We try and walk sometime during the day, my assistant and I, a circular
route around the near by office buildings. If the sun is shining
and the wind chill is not below 30, we go out to catch some "lumens."
We enjoy the fact that no one can call either of us and we can discuss
projects and the various issues of the day. The other day we walked
for the first time in two months.
As we approached the last corner before the home stretch I looked
up and said, "Let's cut through the parking lot." She
looked puzzled, for this was out of character. The route is well
traveled and does not include shortcuts on sunny days. In response
to her look I said, "Look up above the sidewalk on the top
There were 50 or so large birds gathered there. She smiled and
said, "OK, you got something about birds?"
The short answer is yes.
As we cut through the parking lot I began to tell her about an
adventure with my friend Bill.
One day Bill and I decided to ride a bike path built along an area
freeway, just because it was there. We are not prolific riders,
but we figured we could handle a 45-mile ride. We started out early
on a Saturday morning, dropped one car at the end of the trail and
parked the other at the trail head. After we had ridden for hours
the asphalt trail took a turn through a marshy area.
Off to my right a loon took off and paralleled the trail.
I admired the deep blue wings as it gracefully turned to
the left. The bird banked even more and my eyes were riveted on
its wingspan. Suddenly it dove right for me releasing an entire
load of smart bombs. I of course, with upturned face, was blessed
with more than a dusting of this bird's refuse. From the edges of
my socks, up my bare legs to my biking shorts, across my white T-shirt,
face and sunglasses, it rested, this Manna from heaven.
Thank you bird.
After the assistant stopped laughing hysterically, I told her how
Mother Nature got even the next year.
Bill always wanted to do a "climb" with me, so we arranged
a little trek up to the summit of Mt. Whitney in California. The
highest peak in the lower 48 states, it is situated on the eastern
edge of California and is 14,496.3 feet high. The trek up the Whitney
trail is not a climb of rope and piton, but more like a high altitude
hike. The way I figure it though, anything over 12,000 feet for
a flat-lander is getting up there.
is climbing season for those who don't arrange hiking permits ahead
of time. It was cold; Bill was not really in shape. The first part
of our trek to the 12,000 feet camp site took all day. We were both
tired but I could see that the next day would bring trouble for
From our base camp near nine thousand feet (3,000meters) we looked
up at the summit ridge and saw that an early winter storm had blanketed
the slopes with snow up to 5 feet deep.
As we climbed we continued to ask people on their way down just
how bad the snow pack was at the summit.
Each group had nothing but bad news for us, and absent any climbing
gear I feared we would never have a shot at the summit. To our surprise,
one pair of climbers offered to sell us their low tech crampons
(spikes attached to boots to climb on ice) and we gladly forked
over forty dollars for the two pair.
Lesson: always carry cash. Climbers probably won't take American
Finally at the end of a very long day we stumbled into the camp
zone just above 12,000 feet or 4,000 meters. We pitched our tent
in the shelter of a large rock, made dinner and went to bed in the
dark. We had hiked in the sun wearing shorts and t-shirts, but now
we were wrapped in down and wool and woke the next morning quite
The temperature had fallen during the night to well below zero.
The snow on the upper slopes had frozen, but it would get soft again
in the afternoon sun.
morning our ascent was slowed by having to use crampons and we reached
saddle at 13,600 feet much too late to make a summit attempt. Not
only were we out of time, we also needed more gear.
Without ice axes and ropes, the backside of the mountain was too
dangerous. We turned and slid down the slopes we had labored up
Camp was reached about 4:00pm. I suggested that we had two alternatives.
Spend the night and walk out at dawn, or pack up the remaining gear
and walk out in the dark. We had about 8 miles to walk and I figured
we could do it by midnight at the latest.
each step down would take us closer to thicker air and warm showers.
Bill agreed - let's walk out.
Camp was broken and I led the march down the mountain since I had
a halogen headlamp. Hours passed and we were both very fatigued.
The mountain is barren above 11,000 feet and strewn only with boulders,
with an occasional patch of moss and low shrubs. About 10,500 feet,
scattered trees finally appeared and the trail began to change from
rock to dirt mixed with pine needles. We rested often.
above the 10,000-foot level we had to make our way across a large
stream on a series of flat rocks. I went first and then turned around
to illuminate the rocks for Bill. Leaning up against a ledge I rested
my backpack and took a deep breath. I breathed in the most delicious
pine scented night air. I said, "isn't this the most wonderful
smell, isn't this just great?"
Bill's response took me by surprise since he totally ignored my
"sensating."His head was down; he was holding his flashlight
while the tried to balance on the rocks in the middle of the stream.
Once his crossing was assured, I started to turn and proceed down
Note, he finally decided to answer me as I am turning to my left.
Bill - "Yea, but there are BEARS out here!"
As I completed the turn I spotted on the rock ledge to the left,
the most magnificent long black hairs I had ever seen. I was reminded
of a fur coat, but this was on some creature that was about 3 to
6 feet away. I remember those hairs, frozen in the beam of my headlamp,
each individual one about 2 inches in length, black as night with
an occasional white one thrown in for good measure.
I also remember my thought most clearly, for it was with the eyes
of a child that I beheld this creature..
"Cool, I thought, Wildlife."
This thought is imprinted on my mind forever.
I replied to Bill, "There's one!"
"Yea, right, THAT'S NOT FUNNY NSR."
Since I had stopped dead in my tracks Bill ran into my backpack.
I stepped aside and lifted my head so the light would illuminate
the black object. I said, "LOOK, right there where my light
is, THERE'S A BEAR."
I remember the bear's eyes being about the size of silver dollars
and they reflected silver back into the night. I remember the moist
black nose and those individual strands of long fur. He was parallel
to the trail, facing downhill and his head was turned backwards
over his right shoulder.
so I had the bird, but now Bill had the bear.
Granted, at this second in time I was too stupid to be frightened
at the thought of a black bear, but Bill went apoplectic. I also
remember in that millisecond thinking that if the bear charged,
I could take my walking stick (adjustable ski pole with a ice point
and no plastic) and try and ram it down the bear's throat.
I also distinctly remember Bill ducking behind my backpack and
screaming, "YELL SOMETHING MAKE SOME NOISE!!!!"
Quite loudly, but not really yelling, I said to the bear, "BEAR
GET OUT OF HERE."
I guess my mind had already registered the fact that he was turning
and leaving. The bear's leaving was the green light to the "bad
boy" in me to not scream. I figured I could have some fun in
this moment of panic.
Bill's reaction was priceless. "BEAR GET OUT OF HERE"
BEAR GET OUT OF HERE? ARE YOU NUTS?
I said to Bill, "Quick, shine your light on him and maybe
he will keep going."
The way I figure, the lights were intimidating. But I am also sure
that we smelled rancid after 3 days on the mountain.
The bear turned for a last glance and gave us the silver dollar
reflection before it disappeared in the night. By now, my emotional
state had been transformed from "Cool, Wildlife," to mild
panic. I guess abject panic is "catching."
"RUN" Bill yelled, "RUN AND MAKE NOISE." So
we ran, downhill and to the right along the trail, while the bear
I am sure,ran up the hill and to the left.
We ran until the lack of oxygen and heavy packs made us stumble
to a stop, our chests heaving in the cold night air. As soon as
possible we continued as fast as our legs would carry us, beating
our walking sticks on the rocks.
After about half an hour, my personal panic subsided and for the
rest of the night I was just plain bad.
I confess, there were moments I was startled by the shadows, but
in general I was just bad. Over the next two hours I "saw"
bears all over the place. Just about every shadow was a bear, and
on a mountain there are lots of rocks and shadows in the night.
Yep, the bird bombed me.
But Bill, I think the bear helped Bill bomb Bill.