Sunday, November 24, 2013

Shenandoah Round Three--or how I survived my close encounter with Mrs. Bear

So, up and at 'em at 3:25 a.m. with a little nudge from Judy.  Botched the first pot of coffee and then recovered nicely on the 2nd--in the Black Beauty at 3:57 with a cupa Kona's finest and headed south to Shenandoah National Park for my 3rd SNP session of my Aconcagua training (and general enjoying of the outdoors).  Uneventful trip and rolled into Thorton Gap after 192 miles around 7:20--only to discover the Northern Sector (where I planned to hike) would not open until 8:00 am.  No worries.  I went to Panorama and got everything ready and when the gate opened I was on my way north up Skyline Drive to just before MP 19.  My loop for the day is called the Piney Ridge/Overall Run Perimeter Circuit.  This was advertised as a strenuous 12.7-mile/3000 ft vertical affair estimated to take 7:45.

I was saddled up and rolling by just before 8:30 am.  I had to be back to Thorton Gap by 5 pm or else I would be spending the night in my car as the gate closed at 5.  When I left, the temp was 10 degrees and the wind was blowing in gusts of 40-50mph up on the ridge!

With the wind-chill well into minus territory I opted for 4 layers up top: base and mid merino wool layers with my First Ascent 800 fill down sweater under my soft-shell.  A warm hat and my "I mean business" gloves completed the picture.  

The first part of the trail was a breeze.  I feel like all of my recent climbing/trekking training is paying off and frankly the trail was of quite modest challenge.  My first five miles were all well under 30 minutes and while I was a bit chilly, I was fine given the pace I was pushing.  It was truly splendid hiking:

BTW, I noticed my camera was in HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode, which was annoying because it took three photos every time I depressed the shutter and then I had to wait for the camera to process the composite picture for 4-5 seconds.  I thought about trying to change it but I forgot how to and I didn't want to figure it out because it was so cold.  Plus, the HDR pics are pretty nice....

After around 5 miles or so I passed the Dwyer family cemetery, which was 30-40 yards off the trail.  It's hard to find and the souls have been resting there for a long-long time:

As I approached the noon hour I decided to stop and take off my down layer as I knew I was facing a strenuous and extended climb.  I also thought it might be a good time to eat one of my salami and turkey on an onion roll specials.  I saw this great felled tree (with exposed roots) right near the trail that was in the sun and looked like a perfect place to stop and do my "transition":

The following is my best recollection of what then took place over the next 30 seconds or so.  I can't guarantee it's accuracy but it will have to do as the other four witnesses have all since disappeared: 

I sat my trekking polls down and took my gloves off.  I took my Garmin off the outside of my left arm on my soft-shell.  I loosened and unsnapped all of my pack's hardware and was just beginning to slip my pack off when I heard a noise behind me.  I turned and there about 8-10 feet or so away, on my tree trunk was a young, but not that small bear cub.

I said something akin to: "Ohahewa".  The cub took this as a command to jump down and leap over to a tree a few feet behind and shimmy up 2-3 feet.  During this time, I suspect I did nothing.  Elapsed time at this point was about 7-8 seconds.

I snapped to and grabbed my gloves, my Garmin (I need my data) and my polls and started moving to the right.  At this point my brain begain to inquire about the possibility of a mother and I stopped and looked quickly around.  Cumulative elapsed time: 12-15 seconds.  Seeing nothing, and thinking of you dear blog readers (actually, I didn't think of you), I unzipped the breast pocket of my soft-shell and whipped out my camera and snapped this picture:

I was hoping to capture the cub and at first glance I didn't.  However, let me add the picture back again at full resolution--I'm hoping you can scroll around on it and see what I actually did capture:

In case you missed it--here are two enlarged sections--first the cub up on the tree:

And then unbeknownst to me--take a peek at what was emerging from the hole near the roots of my lunch tree:

Yes, that would be Mrs. Bear.  At this point we are at about 15-17 seconds since I first heard the cub behind me.  Mama sees me and knows her cub is out there somewhere.  I don't see Mama as I'm trying to take a pic of baby bear.

About a second later I hear Mama and we lock eyes.  She jumps out of the hole and it registers in my brain that this is a pretty big bear (certainly big enough!) and instinctively I know its mama bear.  Elapsed time 18 or so seconds and before I can think of what to do, Mama turns to her right (my left) and sprints away.  At about 20 seconds or so baby bear jumps down from the tree and follows.  (As far as I can recall, I continue to do nothing).

Then to my amazement, out of the hole crawls another baby bear.  (I think I should take a picture and I think I try to but my camera provides no record--I'll blame it on the HDR).  Elapsed time 24-25 seconds.  And then baby number three crawls out and high-tails it outta there.  Elapsed time 30 seconds.  

I snap out of whatever fog I've been in and move (pretty quickly) in the opposite direction as my lunch friends.  I'm not sure about the whole daddy bear thing but I would prefer to stay that way.  I stop and take this last picture of my lunch tree where you can see how close we all were:

So I have to admit I looked over my shoulder quite a few times in the ensuing 15 minutes.  I was JACKED and kinda thinking the whole thing was actually pretty cool.  I pulled out one of my sandwiches and decided to eat it on the move.  Wow--pretty exciting out here in the wilderness!

Anyways, the rest of the hike was much more basically hike-like.  The last 3-miles were actually a very demanding 3+ mile climb up the "Little Devil Stairs" which turned out to be quite demanding.  There were even some legit scrambling sections (although not like Old Rag):

That last one required a bit of focus.  The last mile or so was more mellow and soon I found myself back at my car:

At the end of the day it was quite the adventure!  I'm thankful for having run into the non-confrontational bear family!

Training-wise, I felt fantastic.  My training program is really working.  I'm cautiously optimistic about Aconcagua.  I did just under 13 miles today in around 6:15 (almost 1:30 faster than advertised).  My elevation gain was over 3200 feet.  Tomorrow, I'll do a similar effort....

Here is the Garmin data:

No comments: