been on one solo trip before, I’d been on plenty of trips with others.  However, as I lay vulnerably alone in my tent with a bear cavorting just yards away I quickly realized that I in fact, didn’t know shit.

Oh-my-god-what-do-I-do? Do I be quiet? Make noise? Stay still? Pack up all my shit and leave? What if he comes into camp? What if he starts messing with my bear canister? Would I scare him off? Or let him bat it around until he gets tired and gives up?  Oh great, then I’ll have a frustrated and pissed off bear in my camp. Oh-my-god-oh-shit-what-do-I-do?

After mentally running through a thousand different scenarios, none of which ended well for me, I decided my best bet was to cordially let Mr. Bear know I was there. My hope was that this thoughtful gesture would help forge some kind of understanding between us…

So I unzipped my bag, left the (perceived) safety of my tent and walked the 100 feet across camp to grab my soloist pot yelling “”Hey Bear. Hey Bear. I’m Here Bear. I just want you to know I’m here. I’m not going to hurt you!” And then I had a brilliant idea – —- “I’M VEGAN!!!” I yelled into the darkness toward the bear sounds. In my moment of panic I thought if he knew I was vegan he’d be more understanding and less likely to eat me. (As if a bear knows what a vegan is, geesh!)

When I reached my pot and metal Spork I banged them together as loudly as I could and continued to yell, “HEY BEAR! HI BEAR! I’M HERE BEAR! JUST LETTIN’ YOU KNOW I’M HERE!!!”  He’d stop doing whatever it is bears do in the middle of the night (aka: 9pm lol)  for a few minutes and I’d think, whew, it worked. I scared him off.  But within minutes he’d be going about his bear business again; frolicking in the water and tromping in the reeds.

Camp at soldier Lake
Camp at soldier Lake

I climbed back into my tent and continued clanking and yelling for a while, feeling slightly silly for sitting in my tent by myself in the middle of the night on Gold Lake in Buck’s Wilderness clanking a Spork against a pot and yelling to a bear “I’m vegan! Really I don’t eat animals – so you don’t have to hurt me!”

Each attempt to scare him off only served to temporarily quiet Mr. Bear so I finally gave up, laid my head down, wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and stayed alert in case he decided to return my cordiality and welcome me to the neighborhood with a surprise visit.  At some point I finally realized he had no interest in me, he was just doing what he probably does every single night, whether I’m there or not. That’s when I started soothing myself by telling myself over and over: bears don’t eat people. He doesn’t want to hurt me. He’s as afraid of me as I am him. Nothing out here wants to hurt me. Nothing out here wants to eat me.  I was eventually able to relax and go to sleep with the not-so-soothing backdrop of Mr. Bear doing his thing.

This mantra comforts me whenever I hear noises and start feeling nervous – and last night, hearing footsteps 5 feet from my head was no different. Nothing out here wants to hurt me. Nothing out here wants to eat me.

I truly believe nothing out here does want to hurt me. The incidents of black bears – or even cougars – attacking humans are so rare (and it’s usually because the human is being stupid or unaware). This is their territory, we have to respect it, be prepared, and pay attention. I know as long as I’m smart, alert, and aware I’ll most likely be safe. But if I happen to run into that one crazy bear who has his heart set on attacking a human that day, then so be it. It must be my time to go.  And I’m ok with that.  Frankly I’d rather die in the wilderness doing what I love than slipping in the tub or having a stroke sitting on the couch eating cookies and watching Les Stroud live out my Survivorman fantasies.

But all is good, I survived my first night on the trail!

The sun is fully up. It’s time to eat my oatmeal with protein powder, get packed up, and hit the trail. I’m heading 6 miles to Soldier Lake today via the PCT and the Siberian Pass Trail – 6 miles closer to Rock Creek where I pick up JMT and head to Mt. Whitney!

I’m still feeling the elevation. Just walking the 100 feet or so to the water is more demanding on my muscles and lungs than it would be at sea level. Other than the breathing and some slight dizziness when I stand up it’s not too bad – no nausea or anything like that.  I suspect I’ll feel it for several days.  Luckily there won’t be a lot of elevation gain today – it should be an easy day.

Camp at Soldier Lake, night two

Afternoon on Soldier Lake

I got here at about 12:30 – not bad. Minus breaks, I did 6 miles in about 3 hours. I’ll take that for my second day out. (Little did I know it wasn’t going to get much better than that!) And like magic, almost exactly 24 hours after starting yesterday I could breathe! Suddenly my pack felt lighter and every step easier. It also wasn’t as smoky this morning as it was yesterday.  I’m sure that helped.

I’ve been here a couple hours and have set up camp, soaked my feet, thought about swimming, but it’s really not warm enough (I’m already over the whole adventure of jumping in freezing mountain lakes just for the sake of it), and ate lunch (powdered hummus which was surprisingly delicious and Mary’s multi-seed crackers). I’m camped across the lake from all the well-used campsites that are mostly empty now because it’s early, but I suspect will fill up later. My spot is small, but quiet and private. The faint path from the popular side of the lake leads directly through my site and to a soggy meadow spilling out from a rocky gorge on the other side. To the left of the path is the small lake and to the right a rocky cliff covered with trees and brush overlooking on my campsite. I had to tromp through a soggy meadow and ankle deep mud at times to get here, but it’s got what I wanted: solitude.

Relaxing on soldier lake- too cold to swim

I took a walk out to the meadow to explore the gorge where the stream that feeds the lake comes from. It looks like the perfect place for bears to hang out. I might be a little scared tonight – maybe being over here all by myself wasn’t such a good idea. (Nothing out here wants to hurt me.).

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After dinner about 6:30 pm:  I am so happy with how my homemade dinners turned out. Last night was white beans and cabbage and tonight sweet potato and lentil curry. Very yummy.

Now I’m sitting on the granite slab perched about 5 feet above my site overlooking Soldier Lake sipping my chamomile tea. I took what I hope is Benadryl to help me sleep tonight and not be afraid.  The smoke is back. I wonder how the highway 120/Lee Vining fire is doing?  I’m also thinking about Capone and hoping he’getting as acclimated to his environment as I am to mine. I’m sure he’s settled in and having fun. I do miss him.

Read tomorrow morning’s entry: Sleepless nights and Breakups

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13 comments on “Day 2- Chicken Spring Lake to Soldier Lake”

  1. Hi, Dick Kelly and still reading about your pursuits. Sounds like your hike of the JMT was a lot of fun for you. My wife and I were in Lee Vining in Sept of 2013 and drove into Yosemite but got stopped because of the fire damage then. I did love the part of Yosemite that we got to see, it’s a beautiful place. I started to hike the Florida Trail back in 2008 and started at the southern trail head, I hiked about 9 miles through water and mud and was so tired at the first stop at a ranger station that I called my wife and had he come and pick me up! That was the end of my 1400 mile Florida Trail Hike! I think I would love the PT though. My problem now with high elevation is that I get out of breath pretty quick which I think is just a thing with old age.

    1. Dick, thank you for your comment, it sounds like you’ve had some great hiking experiences on some great trails! Thanks for your comment and for reading my blog. Happy Trails! – Carolyn

  2. Rad. I camped at Soldier a few weeks before you! We tried swimming but the mud prevented us from going too far.

    I think I was actually day-hiking Half Dome this same day! Hah!

  3. Good read! I love to hear about women going solo in the wilderness. I’m a long time backpacker and an occasional soloist but I’m about to face a big PCT section solo so I am gleaning all the wisdom of the women who have stepped out before me. Very nicely written too!

    1. Thank you Sky. What section of the PCT are you doing? I think I’ve decided I want to section hike most of the trail. Would love to do some of the SoCal portions and Oregon. Good luck to you and thank you for reading my blog!

  4. Enjoying your adventures. I encountered way more bears on the JMT than the AT, even though the later is 10x as long, but they were never a problem.

    1. I ended up not seeing a single bear on the JMT. I was a little disappointed. I always hope to see one – way off in the distance in the middle of the day! I love hearing hiker stories of bear encounters because, as was your experience – 99/9% of the time, it’s not an issue. Thank you for reading and for taking the time to leave your comment! Happy Trails! 🙂 – Carolyn

      1. I had a ranger say “you will definitely see a bear, if you camp in Lyell Canyon.” Not a bear to be seen. But in the T.M. Backpacker’s camp, it was a different story.

        I camped at that very spot at Soldier Lake many years ago. It was a full moon night, and the moon shining on the granite walls woke me from a sound sleep.

        1. Wow, I bet that was a sight to see. I loved my spot there. It was perfect! And it is sad the bears go where the people go. I’ve always heard that about Lyell Canyon too, but I didn’t a thing. Thank you for your comment and for reading!

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