|North Lake near Piute Pass|
Its very ironic that I had this experience the day after I wrote “Why is man afraid of the dark?”
There isn’t much in the wild that spooks me anymore. I’ve come to enjoy and understand the sounds of the wild especially at night. The sound of a branch breaking, a deer running, birds rustling bushes or a coyote howling can be an alerting or uneasy feeling when you’re all alone in the wild. But once you understand the sounds are just another eloquent part of nature, its actually very relaxing and peaceful.
On the night of October 11th, deep in the Piute Canyon, I heard a sound that invoked fear in me, that rocked me to my core. The day before, my good old chocolate lab and I had hiked in from North Lake in the Inyo National Forest. Just before hiking over Piute Pass, I saw the last sign of life. I spoke to a young woman hunting for deer, who had day hiked in and was headed back to the trail head. After speaking for a minute, I pushed forward for about 8 more hours down the trail to find a relaxing place to set up camp. I dropped down from the pass at 11,400 feet and made my way to around 9,500 feet into Piute Canyon. The pass, which resembled the moon, was barren with no trees, and very rocky with strong wind gusts every few seconds.
As I made my way into the canyon, the barren rocky landscape transformed into a lush green oasis with lakes and a cool running stream. I was sheltered from the wind and the temperature was a few degrees warmer. At around 5pm, I knew I only had about 2 hours left of light and wanted to cook dinner, wash up and settle in before sunset. I found a nice flat rock slab near a waterfall to set up my tent and campfire. I sat on a large flat boulder near the waters edge, washed up in the creek, put on a change of clothes and prepped my fresh trout while sipping some cool Tennessee whiskey.
It felt like heaven on earth as the water cascaded past my tent and the warmth of the fire hit my face. I didn’t notice while I was setting up camp, but once I was sitting, sharpening my knife I began to realize how eerily quiet the forest was. It wasn’t completely out of the ordinary for the forest to be so quiet, especially when a man and his dog come crashing down the trail making tons of noise, but usually once you have settled down, the forest comes back to life as if accepting you as a part of the wild. Just as I had done a hundred times before, I relaxed alone in the woods, cooking my fresh fish on an open flame. Usually while I’m doing this, my chow hound is starring at me for any scrap I throw his way, or at least curled up near the fire. Instead of by my side, Gumbeaux was standing at the edge of the fires glow, starring into the woods. I called him over multiple times and even gave him some cooked trout.
Each time he slowly walked away starring into the darkness with an uneasiness about him. I didn’t think too much of it because unless he lets out a certain bark I know no one is around. I finished my dinner and kept reading, assuming he was smelling a deer or coyote somewhere close. The night was uneventful and at around 10 pm we settled into the tent for the night. Usually by this time of night, the forest is alive with coyotes howling and animals running through the woods, but this night was dead silent. I drifted off to sleep and the night was the same as any other under the stars until 4:35 am. I was startled awake, as if you would if you awoke from a dream in which you are falling, and heard a loud deep moan.
I wasn’t sure if I dreamt the sound, if my lab had made it, or if it came from outside the tent. There were elk in the area and they do make a moaning type sound. I have heard very weird things before, such as when a rabbit is being caught by a coyote and it literally sounds exactly like a woman screaming bloody murder. So I just figured it was a bear or elk inspecting my camp, and closed my eyes to fall back asleep. This is when the night took an unforgettable turn. A few minutes after the loud moan, a very unusual loud and close crash of a branch echoed through the entire canyon. I thought to myself, “wow” that was extremely loud; it sounded like a tree had fallen, but once again I just assumed it was wildlife in the area.
Less than a minute later the weirdest sound I’ve ever heard in the wild happened. As I told you earlier, I set up my tent on a large rock slab and there was no grass or trees within about 20 yards of my tent. The only rocks were rocks the size of soccer balls I set up to form a ring around my fire. While I laid there trying to sleep, the distinct sound of a large rock skipping 3 times and then sliding to a stop as if it were thrown, is what I heard outside my tent.
|The Pass with the canyon in background|
Now I’m not saying I’m a Sasquatch believer, but I’ve watched my fair share of Bigfoot documentaries on the History channel. Goosebumps ran over my body, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, and my heart raced as I tried to explain away the sound I had just heard. I pictured a bear accidentally kicking a rock from my fire, an early morning hunter walking past or even a fellow hiker just trying to scare me. No matter what I kept telling myself it was, I couldn’t stop picturing a large hairy man beast standing outside my tent. My first instinct was to pack up everything and high tail it back to my truck. I laid there wide eyed, adrenaline coursing though my veins, clenching my buck knife, listening intently for the next unexplainable sound. I decided whether animal, man, or mythical creature, I wasn’t going down without a fight.
|Gumbeaux walking on the barren pass|
As a long hour passed, the sun began to break through the canyon and I drifted off back to sleep. I woke up around 7 am and unzipped my tent to inspect the surrounding area. The rock ring I had made for my fire had been undisturbed and there was no sign of any tracks or an animal digging though the ashes. Nothing else in the immediate vicinity of the camp seemed to be out of the ordinary. As I prepped breakfast, I walked to the waters edge to clean my utensils and clean up before I got back on trail. What I saw next, stopped me dead in my tracks and gave me butterflies in my stomach.
The large flat boulder that I had sat on the day before to wash up and prep fish was now covered with about 5 or 6 baseball size rocks. I didn’t know what to think! Had I missed the rocks the day before with the dim light? Was my mind hyper alert because I was spooked the night before? Or did someone or something place these rocks here during the night? I thought to myself, there is no way those rocks were there because I would have sat on them. I looked around to see if I had sat on a different rock, but no other rock resembled this distinct bench sized rock by the waters edge. I thought of 1000 explanations from I’m going crazy, to someone is just playing a trick on me.
I tried to look at pictures of the previous night to see if the rocks were there, but of course there was no clear evidence. I slowly packed up camp trying to find logic in the weird last couple hours I experienced. Although I tried to explain each occurrence away with something natural, I still felt uneasy packing up camp as if someone was watching me. I looked up frequently some what expecting to see the mythical Bigfoot, because at least then I would know I wasn’t crazy! LOL So, what do I think I heard that night? Most likely it was a deer, bear or coyote inspecting my camp and my mind playing tricks on me. Sounds can carry far in canyons and certain sounds may not actually be what your mind interprets them to be. None the less, it was a very weird experience all together and one that I will remember for the rest of my life. Whatever I heard that night has given me the desire to drive deeper into the wild in search of that next adrenaline rush and appreciate how wild our great world still is!
|My Campsite that night|