The first pack trip that I ever took was to Paradise Valley in Kings Canyon. I was twelve years old, and went off with my older sister and her best friend, both of whom were about sixteen. We were young and adventurous, and prepared for just about anything.
Actually, we were green and a little nervous, but what could go wrong on a simple overnight trip? My pack was cleverly contrived out of a pair of my father's pants: the two legs became the shoulder straps, tied into the belt loops, and my sleeping bag and clothes went into the torso section of the pants. The two older girls also carried the food and a tent.
And in those days, we drank straight from the stream, out of our Sierra Club Cups.
We hiked about seven miles up to Paradise Valley, and managed to get there in plenty of time. We set up camp and had a pleasant evening around the campfire. Paradise Valley really seemed like paradise!
It was so peaceful...too peaceful!
Near dusk, as the sun settled behind the canyon walls and shadows reached over the forest, we began to hear a metal clanging noise--a bit like the noise of someone pounding metal tent stakes into hard ground. WE had thought we were the only people there, and yet...
We let it go on for some minutes...and the more it continued, the stranger it seemed. Ping ping ping.
We tried to find the source of the noise, but it was getting dark, and we didn't want to wander around the forest and away from our campsite. We'd seen enough horror films to know that was a bad idea. The noise stopped for a while, then started up again. Ping, ping, ping.
Now we were getting worried. We tried calling out, to make some kind of contact--but there was no answer. We called louder. Still no answer. That was weird. Ping, ping, ping.
We convinced ourselves that the person making the noise couldn't hear us, because we were close to the river, and the noise of the rushing water obliterated our voices. But we didn't really believe that.
And then the noise started getting closer. Now we knew it wasn't another camper,m pounding in tent stakes. As we discussed the matter among ourselves, we tried to imagine what was making the noise. Then we began to realize that this might be a bell attached to an animal. And what kind of animal would require a bell in a National Park?
Our best guess was a dangerous bear--one that needed to warn people of his approach.
And still the noise got closer. Ping, ping, ping.
We climbed into the tent and huddled inside, hoping that the bear would pass us by. The pinging came closer and closer to our camp. As we listened intently, the noise got closer and closer, until it was just outside the camp site. Right outside. Twenty feet away. Maybe fifteen. Right in front of the tent. Our eyes were huge as we looked at each other. What should we do?
We could take the suspense no longer. We threw open the tent and flashed our lights in the direction of the noise.
There stood beautiful stag, rather stunned by the bright lights in the night.
We watched for a minute, just to make sure that this wasn't a Dangerous Deer, and then closed up the tent and fell asleep to the sound of ping ping ping walking away in the forest.
The next morning we felt good enough to laugh about the incident.
When we returned to Road's End, we mentioned the deer to one of the rangers. He immediately asked us what color the bell had been--this was a new program to track the deer within the park. We thought the bell was either silver or blue.
He smiled indulgently, and told us that there were no silver or blue bells in the program.
hmmmph. It seemed like a stupid idea to us at the time---and I bet they don't bell stags in the parks anymore, either!