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Yosemite with more cowbell

[flickr: Hetch Hetchy trip]

Ever since that One Time in 2005 in Colorado where a bear tried to nose their way into my friends’ tent at night while they were still inside, I’ve been leery about camping in the forest. Usually I don’t have a problem with wild critters, I’ve spent many nights in Death Valley surrounded by howling coyotes, and I didn’t even think about bears when I camped in Modoc Forest recently.

Yosemite on the other hand has a reputation for bears, there are warning signs everywhere, from the cabins in Half Dome Park to the wilderness trailheads. “Use bear canisters. Keep food out of vehicles and tents. Lock things up.” So I was a bit apprehensive when I decided to set up my tent in a meadow in Stanislaus Forest along forestry road 1S20 right outside the entrance to Hetch Hetchy last Thursday.

I knew there were cattle in the area, at least on the other side of the road down a ways but there was a fence and I didn’t think much of it. I carefully scouted my camp site and seeing no problems set up my tent. There were some critter noises at night, mostly bats chirping and birds.

Around 2:30 AM I heard in the distance some snorting, stomping, and tree limbs snapping. Something big was there. This spooked me, so I grabbed my flashlight and shone it at the ridge beside me. After a minute of more noises I saw two eyes staring back at me, probably 100 feet away or so. I made a bunch of noise, clapping, hitting my camera tripod with a stick, but whatever it was it didn’t move.

More snorting, stomping, and tree limbs breaking. This time when I looked I saw three pairs of eyes staring back at me in the dark. I made more noise, nothing. It was around this time I started to wonder if these were cattle, because I don’t think bears travel in packs, and cattle just don’t give a fuck about anything. Then I heard a faint cowbell from the ridge. I finally realized these indeed were cattle, they were coming over the ridge into the meadow where I was staying. Several of them had cowbells on, clang clanging in the night. About 10-15 head walked by my tent to a clearing, where they apparently settled in for the night.

I figured a herd of cattle with bells on around my campsite would scare anything else off (or at least be a tasty prey), so I was finally able to fall asleep relieved. In the morning they were up grazing around my tent so I got to watch them as I was laying there. A few were curious but ran off as soon as they saw me move. [Cowbell video]

Hetch Hetchy

The point of camping out in the forest was that I wanted to go explore Hetch Hetchy lake. I had only recently heard the back story about it, how it was a large granite valley like Yosemite Valley, but it was dammed up to create a reservoir for San Francisco’s water supply.

There wasn’t any camping within the reservoir area unless you were a wilderness backpacker, thus camping in the forest. It was about a 9 mile drive from the entrance gate, down into the valley, before reaching the dam. It is a pretty place, just like Yosemite Valley with huge granite walls, just full of water.

There are several hikes around the lake, some are day hikes, others are multi-day backpacking trips to some of the other lakes and meadows in the area. I opted to hike out to Wapama Falls, which was a few miles up on the north side. It was pretty hazy out due to the two larger wildfires in southern Yosemite. By afternoon the wind was picking up and it started to cool off. Overall it was a nice hike.

Originally I had planned to stay out until Saturday, but after getting tired from hiking and not sleeping much I just opted to come home Friday night.

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