Bears On and Off Campus


The author in backpacking gear standing on side of trail with dramatic granite rock features and a waterfall in the background
Descending into Yosemite National Park on our last day

A few weeks ago I got a phone call from my friend Katie. I answered, thinking I would catch up with a friend and former housemate, but instead she led me in a direction I didn’t expect. On that call, she convinced me to leave Berkeley in five days and hike the John Muir Trail with her, a famously beautiful (and difficult) trail which connects Yosemite National Park to Mt.Whitney, the tallest point in the contiguous United States. The traditional route sends backpackers Southbound, giving them time to gradually adjust to the high elevations and tackle the most difficult terrain later in the trip, however that route is notoriously difficult to find permits for. With a few adjustments to the itinerary, including going “NOBO” (Northbound) and beginning almost 25 miles South of Mt.Whitney, I paid a visit to to purchase the $11.00 permit for my three week vacation! All in all, we took 18 days to cover 240 miles of trail.

Katie is a co-President of the Cal Hiking and Outdoor Society, better known as CHAOS. Or in other words, she does this stuff all the time. While I do love backpacking, it’s not usually my MO to drop everything and head to the woods for three weeks. However, due to various life obligations, this was plausibly a once in a lifetime chance (or at least a once-in-the-next-five-years chance), so off to the woods I went!

During the school year, CHAOS operates a gearshed which loans everything from backpacks and bear cans to climbing shoes out to anyone who pays the $10 lifetime membership fee. For anyone interested in epic trips and/or low cost adventure, it’s truly an amazing student organization:

View down a dirt trail with large rocks on either side. Large lake with islands in the distance surrounded by snow-capped peaks and clear blue sky.
Another day, another beautiful lake

While on the trail I was lucky enough to encounter several fellow bears, including Cal alums, other students, and even a faculty member in my own department. Usually backpackers are pretty friendly with one another, so after chatting with a group camped nearby us one night, I discovered one of them to be a UC Berkeley professor. I always knew the culture of outdoor enthusiasm shared by many in Berkeley Geography was one of my favorite things about it, but this interaction really drove that point home. Interestingly enough, that was an even more bear filled evening when a medium sized brown bear came strolling through our camp a few hours later.

Author: Violet

I'm a Physical Geography major, Cal Ballroom dancer, an undergraduate researcher in berkeley's Quaternary Paleoecology Lab, a Campus Ambassador, former co-oper, and a third year student. Born and bred in Berkeley I'm a local and a lover of backpacking, science, and nature.