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Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind
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just Justin Whitson
Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 11/26/2013 00:34:23 MST Print View

So..up until very recently i've been a fan of tarps, particularly in the more open configurations.

Until Sat night and Sunday morning of this past weekend. Much earlier in the night, hanging out near a AT shelter, there was a strangely persistent and disturbingly unshy skunk that kept coming relatively close to a group of active, standing, talking people numbering probably around 9 total (i really didn't expect so many other people to be there, none were thru hikers either).

Despite there was a fire, despite several people throwing rocks and branches it's way to deter it, it kept circling around the area. Oddly, it never went into the defensive, spraying posture (all this worried me a bit, as rabies came to mind). He would run off a bit, as if semi scared, but would circle back around somewhere else, guessing he smelled food and figured an easy meal was to be had.

So, before we went to bed under our tarp in A frame style, i made sure to pee near both openings hoping this might provide a little deterrent to Pepe (hoping he was not rabid and still had some sense left).

But alas, Pepe sure lived up to his bold and persistent and curious reputation. A couple of times during the night, heard him (or her? probably a him due to rather large size) rustling right near the tarp, and woke up to staring at him peeking around the corner, a few feet away from our faces.

Not sure what to do, but getting rather sick of the visits, the 2nd time i stared straight into his eyes, and did my best and loudest growl and then hiss, which sent him running, and as far as i know, he never approached as close again. Needless to say, we didn't get much sleep that night, between my wife's snoring, paranoia, and Pepe's visits. (nor did the cold wind which really picked up and changed direction helped)

Kind of turned me off from open tarp backpacking. I know i shouldn't let one bad experience do this, but sheesh, i really don't ever want to go through that again. At least if we were in a fully enclosed shelter, we would have felt a lot less paranoid at an undue confrontation which could lead to spraying.

A couple of times throughout the night, really thought about getting up to the 2nd level of the shelter bunk, despite the even more bold mice.

Anyways, any morals of the story, not really, except watch out for Pepe. I'm still wondering if he is rabid, was just really hungry, or possibly a prior pet? I've never had this kind of experience with wild animals before except for shelter mice.

Justin Baker
(justin_baker) - M

Locale: Santa Rosa, CA
Re: Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 11/26/2013 00:40:07 MST Print View

Sounds like an animal that's sees humans all the time and has no real fear. Mice and racoons can be the same way. Did you have food under your tarp?

just Justin Whitson
Re: Re: Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 11/26/2013 01:03:51 MST Print View

Nope, sure didn't. The backpack was near the tarp and had previously housed some food (until we hung it up on the bear poles), so it's possible Peppe was sniffing residues of that. But we've been to that area several times and haven't been previously introduced to bold Peppe.

I understand that some animals do get pretty comfortable with people, especially when they don't associate threat with them, but do associate easy food, but people were earlier chucking rocks and sticks at the thing, and he really didn't seem all that phased beyond running off for a bit. The rock/stick thing happened at least 3 times, within a couple of hours.

I would be less worried about a raccoon personally (unless rabid) as yeah, he might tear through the backpack some, but at least he won't spray you to kingdom come. Besides rabies, that was my biggest concern.

Oh yes, shelter mice are in a league of their own. I remember eating at a table in a shelter, and having mice brush up against my legs.

Bas Hommes

Locale: Europe
frog on 11/26/2013 01:21:40 MST Print View

A small frog. I was in my tent waiting for heavy rain to stop. The frog kept jumping into my tent through a ventilation opening. I was afraid I would splet him in a moment of not being aware. And his intestines would be all over my precious sleeping bag. That would also potentially be smelly. So I directed it out each time. Then some time later, me about to forget about it, he was back again inside the tent staring at me. Maybe he had fallen in love with my (green) tent.

In the end I was so disturbed by it it made me break up camp while it was still raining. Half an hour later the sky got lighter and the rain slowly stopped.

Edited by BHommes on 11/26/2013 02:33:36 MST.

just Justin Whitson
Re: frog on 11/26/2013 20:56:45 MST Print View

Bas, your close encounter sounds...well.. cute really. But i can understand not wanting to squish him, etc.

Nico .
(NickB) - MLife

Locale: Los Padres National Forest
Skunk vs tarp on 11/27/2013 00:52:01 MST Print View

We have a remote beach on an offshore island that we revisit every year for a few days. The island has no large native land mammals but there are some smaller native mammals like fox and spotted skunks. These critters are all smaller than their mainland counterparts but are significantly less timid of humans. They don't see a whole lot of people and they're in a place where they've been protected for years so they seem to know they have no good reason to fear us.

Anyway, we've had a couple of entertaining encounters with the spotted skunks in particular. One night a whole group of them took over the beach while my girlfriend had stepped away from camp for a moment. In the dark, in the middle of the night, she found herself surrounded and blocked from getting back to camp by about a dozen skunks each the size of large squirrels. They wouldn't budge and didn't seem to be bothered by her yelling and pleading with them to move along! Needless to say, it was an entertaining situation for the rest of us while she pleaded her case with the skunks to move along and let her return to camp.

This year, on the same beach, I woke up in the middle of the night to a persistent rustling inside the Trailstar right next to my head where I had all of our food stashed in a metal mesh rodent proof bag. Sure enough, by the light off the moon, i saw it was one of the skunks again! Being only half awake, it didn't register that aggravating a skunk would be a bad idea, so I tugged back on the food sack. The skunk didn't seem to care and continued about trying to get into our food. This time I sorta' shoved the bag at the skunk and he again only gave me a puzzled look,before making another attempt at the food. I finally had to turn on my flashlight, shine it right on top of him in close proximity and make a big movement. That was finally enough to drive him away.

With that, I turned out my light, went back to sleep and wasn't bothered the rest of the night.

I have no plans to change my sleeping arrangements due to this encounter. I'll stick with tarps. Might leave the food bag a little farther away from my head though...

Don Morris
(hikermor) - F
Which Island? on 11/27/2013 05:23:26 MST Print View

Santa Rosa or Santa Cruz? Catalina, perhaps?

Steven Diogenes
(stevenn) - F
Skunks on 11/27/2013 09:44:34 MST Print View

Skunks! I was sleeping in some bushes in San Francisco one night and my partner's dog was tethered to a pack but she tore off to the end of her leash trying to get at something. We had seen skunks earlier and apparently this dog doesn't learn scents because she had been sprayed before, but luckily her mother yanked her back, but not before we got slightly misted by their pungent perfume. The skunk came back. Those things do not give a shit about anyone or anything. We were clearly in its way so we moved to another bush and I set up a barrier with all of our gear. It would have been pretty funny to see.

I love sleeping out in the open but when there are animals around I don't rest easy. I feel like there may be a time in the future when I end up feeling a lot more comfortable around critters but in the meantime, it's pretty nice to have a tent to feel safe in. I think our feelings of fear are just out of not being used to them. For ex., after spending a lot more time around rats I really don't mind them and I realize they won't do anything to me and I can fall asleep watching them (of course you gotta be careful of your gear if you have food). When you can identify a sound, and understand a creature, I find the uneasiness and fear drops away. Except for skunks, because if you wake up to a skunk and it feels threatened, it's over!

I wonder what raccoons are capable of? I know they fight when backed into a corner but I wonder what they'd do if startled by a waking human? Sleeping under a tree one morning we woke up to a family of raccoons climbing it to go home I suppose. They were afraid of us more than anything. In Santa Cruz we slept by the railroad tracks and woke up to a gang of raccoons chasing a lone raccoon that was headed straight for us in a wild chase. The dog and I scared them all off but I wonder how that would have went down if we were sleeping hahahahah.

Edited by stevenn on 11/27/2013 09:46:30 MST.

(JRinGeorgia) - F
doesn't surprise me on 11/27/2013 12:03:08 MST Print View

Justin, your story doesn't surprise me at all. Once habituated, animals don't necessarily see sticks and stones as "aggression" from humans, just an annoying detour. Even if no food under your tarp, that skunk has found food in tents and under tarps before, and as the famous bank robber Willie Sutton replied when he was finally caught and asked why he robbed banks, he said "because that's where the money is." Tents, tarps, anything that looks like that to a habituated creature with half a brain (and skunks are smart), once they've found food there they remember it.

It is nice to have a full bug enclosure to keep them from crawling right in. In Yosemite this summer some sort of large rodent got into my shelter shortly after I had set it up and was heating water for dinner not 10 feet away, didn't occur to me to zip it all the way up quite yet.

Dena Kelley

Locale: Eagle River, Alaska
Porcupine on 11/27/2013 15:17:41 MST Print View

Had a camp a few years ago where my DH and I were hanging out at the campfire when we hear a crashing through the trees behind our tent. We were in a truly remote area (accessed by boat) so odds were high it was a critter and not a human. We waited tensely to see what was approaching our camp. Out of the trees waddled a porcupine, who blinked in surprise when he saw us and quick-like high tailed it back the way he came. We breathed a sigh of relief that it wasn't anything bigger and predatory. :)

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Racoons on 11/27/2013 23:15:43 MST Print View


Most likely if it was a single raccoon being chased by a group, the lone one was a male. The females often live together. They don't take well to solo men showing up unless they are in the "mood" if you know what I mean ;-) When I lived on an island the coons were very interesting to watch. Even when the offspring are tiny, it is obvious which ones are male - they eat last! The females are VERY bossy. We had numerous families that lived under our house, we lived across from the water.

They were almost like family. They'd wander through the house if doors were open - to save distance. But never touched anything or got into anything. And they would bring the babies up to show them off. A wee bit tame, but hey....there wasn't much else to do out there ;-)

Steven Diogenes
(stevenn) - F
Interesting on 11/28/2013 18:02:25 MST Print View

Sarah, that's interesting. I think human women should start packing up and running men off like that when they start hollering on the street. Come to think, men should do that, too. That's cool though, I'm definitely warming up to them slowly.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Tarp 101 on 12/03/2013 21:10:17 MST Print View

Rule #1: site selection is paramount.

9 other people showed up and you were next to a shelter?
That should have been your cue.

Regarding the frog... Pack up and hike out?
Why not just relocate the frog?
I often relocate tarantulas -- don't want to squish em in my sleep. I also relocate rattlesnakes as they make poor sleeping mates.

just Justin Whitson
Re: Tarp 101 on 12/03/2013 22:24:29 MST Print View

near a shelter. I rather dislike doing the whole bear bag hang thang and where i usually hike there are A LOT of bears (some say the highest concentration of black bears in N. America), and the bear poles are quick, relatively easy, and effective. Which is why i tend to park in a shelters vicinity. Usually by this time in the season, i don't see other people out there, or very rarely and usually most are day hikers. I was surprised as heck to see so many people this time making camp.

But, point taken, hang out places for humans often equal hang out places for some animals. But haven't ever had a skunk experience like this.

Ok, i'll take the skunk over the rattlesnake ;)

I call my wife the snake whisperer (no, not for THAT reason), but because she was laying outside one time, fell asleep, rolled over and woke up to having a snake right by her face. She remained very calm, while looking in it's eyes, told it in her mind to leave, go that way, and pointed as she thought this, the snake looked the way she pointed and went that way.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 12/04/2013 13:02:15 MST Print View

Pepe and his children visit our yard regularly. Once Pepe was in my living room! I find skunks to be the most terrifying of all wild animals. So terrifying that I do not feel safe to sleep outside in my back yard. I'd rather sleep in grizzly country without bear spray.

Steven McAllister
(brooklynkayak) - MLife

Locale: Atlantic North East
Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 12/11/2013 06:36:18 MST Print View

There are some trailjournal accounts of hikers sleeping in AT shelters waking up to find a skunk sleeping on their sleeping bags on freezing nights.

Skunks would often wander around me all night when I cowboy camped at established campsites in North Eastern Utah.

I never became concerned as long as I was laying down. They never showed any aggression, but I was careful when I got up to pee in the middle of the night. There have been many cases where they would get ready to jump on their front paws and take aim, but I always backed away quickly.

This is the same as the mice in AT shelters, as well as mink, raccoons, porcupines and coyotes in many places I've camped.

They know your there, aren't aggressive, only hoping for scraps and hope you won't give them a hard time.
The bigger critters are also looking to eat the other smaller critters that come out at night at established campsites.

Many of the these critters, raccoons especially, will actually try to get friendly with you if you give them a chance.
I never do, but I know some people do.

Edited by brooklynkayak on 12/11/2013 12:06:16 MST.

Dale South
(dsouth) - M

Locale: Southeast
RE: Skunk on 12/11/2013 11:15:28 MST Print View

When hiking the AT through the Smokies I had a skunk climb in my bag with me in one of the shelters. Had the bag unzipped at the foot for ventilation. He did not spray nor did he stay long. Maybe after smelling my feet he knew that he did not stand a chance.

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
skunks... on 12/11/2013 12:00:12 MST Print View

honestly, they are the least of your worries. If you don't scare him he won't spray.

I used to feed 2-3 of them behind my loft in the western portion of San Francisco.

They were always well behaved and never threatened to spray once.

I mean try to keep him away by all means... one could accidentally step on him or drop something on him which could trigger a spray.

But I find they're pretty benign animals. They don't want to start a fight nor to they want to spray. They save it for extreme emergencies.

IF anything they're like kitties :-P

Kevin Burton
(burtonator) - F

Locale: norcal
Re: Re: Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 12/11/2013 12:05:40 MST Print View

No way... I would MUCH prefer to be around skunks. Grizzlies have an essentially unlimited amount of violence they can unleash on you... Skunks have a finite supply of odor which needs to be replenished at which point they're helpless.

They're like bees ... they don't WANT to spray so if you don't give them an excuse they won't bother you.

I think they're cute little guys...

Here's a pet skunk:

While they're NOT domesticated and definitely not tame if you find one in the wild, they don't really think aggressively ...

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Close encounters of the most scary and odoriferous kind on 12/11/2013 12:09:05 MST Print View

Having been sprayed right in face by a skunk I can say it was unpleasant, but far less so than being stung by a jellyfish. Or pepper sprayed by the mailman. Though very time I would perspire for two weeks afterward I could smell it.