My Hiking Style- My First Wild Bear Encounter

I’ve hiked Half Dome before going to work (albeit an hour late and very hungry and tired) and to the top of Nevada Falls to play in the first snow of the year. I’ve hiked the famous trails in different seasons and I loved them!

But my favorite trails are the ones that don’t have names; random trails on the map with seemingly nothing special about them – no waterfalls or geological wonders.

I prefer hiking in areas that don’t have photos of them plastered all over the Internet. I like being surprised about what’s around the bend.

I’m inspired by questions like What If? and How? It is the unknown that keeps me going. What if I see a bear? What if it’s a giant bear? What is the name of this bug?

My favorite no-name trail is a 11 mile loop that leaves from Bridalveil Creek Campground off of Glacier Point Road. It was one of my first solo hikes and it was that day that I saw my first bear in the wild!

I expected the trail to be busy given, 1) it connects to a paved road, 2) it starts at a campground, and 3) it was just before Labor Day. But after the first 1.5 miles I didn’t see a soul for the rest of the day. That is a reason in of itself to rank this as one of the best trails! I like pretending that I’m the last person on Earth. That means I could finally move to the woods, live in a tree house and commune with nature.

The downside with living by yourself in a tree house, is having to be the brave person when the bear shows up. That’s about the time I walked by these claw marks in a tree trunk. It was something out of a horror film! The claw marks were about 6 feet off of the ground. Yikes! I hoped that I wouldn’t run into the maker of these marks. There’d be no one to save me!

All day long I kept hiking past the most bear scat I’ve ever seen. No need to look it up in my Guide Book, I’d marked it off long ago. For some odd reason my eyes are tuned to animal droppings; Owl pellets, guano, steaming piles of bear scat…

I confess that I have a very full folder on my computer labeled “Scat.” I’m fascinated by who could have left it.  And why is it often in the middle of the trail?! Are the animals sticking it to us and doing their business just to get our goat? My most unique scat discovery happened on this hike. It was of course, in the middle of the trail, and it was of masticated millipedes. I’ve never seen so many in one place before (living or dead). Who could have eaten them? Where did they find so many?

While walking through the Ponderosa Pine trees, I spotted several wasp nests torn to shreds, presumably by my giant bear friend. I’d never seen a paper nest before and I was stunned at the detailed patterns. They are truly a work of art! I looked the nest up in my Sierra Nevada Guide Book, hoping to mark it off, but it wasn’t listed. So I wrote it in and then I marked it off.

It was all so exciting, with a hint of danger. But not real danger or so I thought. And that’s when I heard something in the bushes and it wasn’t a bird. I’d been going uphill for quite some time and a vista point opened up on my right. I wanted to take a look at the view, but I heard the sound of foraging. That’s when I spotted a blonde, juvenile black bear eating in the bushes. He was about 50 feet to my right enjoying the view. (California Black Bears can be black, brown, cinnamon or blonde!)

I called out so that he wouldn’t be startled by my presence. Although I’m sure he already knew I was there, with my Indian food in my backpack. They have better noses than bloodhounds, being able to smell food 20 miles away.

Keeping my distance, I nervously passed him. What if he charged? It was of little comfort knowing that they eat flowers and bugs, because what if this one bear prefers to eat humans?

The little stinker didn’t even flinch when I called out, “Hello, bear. I’m going to walk by, bear. Please don’t eat me, bear.” I was a tad offended that he didn’t consider me even worth looking at. Oh well. Mark that off in the books- my first wild bear spotted on trail and I survived!

After that I was hyper aware of all of the creaks and cracks going on around me. I kept wondering where the rest of them were hiding.

My thoughts of doom were interrupted by moments of glee- like finding a giant mushroom!

I also found a parasitic plant that I’d been wanting to see in person. It’s called a Pinedrop, which is a red plant that lacks chlorophyll. It gets its nutrients by freeloading off of fungi. 

One section of the trail was clearly altered by man. It was a U-shape. About wide enough for a wagon. Or a narrow gauge railroad. I looked it up online when I got home and that led me down a rabbit hole of “Railroads in Yosemite…” There’s so much to learn about the Park!

The prettiest section of the hike looked like the home of the Ewoks from Star Wars. It was super green and densely vegetated. I was hiking down the side of a hill to a creek at the bottom. I couldn’t see the creek because it was overgrown by 10 foot tall bushes. It was in the bushes that I heard a very large animal munching away. Other than turning around, there were no other options for getting past this hungry animal.

My heart was pounding. I’d have to run uphill, off-trail, if the bear uncharacteristically decided to chase me. I’d be a goner.

Trying to make my voice sound braver than I felt, I said, “Hello, bear! I’m going to walk on through! I love your home! It is very beautiful. Have a good day!”

But he never stopped munching. He never showed his face. He, too, couldn’t care less about me. Phew. I was so thankful to not meet him.

For a Local, I am a weenie about bear. They are so heavy and powerful, that if they decided to sit on me, I’d be toast. Laugh all you want. That is fine. I show healthy respect for them and I want to keep them wild.  

After the second bear encounter, I had a steep uphill climb that got me all sweaty. I prefer to get sweaty on a hike, because it is so gratifying making it to the trail head. I was rewarded by getting to walk through a meadow. This was something I’d always wanted to do – walk through the middle of a meadow – but I hadn’t because that would trample the delicate ecosystem. I relished this opportunity to wade through the muddy path, trying to spot some flowers or bugs to mark off in my Guide Book.

That was an exciting 11 mile hike on a no-name trail: two bear encounters, masticated millipedes, wasp nests, Pinedrops, giant mushrooms, and old railroads! What adventures lay in store when I hike the remaining 789 miles in Yosemite!? This kind of hike is what I’m hoping for when I eventually explore the rest of the Park.

This was Day 2 of the 31 Day series on the Summer of Service, planning a 800-mile backpacking thru-hike of Yosemite National Park.

Summer of Service Table of Contents

Day 3: What do I need? A map.