THEY GOT ME TWICE!
The plan was to use Aspenglen campground in Rocky Mountain National Park as a base camp while bicycling the surrounding areas. As with any National Park, the resident animals are very accustomed to human presence and show little fear and sometimes blatant boldness during encounters. This was all quite obvious to me during my first day there.
Early that day I made the five hour climb over Trail Ridge Road from Grand Lake fighting wind gusts up to 80 mph, steep grades and thin air. Aspenglen was a welcomed sight indeed as I rolled in at about two o'clock PM. I was out of water and energy but in great spirits after the fifteen mile downhill rocket ride from the summit of Trail Ridge. I was quite ready to camp for a week in one spot.
As I set up camp I was greeted by a variety of birds, ground squirrels, tree squirrels, and mule deer. They were checking to see if I was a soft touch. Disappointed, they soon moved on to greener pastures.
I had enough food to last through the day so I elected to spend the remainder of it relaxing. The following day I would empty my panniers and coast 8 miles down to Estes Park where I would sightsee and eat lunch. Then I would hit the grocery and fill those panniers with a weeks worth of food so I wouldn't have to make the eight mile climb back up to the campground more than once.
I prepared for the task of storing a weeks rations near my campsite. I strung my hammock tightly between two trees above human head level. I was mainly worried about skunks, raccoons, and ground squirrels. Tree squirrels could probably get to the food but not without doing a lot of work.
I then strung a length of nylon line over a high branch about four feet from the tree trunk. I could then hoist up any food that would interest the tree squirrels. I could also get my helmet out of the reach of mule deer. I felt safe that food and equipment would be secure from critters of the day and night.
After supper I wrote a few postcards and turned in early. I was asleep within seconds.
Suddenly all hell broke loose!
I awoke disoriented in the total darkness of a moonless Rocky Mountain night. Was I dreaming? The cold night air seeping through the open door of the tent proved that I was awake.
CRASH! THUMP! CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH!
I grabbed for the flashlight and expected to see a large bear because there was so much noise out there. I directed the flashlight's beam straight out of the door and toward the picnic table ten feet away.
Yellow eyes glowed like reflectors. Ten pairs of yellow eyes at least! I focused the beam on no less than ten raccoons of all sizes that were busily licking the top of the table.
Then I realized that I had goofed.
I was so tired at the end of the day that I never glanced back at the table before turning in for the night. Had I done so I would have noticed the one quart plastic bottle full of breakfast cereal still on the table. I was snacking on cereal while writing postcards and forgot to put it away.
As I watched, the largest raccoon was rolling the bottle back and forth on the table while cereal slowly spilled out of a small hole chewed in the top edge. The other nine animals were jockeying for position to lap up the spilling contents while verbally expressing their approval to the big coon. They didn't even seem to notice the flashlight.
I slowly reached out of the tent door where I found one of the size 10 soon-to-be-guided missiles that always stay there. Using their noisy antics as cover for my movements I slowly eased out of the small opening and stood upright. I carefully moved my feet into the proper position while attaining the correct grip on the deadly cycling shoe. I took a deep breath, cocked the arm back slowly, and... FIRE!
The squeals of surprised raccoons filled the crisp night air as my campsite came alive with the motion of fuzzy bandits scurrying about. I got ready with missile number two and fired it in the direction of one of the more confused stragglers. The shoe missed it's target but the message was well received and all was still and quiet once again. To my surprise, none of the other campers even stirred. Most were in motorhomes or were too far away to hear the racket.
Upon assessing the damages I found that I got off quite easily. Only one ruined Nalgene® bottle and some lost sleep. I even managed to find both shoes.
After brushing all of the cereal from the table top to the dusty ground, I put the remainder away and started noticing how cold it was outside. It didn't take long for me to get cuddled up in my sleeping bag and back to dreamland.
Sometime later the same night, I was awakened by a strange sneezing sound. Again I pointed the flashlight toward the table outside and observed the source of the strange noises. Some of the smaller raccoons had come back to eat the cereal that I had brushed onto the ground. They were using their noses to locate the crumbs and sneezing out the dust that invariably got snorted up in the process. I switched off the light and went back to sleep, that time for good.
The rest of the week in the area was something to remember. I photographed many animals including elk, bighorn sheep, mule deer, snowshoe hares, and others. I bicycled the area intensely and made many day hikes. My food remained safely hung out of reach of greedy little claws.
Well, except for the last night.
My final night in Aspenglen was somewhat different from the previous six nights. I had to get packed up, at least partially, for an early start in the morning. So I put the panniers back on my bike and loaded up all non-foodstuffs for the next days travels. The hammock came down as well, so all edible goodies were transferred to a plastic grocery bag suspended above the ground by a nylon cord tied to a tree limb. I had successfully prevented the local fauna from getting to taste-test my cache for nearly a week. All that was left of a seven day supply of food was one apple and one bagel for breakfast and those were suspended high above the ground and out of reach.
I had won! I proved to myself that I had more brains than the average prospecting varmint. All I had left to do was get a good night of sleep and an early start in the morning.
That night I was not aroused out of a dead sleep by a predacious horde of marauding four-legged eating machines. Bright and frequent flashes of light accompanied by the rumble of high altitude thunder and large raindrops spoiled my rest. I listened to the rain for an hour or so before dozing off again. When I awoke the next morning there was still some drizzle so I scurried from my tent to retrieve rain gear from a pannier. I rolled up the tent, then walked to the bathroom to get dressed and cleaned up. I planned to eat breakfast just before making the eight mile decent down to Estes Park where I would re-supply food for the days journey.
My mouth was watering all morning for that last apple. I had eaten one apple every day with breakfast for the past six days. Every day they ripened and tasted even better than the day before.
Everything was done in camp. All that remained was a quick apple and a bagel to start off the day.
As I neared the suspended plastic bag I could tell that something was wrong. It looked empty. In fact, on closer inspection, it was empty. On the ground below I found the remnants of the bagel packaging and no sign of the apple. The limp bag dangling from the tree had been neatly sliced at the bottom.
Apparently, the bag filled with water during the rainstorm and gained enough weight to cause the supporting branch to sag. It sagged just enough for a large raccoon (or a small raccoon on another ones shoulders) to hook a claw in the bottom of the bag. Then the water and edible contents caused a larger tear that sent everything pouring to the ground where it could be munched at their leisure.
I could hardly believe it. They got me again. I knew they were prospecting and they got me anyway. So much for man's superior intelligence.
It was a cold, wet and hungry ride down to Estes Park that day. I stopped at the local grocery to buy supplies for the next couple of days--plus an apple!!
If you choose to camp out at night, you will certainly have encounters with animals. Keep a clean camp, don't feed any animals, dispose of garbage or hang trash and food out of animal's reach. Don't ever cook or eat in your tent and don't leave out helmets, gloves or any other sweat-soaked items that animals might nibble for the salt.
If you follow these rules to the letter, you will still have animal encounters. If you forget even one of the rules, the critters will damage your gear or steal your breakfast.
COPYRIGHT © Joey Donnelly
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Atlas & Gazzeteer
Good Night, Animals
Helmet Cam Tutorial
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Joseph A. Donnelly