In the past few years, I’ve developed a love for the outdoors that is indescribable, I live for the moments I spend in the backcountry. I yearn to lounge on my hammock, strung between two awkward trees, uneasy about my weight. I dream of not getting back into the vans, of staying near the spot where I dug my favorite latrine. But I have to say one of my favorite things about the outdoors is the chilling experiences.
The first one very vivid to me occurred nearly three years ago in the Eastern Sierras. I had gone backpacking with my school about 10 miles up into Little Lakes Valley, a quaint spot along the John Muir Trail, and we had set our packs down by a lake snuggled into a cliffside. A few of us, being the adventurous souls that we were, decided it would be fun to summit this peak, towering around 1,000 feet above us. Half an hour into the climb, I had to stop, at our elevation, nearly 13,000 feet above sea level, wearing a heavy ski coat, I was winded. I was given a walkie talkie, water bottles to hold onto, and told to standby as they submitted.
Being on a neighboring peak, just slightly lower than the peak I originally set out for, I had a nice view of the three that continued on. As I sat alone, talking and singing to myself, using up 30 minutes of footage on my phone, I felt a sense of tranquility I hadn’t experienced since starting high school. Around 15 minutes into my time alone, as I carefully examined the pockets of snow that lay in the distance between the jagged rocks that covered the mountain where I would occasionally see the hikers jumping through as the continued to summit, something interrupted by solo jam sesh. In the footage, you can hear me rambling about a second rate animated movie from my childhood, and all of a sudden a voice maybe 40 feet behind me interrupts my train of thought. I hear the click of a walkie talkie as the gruff voice says, “OK hold up.” However, the walkie talkie sitting beside me remains silent.
Now at this point, two things are running through my mind, either there is a stranger hiking by his lonesome and he’s for some reason communicating with another hiker far another away where he needs a walkie talkie, or that there’s a ghost. Seeing as I have turned to face the source of the noise and there was no face to put to the voice, I quickly jumped to conclusions that it was the latter. Regardless, as my experience from horror movies dictates, if I acknowledge the ghost as a ghost, it will mess me up. So I narrate to the video what just happened, and QUICKLY change the subject so that the ghost believes I am just a naive little freshman, not worth the trouble. I increase the amount of panning shots in my video so I have opportunities to look around for the voice that is intermittently speaking, traveling, but maintaining a consistent distance from me so that I can keep an eye out for the ghost without it catching on.
A few minutes later the voice disappears completely, but as it does the weather takes a turn, I see the hikers running back as they indubitably saw the storm cloud moving in our direction, completely invisible to myself until the hikers were almost back. Now I’m not saying that the ghost made it dump snow on us for the next 12 hours, but if he did that was a pretty crappy move. Regardless, when we get back to camp I refrain from telling anyone because I am convinced I’m still within earshot of that petty man, so I go about the rest of the evening and kind of forget about it. When I wake up in the morning, sore from the number of times the gusting winds slapped the roof of the tent into my unsuspecting face, I hear stories that convince me that the ghost man didn’t like our group.
One tells of how he heard trailing footsteps when he went off to pee shortly after dinner but saw nothing, no indication that he was being followed. And the three girls all corroborated that in the night, in the worst part of the storm, when the howling winds would’ve prevented any sane man from leaving his tent, no matter what capacity his bladder was at, they heard footsteps circling their tent, unaffected by the storm, oblivious to the bitter cold, definitely a ghost. When we hiked out of that canyon the next day I vowed never to return, but I actually did a year later when I school offered the trip, and I had a really splendid time. However, everyone who went on the night hikes heard footsteps in the woods around them and experienced wacky flashlights malfunctions, which is to be expected when the ghost man is out there. That is precisely the reason I didn’t go on the night hikes, I knew about the aggravating spirit that lay waiting in the darkness, so instead, I elected to stay in my tent, on my phone, where I had downloaded a Patton Oswalt comedy special and had a very enjoyable evening.
Next week I got another doozy so keep an eye out for that one.