What was that?

I’ve been seeing delightfully more of a great good friend lately, and that’s inevitably reminded me of a trip he and I took into the Sierra in, I think, the late ’80s. I have no idea all these years later exactly where we were, but we’d stopped in a small town to buy some food, then driven to a trailhead and climbed into those gorgeous mountains for a few hours to a granite ringed lake we had all to ourselves. Nothing to do but alternately splash in the frigid water and lounge on the warm rock. This remains my personal version of California Dreamin’.

After dinner and a long twilight, we tossed our bags down onto ensolite pads and turned in on a clear spot between the lake and the brush. Clear sky, a million stars, predictable profundities, drowsiness, sleep.


My eyes snap open. P struggles to sit up. I just lie, eyes wide, frozen. Tremendous noises behind us. Brush being shoved aside, branches snapping, heavy movement.

My first befuddled thought was: Moose. Then, atavistically: Bear. Then, within seconds, as the brain actually started to process what my ears were hearing: Horse. Hoof-like thuds back in the undergrowth. More crashing. More snapping, more loud rhythmic beats. Gradually, over a minute or two, the cacophony moved away and faded out of hearing.

What the HELL was that? Yes, possibly a horse or mule, but how and why loose out here in the middle of the night? Possibly, we decided, a big ruminant. They might make hoof sounds like that. We were clearly under no real threat. Our guesses degenerated. Wolf wearing hiking boots. Cougar in tap shoes. Escaped convict. Yeti. And so to sleep.

In the morning, nothing. We could find no evidence whatsoever of anything crashing around in the bushes. We still debate what woke us up. These days I lean toward Boris Karloff on walking holiday.


What was that? — 1 Comment

  1. 🙂

    I have had similar experiences but it has always been Phil crashing out of his tent in the middle of the night for a pee.

    It's the unearthly screams that are most unsettling as he can't open the tent door's zipper as it is frozen solid.

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