A listener writes “My climbing buddy and I have been hiking in the White Mountains for about 15 years now, and we’ve never run into anything larger than the greyjays that will land and eat right out of your hand in the winter.. that is until November of 2017 when we were climbing late at night in a popular area.
The first occurance happened when we were just about to turn into the base camp parking lot. I was the passenger and while looking out the window i noticed a large glowing white light in the sky behind the trees. It appeared to be coming from the parking lot, which is a nice surprise because typically as night hikers, we usually show up to very dark parking lots. I didnt think anything of it until we parked in a very dark parking lot. I thought maybe the light was on a timer. Next, i was out of the car and stretching; walking around the lot with my rucksack on, getting used to the weight. I started to notice that the lot actually didnt have lights at all. This made sense to me from being up there so much, but this made the light we saw make no sense at all.
t was huge; it was shining through tall pine trees on the edge of the road next to the lot so it was at least that high but as for depth of field, now i dont know. I assumed it was a 12” diameter dome light about 30 feet in the air, but when i realized it didnt come from a parking lot light, i thought well ok this means whatever it was couldve been much much larger and much farther away. I honestly cant say. A few dozen UFO jokes later and we were on the trail that would lead us to our climb.
We had been ascending our approach a good 3 miles when i noticed my friend turning around and looking behind us. He did this twice before i asked him what was up. He said he kept hearing branches breaking. At this point we both were stopped, staring deeply into the dark with our limited headlamps. The noises kept on, but we figured it could be deer or maybe a moose.
The possibility of a moose was frightening enough so we picked up the pace. I have bad hearing, plus the brush under my feet, plus the noise from my rucksack after every step – i felt vulnerable, so i stopped and looked back a little while later and sure enough my headlamp caught a flash of red like eyes in a camera flash. I told my buddy who became anxious. Hes usually the fear nothing type so this made me afraid as well. We hustled up to the top of a ridgeline and kept moving. In this time, we audibly could hear something moving on a different trail now below us. About 15 minutes later, on top of the flat ridge, we heard it again but much closer this time. Mu buddy, who also is a very good navigator for our trips (he can tell if we took a wrong turn on pretty much any trail weve ever been on while to me most of it looks the same), figured out right away that whatever it was had intelligence, because it was flanking us.
Thats when i realized where we were. We were at the junction that connects the main, uphill trail to the easier loop trail that allows you to skip the big push to the top of the ridge. Whatever it was, it was definitely getting closer and now it was coming towards us from the front. We kept moving; we knew we only had another mile or less to the wall. The following is what i saw from my perspective:
My buddy was in front of me and i tend to tailgate on the trail if im not paying attention.. my face collided with the backside of his rucksack because he had abruptly stopped. He said, “here it is” very casually (as he does) and i didnt even have a chance to ask what he meant. I immediately heard a loud grunt. I sidestepped him to get a view but we were surrounded by thick forest on both sides of the trail. It was behind the pines but right at the edge. It was a large black figure. We both immediately thought it was a bear because it seemed to be lower than us to the ground. At this point we both started shouting “hey hey bear get outta here!” Stuff like that.
Thats when it became much taller. The dark figure stood or maybe it just came a little better into view with our headlamps, but it was towering over us. To me, it looked at least 7-8 feet tall easily. I’m 5 foot 9 inches and i know what 6 feet looks like from looking up at my father all these years, and this thing bested him by at least a good foot or 2. At this point it was unmoving, despite our yelling. It was still behind the brush line about 10-15 feet away from us. I was terrified and already moving further up the trail a few feet when my dear friend, insanely street smart but generally pretty dumb, he made a “oo oo oo” grunt noise like a monkey!!! The synchronicity of his vocalization hadnt occured to me until recently, and he wasnt even thinking big foot.. hes just kinda stupid sometimes. To me, it was a bad thing to do because coming from a man to a possible bear it sounded antagonizing. And apparently it was… the big thing made another loud grunt/growl that sounded almost like an intentional cough (if that makes any sense) and slammed what i assume was an arm against the pine next to it, which shook violently. It was enough to make me scream my loudest, most metal roar i could and my friend joined me. Oddly enough we stood our ground while doing it. Thats still the more unbelievable part to me looking back. Instinct and fear took over i guess. We did not hear another grunt, or growl from this thing. The lighting was already terrible and headlamps dont do much for us; we didnt see it leave, but we heard the brush under its feet getting fainter immediately. I highly doubt we scared it.
Maybe it wasnt looking for a fight. Maybe we were the ones who scared IT! i dont know. But i did a lot of research after that about the area. We even told a park ranger the following morning at the top of our ledge. He told us the moose never travel up that high in elevation and a bear would be rare up there as well, although it couldve been a bear because around that time of year bears tend to follow hikers around waiting for food to drop. The only problem with this theory is the size. Im very glad that we do not have large brown bears in New England because i dont know if id ever be able to comfortably do what i love with the threat of grizzlies around… but black bear just dont get that big, ever!
We had planned on climbing the rock wall in the morning after camping at the base. But instead, we ascended that night. It was the most frightening climb i have ever done – my first one in total darkness aside from a headlamp. But it still wasnt as frightening as running into this large animal.”