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Tall pines and firs obscured the night sky, but small openings between the leaves revealed swaths of purple and orange. The sun was done for the night, as was happy hour, but we were just getting started. We put down our beers and headed out — not to our cabins, but outside for a hike.
Fortunately, no driving was necessary for our evening plans, because we were staying at the Explorer Cabins at Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp, Calif. The property is just 2½ miles from Yosemite National Park’s South Entrance and surrounded by Sierra National Forest trails.
We were also equipped with flashlights and a Tenaya guide, Rad, an East Coast climber who was lured west thanks to the region’s world-class granite and yearround outdoor opportunities.
Indeed, it was February, and we were night hiking sans spikes (though Rad, ever the prepared guide, carried them just in case we had trouble navigating slippery terrain). We also didn’t need to worry about the two active black bears in the area, Boo Boo and Lulu, who were surely savoring the relatively warm weather.
According to Rad, especially cold and snowy winters can interrupt hibernation — and we were relieved to learn that we were not going to be on the receiving end of an undesired wake-up call.
Pointing out a swath of peeledback bark on a tree, Rad explained that it was Boo Boo’s scent marker.
“He’ll scratch that out, and he’ll rub his scat and urine in it,” he said. “It has two purposes: to attract a mate, and to ward off other males by giving a good perspective of how big he is.”
The marking was more than 8 feet tall, telling us all we really needed to know about the black bear’s size.
It was just one of the moments during our 2-mile jaunt where I realized how oblivious I often am of nature’s attempts to communicate. To help drive home these lessons, Rad recruited our other senses to do some work, from offering us a few flat leaves of white fir (they taste like citrus when chewed) to encouraging us to touch some freshly sprouted lamb’s ear. A reflection of this year’s spring-like winter, the gray-green plant felt velvety and woolly, so I wasn’t surprised when Rad told us backpackers use it as toilet paper when necessary.
We turned on our flashlights to notice details hikers typically storm past, such as the crinkles in the leaves that bears use for back scratching and the amount of rings in an exposed cross section of a 300-year-old tree.
Other moments were lit from just the moonlight. Emerging from our forested trail to a wide-open clearing with a view of the sparkling sky, we noticed that the moon was almost full. Fortunately, it was only our first night at Tenaya, and we were newly equipped with ample context to interpret the rest of our encounters in the great outdoors.
The DetailsTenaya Lodgewww.tenayalodge.com