A Bear, A Crash, and a Bang-Bang

July 19

Miles: 13.2 (none on the JMT) (35.7)

Shortly after I fell asleep last night I woke to shouts of “Go on bear! Get out of here bear!” and the loud clacking of trekking poles being knocked together.  A bear?  In the campground?  The shouts sounded about 100 yards off, but where was the bear going?  In what direction?  I turn over and lay on my stomach, and since I’m sleeping without the rain-fly I can see, through the mesh of my tent, my entire campsite.

Nothing.

Darkness.

And then, from the darkness, something.  Maybe?  I don’t know.  A shape?  What is that?  The shape is moving!  No, my eyes are playing tricks on me.  The shape moves again, and now the shape has a form.  A bear-shaped form.  Its a real life, moving, bear-shaped form and its walking towards me.  It’s a bear!

“Beeeeeaaaaaaarrrrrrr!”  I yell.  “Get out of here bear!  Get!  Go on!”  Quickly, I begin trying to open the zippers on my tent to get out and make myself tall and bang on my trekking poles, but I can’t get my fingers to work.  The bear walks closer.

“Go away, bear!”  I yell again, and now my fingers find the zippers and begin pulling.  Too late!  The bear is right beside me.  I pause.  If not for the tent, I could reach out and touch its coarse fur.  It plods on and for a moment both bear and I are silent.  Then, I jump out of my tent and point my headlamp on his broad backside and continue yelling at him, clacking my poles.  I hear a crunching noise as he steps on a fallen log, crushing it.  Bear is gone.  Bear is in the woods.

I stand looking at the empty place where bear used to be.


Creeeeaaaaakkkkk, creeeaaaaaaaakkkkkkkkkkkk, CRASHHHHHHHHHH!

It is six in the morning.  Bear has not returned.  Nearby, a tree has just fallen.  Time to get up and start moving!  Death by wild animal?  Death from above?  Not today.  Life on the trail.

Comedian Louis C.K. (one of my favorite entertainers) has come up with an activity he calls a bang-bang.  It goes like this:  occasionally he and his brother will go out and eat an entire large dinner at a restaurant (bang) and then go directly to another restaurant and eat a second large dinner (bang-bang).  It’s a perfectly absurd phrase for a perfectly absurd and gluttonous activity and it is so, so very American.  For some reason I find this very, very funny.

And now, I’ve come up with my own version of the bang-bang.  It’s when you wake up in the morning (bonus points for surviving bear and tree encounters), climb Half-Dome, and then immediately go and climb Cloud’s Rest.  5500 feet of elevation gained, 5500 feet of elevation lost.  13 miles.  I can do this, can’t I?  About half-way up the sub dome, otherwise known as the horrible thing you have to climb over just to get to Half-Dome, the answer was an absolute no.  No way!  Too much!  The strange feeling in my right heel was getting tighter and I was worried about plantar fasciitis .

And then I reach the base of the cables and looked up and everything disappeared.

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Approaching Half-Dome. I count 4 climbers.

Remove the cables and show me a picture of the bare granite face and I would say no to climbing it one million out of one million times.  The dome intimidates you, it gets in your head.  But then you think, “Well, with those cables…maybe…”  After staring at it for five minutes I walk up, grab a pair of old used up gloves and begin.

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This is me about to do the craziest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

The first few minutes are easy (I should note that I lost all sense of time while climbing), and I learned that by grabbing the cable and leaning all my body weight away from it I could use the tension to help propel myself up.  “Piece of cake!”  I thought.  Then, well, things got hairy.  It gets steeper.  The smooth granite meant my feet kept slipping as I tried to get from plank to plank.  Once on a plank, I could get my footing and stand and rest.  I had to abandon my earlier method and simply grasp, hand over hand, the cable and pull myself up using my upper body.  My legs were there only as secondary support, unreliable assistants.

At one long plank-less section, as the dome took a steep turn up and I had to maneuver a cleft in the rock, I could feel my gloves slipping, my arms wearing out.  Briefly, I panicked.  I thought about slipping and falling and tumbling all the way to the valley floor.  I froze.  I looked around and the world was so still, so quiet, so unconcerned.  There was a distinct matter-of-fact-ness about life and death that washed over me.  Everything was pared down to its absolute literal meaning.  Rock.  Tree. Valley. Mountain.  Human.  Animate.  Inanimate.  Life.  

I pushed hard.  Soon, it got easier again and I was near the top.  People, way below me, were pooling up and staring at this giant, aghast.  I reach the summit.  I stumble around for a while and snap a few photos and decide to head down.  “I’m going to go do Cloud’s Rest!” I think to myself.

At 11:30 I’m back at my campsite for a quick lunch.  I’m only carrying water on these side trips, so my back is light and free.  I begin feeling a new energy in my legs.  There is a risk of thunderstorms this afternoon, so I want to get going soon.  I make two rules: turn around if I hear thunder, and turn around at 5 p.m. regardless.  The hike up Cloud’s Rest is difficult from the direction I’m climbing it, and the summit is well over 9,000 feet.  The trail is a loop, but I need to hike out and back to return to my campsite.

Amazingly, I felt great.  I had no problem with the switch-backing.  No problems with my heel or muscles.  I was flying up the mountain and soon was looking down on Half-Dome.  The final pitch came into view and it is straight up.  Like, steep staircase up.  I finished the last few hundred yards strong and was greeted at the top by a long low roll of thunder.  It was just past 2:30.  I could see the storm, far away and to the north-east so I lounged at the top and took some pictures.

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The spine on Cloud’s Rest
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The view of Yosemite Valley, Half-Dome, from Cloud’s Rest

Soon it became clear that the storm was ballooning out in all directions and taking up the whole sky without appearing to actually move.  It’s time to head down and I think of the piece of advice given to me yesterday: “Don’t be a lightning rod!”  I get down quick, along with the rest of the people on the summit.  By the time the rain and thunder comes close, I’m below treeline.  Only one mile to camp!  I somehow go even faster, and with half a mile left, big fat raindrops begin to fall so I break into a run.

I’m catapulting myself down the trail.  13 miles today.  Half-Dome. Cloud’s Rest.  Now, I’m running.  I get to camp before the downpour starts and throw all of my clothes that were hanging out to dry into a waterproof sac.  I hunker down beneath a grove of trees and stay somewhat dry.

I read David Copperfield on a Kindle that I stuck inside a ziplock bag to keep it safe from water.  Every few seconds I have to wipe the plastic clean so I can read the words.  The storm passes and I eat dinner like a savage and in my head I think: “Bang.  Bang.”

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2 thoughts on “A Bear, A Crash, and a Bang-Bang

  1. OMG, So grateful to read this AFTER you finished your hike! I can’t imagine what it would be like to have a bear that close to my tent, but you had me ‘shaking in my flipflops’!

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