Monday, June 30, 2008

A Back Country Advenure

So, I am on summer break, and my natural response to summer breaks is to head to Salt Lake City in order to visit my 100 year old Norwegian grandmother, visit with various extended family members, visit with friends, and enjoy the beauty of Utah. Needless to say, I have been gone for over a week now and intend to stay one more, but I've got an itch to see and do more, so on a whim, I am going to take off on a huge road-trip beginning next week through Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and back down through California. But this is not my intended blog for today. What I wish to write about is the adventure that I have already had on my way up to Salt Lake City.
On my way up a stayed two nights in Las Vegas, visiting friends. The first was spent with my married friends, Brent and Jessica Hess. The second night was spent with my single friend, Misty and her roommate. I then headed off early in the morning for Beaver, Utah. That is right, you read that correctly--BEAVER, UTAH.
"Why Beaver?" you may ask.
Well, I had heard from an acquaintance that the mountains just outside of Beaver are really nice and considering that I have been hiking in many parts of Utah and that I hadn't done much of anything in the central part of the state, I decided I would give it a go.
Imagine my surprise when I pulled into the Forestry Service station in Beaver and asked about parking permits, stove permits, back-country camping permits, and the likes, and the ranger stared blankly at me as if I were speaking a foreign language or something. It turns out that Utah does not have the exhaustive restrictions that we have in California. No permits required.
"You mean I can park anywhere and camp anywhere and use my backpacking stove anywhere I would like?" I inquired.
"Yes, so long as you don't park in the middle of the road or in a meadow." The ranger replied.
I almost kissed the ranger out of delight (it is a good thing the ranger was female) as I exclaimed, "I LOVE UTAH!!!" No restrictions or paperwork or fees for a person to simply get out and enjoy nature. It is awesome!
So, I drive off into the mountains and pass many different lakes, forests, meadows and the likes. Naturally, I make various stops in order to take photographs and enjoy the scene. Finally, I arrive at a trailhead that looks good to take me into the back country, so I leave all unnecessary items in the car, put on my backpack and head out into the wilderness with the intent to find some random place to throw down my sleeping bag for the night.
I have done back country camping many times with friends, but this is the first time that I have done it alone. It was a great and strange experience. As I began my hike (around 4 p.m.) the skies were blue with some scattered clouds, the air was sweet, and the temperature bearable. Not long after I had set out on my journey, some scattered storm clouds moved in and thunderstorms were rumbling above me. I was not too concerned about lightening as I thought of the odds of being struck by it to be ridiculously low. The sweet summer rain felt nice falling on my face--it was not too hard of a downpour--more of a heavy sprinkle. The clouds would come and go and the thundering and rain along with it.
After a few hours of hiking, I came across a meadow where I spotted a porcupine. I had never actually seen one in the wild before, and it was cool to observe. It let me within about 20 feet of it before it sent me a warning by perking up all of its spikes. It then slowly meandered on down to the nearby creek, crossed it, and entered the woods.
A short time later, I noticed on a part of the trail some fresh deer tracks. I knew they were fresh because it was loose dirt and the recent rain would have washed out all of the existing tracks. I also happened to notice a short time later some cougar tracks. Not a small cougar--these were big tracks--the biggest cat tracks that I have ever seen and they were fresh. I've always wanted to see a cougar in the wild, but I would prefer to have others around when I see it. I've often heard of cougars attacking people but being scared off by other people who are around. The only fatalities that I have heard of with cougars are when people are alone. The cougar attacks an unsuspecting individual and there is nobody nearby to help fend the animal off. I had been hiking for several hours and had not come across a single person. I must admit that at this point I was certainly hoping that that cougar had tracked down that deer and had made a nice meal of it. The last thing I wanted was a hungry cougar stalking me.
I continued on the trail and came across a few deer a short time later. Twilight was fast approaching and I had still not found a place to sleep. The trail that I was currently on was on a steep slope, so I either had to backtrack to the last flat area I had been to (which is where I saw the cougar tracks) or continue on in hopes that some flat area would appear that I could throw my sleeping bag down upon and sleep for the night. As I pushed forward I came across a felled tree that covered the trail. Usually I would simply climb over such a tree and continue on my way, but this tree was thick with branches, making my going around it a necessity. I saw log off of the side of the trail on the slope of the mountain and decided to step on it in order to work my way around the obstruction. The log looked solid and same enough, but when I stepped on it I quickly discovered that it was rotted out. My foot burst right through it, forcing me off-balance, and with the weight of my backpack shifting forward, I did a face dive down the slope. I crashed through another felled tree with broken branches that were like sharp spikes. I was lucky that I did not fall directly upon them as they would have impaled me, creating a serious wound that could have been life-threatening. Instead, I merely glanced off of them, receiving slashing cuts rather than being impaled. I received multiple slashes upon my body: Three on my left arm, three on my left side, and four on my left leg. The arm wasn't bad, one of the ones on the side was fairly serious and quite painful, but it was my leg that was oozing the most blood. Fortunately, I had some anti-bacterial wipes in my backpack, so I pulled them out and cleaned the wounds on my leg. As soon as I cleaned the wound it would immediately begin spouting blood. Fortunately, I had packed my first-aid kit, so I took it out, found some bandages, cleaned the wound and applied the bandages as necessary. It did the trick as the bleeding was contained.
Twilight had already arrived and it was beginning to get dark. There was one flat area that I had passed recently, next to a series of boulders that looked like the perfect place for a den. I decided that I did not wish to attempt camping nearby what might possibly be a cougar's lair, so I continued on for about a half an hour where I finally found a little area that was just the right size for a sleeping bag. It was around 9 p.m. at this point, so I removed my backpack, cleared the ground of rocks and sticks, and flung my sleeping bag on the ground. I was too tired to cook anything so I simply ate a few granola bars instead, read my pocket-sized book of mormon, and attempted to get some sleep.
It was at this point that I had realized that I left all of my food in my pack. Instead of isolating my food and tying it from a tree, I simply moved my pack about 30 feet from where I was sleeping so that if a bear was hungry it could enjoy my pack without bothering me.
As I lay within the dark, my one hope was that no mountain lion (cougar) had been tracking me (my flat mate, Kyle, had told me of a time that he was stalked by a cougar). I decided to retrieve my buck-knife from my pack and sleep with it through the night. This is the only time that I can recall ever sleeping with a weapon.
I love nature and enjoy being out in it either with company or alone, but it is a little erie being out in the middle of nowhere, having not come upon a single human being throughout the excursion. Needless to say, around 11 p.m. I heard in the near distance (probably within 50 yards) the crashing sound of a huge log being stepped upon by something big. This was not the smaller sounds created by scurrying little animals that one always hears when camping. . . this was big! Naturally, my mind wandered to a bear or to a cougar. I was not too concerned about a bear, figuring that it could easily enjoy the food from my pack and move on without incident. However, if it were a cougar, nothing but blood would satisfy. I carefully opened the blade on my buck-knife and awaited the approach of the animal. I figured that if it struck at my head I could easily whip my blade around and pierce its skull or impale its neck.
I became acutely aware of every sound within the darkness. I could hear twigs cracking as some animal seemed to move nearer and nearer my location. It was not a big sound like I had heard before, but my mind certainly toyed with me as I thought of cougars being a part of the cat family, and envisioning the way that cats stalk their prey, slowly moving carefully step by step towards its victim. I laid motionless, waiting patiently for the beast to pounce upon me so that I could make my counter-strike. Though I do not fear death, I personally don't feel like leaving this life through the jaws of a wildcat.
After a prolonged period of time awaiting the beast, I thought it ridiculous to simply lay in wait. I finally took out my flashlight and shone it around the area, looking for what might be lurking in the dark. The sounds stopped, but I saw nothing through the trees. After some time, of searching with the light, I returned to my attempt to sleep. It was not long (perhaps 10 to 20 minutes) before I heard the sounds of something approaching as the crunching of twigs, branches, and leaves could be heard nearby. I gripped my blade, awaiting once more for the moment of engagement. It was tense. It was retarded. I thought to myself, "Am I going to lay here all night with this knife in my hand awaiting an attack?" I was done with all of the suspense, all of the uncertainty, all of my mind wandering wild with scenarios of hand to hand combat. Then it dawned on me. If it is a cougar, its greatest asset is the element of surprise. If I negate that element I take the advantage and possibly scare off of the predator. But to do this, I must become the predator and not the prey.
I was done with the anticipation. I arose from my sleeping bag, grabbed a branch that I had been using earlier as a hiking stick, and with the other hand carried my knife, held above my head in attacking position along with the little flashlight that I had. I have heard that when it comes to cougars one will want to make oneself look bigger than one actually it in order to intimidate the beast and scare it off. If there was going to be fight, it was going to be on my terms and we were going to get it over with. I became the predator, stalking about in the darkness, making a circular pattern around my sleeping bag as I explored the widening perimeter. It was time to finally put my mind at ease by either scarring off the beast or engaging it in combat. Either kill me now or let me sleep in peace. So I stalked about with the intent to fight. Thirty minutes passed and I found nothing. I did not sleep well, but I did sleep after this point.
came and no attack. I figured at this point that the animal that made the large crashing may have been a cougar that I had scared off, or more likely was simply a deer passing through the area. In the morning I did find both deer and cougar tracks, but I could not tell how old they were--they may have been there for a few days.
I ate breakfast and continued on the trail until the trail disappeared. According to my map and compass I was much closer to where I had parked my car if I continued on the course I was on rather than back tracking all the way that I had come. All that was before me was animal trails--no clear sign of a human trail through the forested mountain. I was off of the trail and seemingly lost at this point. I wasn't really lost--I could always go back the way I came, but I didn't want to, so I said a little prayer asking for inspiration and set off in the direction that "felt" right to me at that moment. I decided I would travel no further than 100 yards so that I could always find my way back. I hiked straight up a hillside and walked forward on the plateau. Sure enough, I found a real trail, but I still wasn't sure if it was the trail that I was supposed to be on. I figured that an unknown trail was better then no trail. At least an unknown trail would lead to somewhere.
Using my compass, I set off in the direction I thought was best (I left a marker pointing where I had come from in case I had to return and try to find the old trail I was on). I gave myself half an hour hiking in that direction and if nothing materialized, I was set to return to where I had come from. Twenty-five minutes into the hike I discovered a road that was on the map and I knew exactly where I was. An hour later I was back at my car, having experienced an interesting adventure. I never did come across another human being during that entire excursion. I could now continue on my journey to Salt Lake City.


NHS Librarian said...

Good Grief Brett!! As a mother of four, you make me extremely nervous! I'm glad your adventure turned out so well (except for your injuries... feel better!). It was sure fun to read! Enjoy your travels over the next few weeks - I look forward to reading about your next adventure, but hopefully you will be hiking with friends next time! :o)

Amanda said...

I'm just so glad I didn't hear about you on the news. Have fun in Utah and be careful!

Liz W. said...

Brett! Way to get all caveman-y!

It's stories like this that make me wish I were a boy. Boys can go off by themselves and camp. Girls, not so much.

You had me a little worried though. I mean, I knew you were okay, (you were posting after all), but still.

Be careful!

Andrea said...

Ok, my idea of camping is a motel 6, so I was quite amazed by your story! Glad you're safe and I second Amanda & Liz, have fun and be careful!

Jennette said...

Beware of the chupacabra... Glad to hear you're having fun. Your road trip sounds awesome!! Enjoy the rest of your trip!

Heather said...

Wow--That is quite the adventure! I gotta admit that I had to hold my breath for a while, but I'm glad you are okay. I know all about your attack skills, so whatever animal was out there is luck to have gotten away.