Yosemite, 4/12-4/13

Recently I decided I would learn to love solo hikes.  For a social creature, I’ve found the project surprisingly easy:  certainly I appreciate the ability to set my own pace and take pretentious flower photos without worrying about whether anybody else is bored.

So I was content this weekend to head up Yosemite’s five-mile-long Four Mile Trail (yeah, rounding error) on my own.  The climb was a grind but the view from Glacier Point was perfect and deserted;  I half-ran down the other side of the ridge in something approaching straight-up glee.


Illilouette Fall. Dying day?
Illilouette Fall and the dying day.

At the top of Illilouette Fall, I dawdled on the rocks admiring the mad rush of green water into the setting sun, then started back down the trail to the bridge crossing, where I then saw—to use the description that came involuntarily out of my mouth at the time—A Huge Fucking Bear.

And this is when I discovered that there is actually no such thing as a solo hike. You never truly walk alone: lizard brain goes with you.

Me Lizard Brain
While they may get big—up to 600 pounds—there are only black bears in Yosemite. “Black bear” is a misnomer; most are brown. The last California grizzly was shot and killed in 1873. HOLY SHIT A GRIZZLY HOLY SHIT A GRIZZLY IT IS THE SAME EXACT GRIZZLY FROM THAT ONE MOVIE WHERE EVERYONE DIES IN ALASKA
If you encounter a bear, make as much noise as you can. I can’t. I can’t. It’ll hear me and eat me. If I open my mouth to scream, I will instead just vomit. Of course bears love vomit; they’re omnivores.
Keep the bear in sight. Under no circumstances should you run. Turn your back and book it for somewhere comforting and wide open. You know, like the African plains of early human evolution? How about that riverbank? Yes, that one, right above the 370-foot waterfall.
Literally no one has ever been killed by a bear in Yosemite. I am going to be killed by a bear in Yosemite.
By contrast, dozens have died being swept over the waterfalls. Also, bears are excellent swimmers. I’ll be safe if I can just cross the river. The bear would never cross the river.
The narrower the stream, the faster the flow. I just have to find a good spot to jump to the other side.
Whatever you do, don’t panic. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The best I can say is that I was reasonably prepared for just about anything other than an apex predator: for weather, for poor trail conditions, for minor injuries, to bivvy overnight if necessary. And it wasn’t a matter of temporarily forgetting what I was supposed to do. The entire time I spent frantically casing the slabs I was completely aware of how stupid it was to be doing so. But as in other, less pressing situations—more toprope freakouts that morning, for example—the lizard had seized the machine.

So, what to do? Then: wrest control from the lizard, scan and proceed cautiously across the bridge, and hammer out the last five miles to camp with fresh batteries in my headlamp for reassurance, forcing myself past the site of our New Year’s encounter with a mountain lion by alternating between loudly reciting poetry and singing camp songs (…).  Now: buy an air horn, some bells, and some bear spray. And never make the same mistake twice.