Happy Feet was hiking the Pacific Crest Trail through Kings Canyon National Park. He came upon two other hikers who had stopped to eat by the side of the trail. They told him to be aware that there was a bear by the trail a little further ahead.
Sure enough there was a bear, a very big brown-colored California black bear. The bear was a safe distance off to the right of the trail and appeared to be foraging for food. After observing it for a while, Happy Feet went on his way.
Some time later, he stopped for food. He took some supplies out of his pack and enjoyed a brief meal, then repacked. Before starting on his way again, he pulled out his cell phone to see if he could check his GPS location.
As he did so, he heard a hissing sound behind him. When he turned, he saw the bear he had seen earlier moving toward him hissing loudly.
Happy Feet was startled. He jumped up, grabbed his hiking poles and started clanking them together, waving his arms and yelling at the bear.
The bear stopped. He was only about 12 feet away.
Happy Feet backed off continuing to clack his poles together and make noise.
The bear just stood there. Happy Feet continued to back off.
After he had put some distance between himself and the bear, the bear walked to where Happy Feet had eaten his snack and sniffed around to see if there were any food.
Seeing that the bear no longer seemed interested in him and did not appear to be aggressive, Happy Feet continued on his way.
According to the North American Bear Center, “Bears blow and clack their teeth with they are afraid. When this is done in response to being startled by a person, it appears to be a defensive threat, but they also do it when they scare themselves by almost falling from a tree.”
The NABC website also says, “Apprehensive expressions are forceful expulsions of air accompanied by threatening body language and sometimes deeper throaty sounds. This explosive behavior looks and sounds very threatening but is harmless bluster from nervous bears…”
So when the bear came upon Happy Feet, he was probably just as startled as Happy Feet. Once a safe distance was established and things quieted down, both went on about their business.
I met Happy Feet at the Word of Life Assembly of God Church in Burney. He and three other hikers had slept the night before in the WOLA gym and then attended Sunday morning service. After the service, I took a picture of the four of them and Happy Feet told me his bear story.
Happy Feet’s name off the trail is Phillip Hennessy. He hails from Yorktown, Virginia and left Campo on March 14. Asked why he was hiking the trail he said, “We hike to reconnect with nature, to reconnect with people, to reconnect with ourselves and the simple values of a healthy lifestyle.”
Happy Feet has spent much of the hike together with Ben Ferguson “Gargoyle” from New Hampshire who began his hike on March 16. They usually camp together. They were surprised when I said that several other hikers I had talked with had seen no bear. They have seen four bears, most recently one near Quincy.
Happy Feet and Gargoyle were excited to hear that I had met Hardcore the day before. They had hiked with her south of the Sierras but had not seen her for some time. I told them that she had gone to Redding and they may well meet her soon coming the opposite direction because she was going to hitch to Weed and then hike south.
Gargoyle said that he was hiking the PCT “to see the world, to meet new people every day, to see the nature and the many towns, communities and cultures we pass through. Also to challenge myself physically and mentally.”
One of the other hikers was Lea Bravin “Cheerio” from the German speaking part of Switzerland. She had met Happy Feet at the beginning of her hike in Southern California and reconnected with him and Gargoyle at intervals along the trail. They just happened to meet again here in Burney.
The fourth hiker was a young gentleman named Nicholas Turney from Seattle Washington. He began his hike from Campo on May 14 so he has been hiking a bit faster pace. His trail name is “Whistler.” You may hear him in the next few days if you are in the woods near the PCT.