Ray Rippel

John Muir Trail: Hello, Mr. Coyote!

There are number of advantages to hiking alone. One is that you are probably making a lot less noise, and less noise means seeing far more wildlife.

No encounter illustrates that better than one I had two days before summiting Mount Whitney, at the end of my southbound hike.

I had just made my way over Forester Pass, all the while marveling at the extraordinary trail-making skills of those who had designed and built the trail. Despite Forester being the highest pass on the John Muir Trail*, the trip up was easier than either Glen Pass or Mather Pass. Coming down the southern side, the trail was gentle on the feet and I was making good time. There was a little wind in my face, but not much.

As I rounded a corner I spotted a coyote, sitting just to the left of the trail. My quiet footfalls and the wind direction had given me the rare experience of seeing a wild animal, fairly close, before he was aware of my presence.

I stopped and got out my camera (which I kept in a case on my belt). I shot a couple of pictures and then just spent a few minutes watching him.

He was obviously looking for lunch. He had selected some high ground and had oriented himself so that he could see across the low ground in front of him. He scanned the terrain with near radar-like precision—back and forth—looking for small critters that had strayed a bit too far from cover and concealment.

Amazingly, he had no idea I was behind him. After watching a while I continued to move, shoot, move and shoot. The last shot I took is the one shown here.

I have no idea what alerted him to my presence; I never really made much of a sound. I’m convinced he got a whiff of my not-too-subtle fragrance (my last bath was at Muir Trail Ranch). Once he knew I was there—not just there, but close—he was not happy.

When he saw me he nearly jumped out of his skin. He may not have been sure what I was, but he could see I was bigger, uglier and, who knows, he may have even sensed that I was hungry. Off he went, at high speed, no doubt thinking that he needed to be a bit more careful in the future.

Good hiking, Ray

 

*So, here’s the thing: when I say Forester Pass is the highest pass on the JMT someone always feels compelled to remind me that there is a higher pass, Trail Crest, that you will encounter once you leave the John Muir Trail for Whitney Portal. If, on the other hand, I call Trail Crest the highest JMT pass, someone quickly reminds me that it’s not REALLY on the JMT. I can’t win!