During my first two decades of hiking adventures into the Sierra Nevada Mountains, one of my favorite treks was along the Pacific Crest Trail, starting at Florence Lake and completing this five-day hike at the Bear Creek Trailhead. Joining me on a recent hike on the trail were my good friends Nancy, Christa and my dog Smokey.
We met at the dock at Florence Lake to start our adventure. Tied up to the homemade wooden dock was the ferry we would use to get us across the lake to the east shore.
I was a little concerned because Smokey had never ridden in a boat, but to my surprise he jumped in, sat down, and enjoyed all those strange smells as the wind passed by his nose. He seemed to enjoy the ride and handled the crossing without a mishap.
Once on the opposite shore we followed the trail along the San Joaquin River through Blayney Meadow. This trail crosses three creeks in the meadow and all are prime run-offs from Mount Hooper, Sallie Keyes Lakes and Mount Senger.
These creeks can be difficult to cross during early spring, especially if there is a heavy snowpack in the surrounding mountains.
Next is the junction trail to the Muir Trail Ranch. This rustic ranch has been offering accommodations since the early 20th century with access only by trail or ferry. Today, helicopter service has been added to the resort access.
After a short time of hiking we arrived at the junction of the Pacific Crest Trail. This section of the trail is also called The John Muir Trail. We only hiked another three hours before setting up our first camp just short of the Sallie Keys Lakes at 10,000 feet elevation.
We were entertained that evening by three deer - a doe and her two fawns. The white dotted fawns were a little too aggressive for mom, so she became upset and ran off into the trees. Shortly thereafter she was followed by the two fawns still running and jumping without a care.
Tomorrow we hiked over Selden Pass at 10,800 feet before Heart and Salle Keyes Lakes come into view nestled in the next canyon. To the west is the Marie Lakes and to the north is the Marshall and Rose Lakes. All of these lakes are noted for their excellent trout fishing. However the discovery of fresh cougar tracks helped to hasten our departure from camp.
We passed the Marie Lakes Trail but decided not to stop and continue toward the Rose Lake Trail. Another surprise along this trail was cougar tracks. Are they from the same cat that was at our camp the night before? After crossing the trail those tracks continued up the mountain and disappeared. Guess what? Fresh bear tracks only 20 feet from those cougar tracks. This trail must be a frequent route for the local inhabitants as well as hikers. Should we continue on because these bear tracks are traveling in our direction?
Curiosity prevailed and for almost 20 minutes we followed those tracks along the trail maneuvering back and forth as if this bear was searching for food. They would change directions only to investigate around trees and large boulders. As we passed between two huge rock croppings, there in front of us was a 300-pound bear with only 50 feet of open space separating us. We froze and waited for his reaction. His color was light brown and as he moved the sunlight would reflect off his fur.
We must have been down-wind of his location because he never reacted to us. He was focused on looking for food as he investigated each boulder and tree around him. After five minutes he finally ventured off the trail and climbed the slope and disappeared over the ridge. So far the morning has been quite exciting thanks to our new friends sharing the trails with us.
The conclusion of this adventure will be in the Nov. 10 edition of the Sierra Star.