By Charles Morgan III
Editor’s Note: This year commemorates the Morgan boys’ historic trek along the John Muir Trail in California. The adventure was well documented in Beachcomber, and the following article—the first of three—appeared in our August 20, 2009 issue.
It seemed like a good idea at the time. But now I can’t remember when, how or why I came up with it.
A long hike in California with my boys on the John Muir Trail. True, we’d never even slept out in our backyard. And we’d certainly never walked 146 miles at altitude. With bears. In the snow. In August.
We flew into Fresno to meet our climbing party at the base camp for Mt. Sobek. The people in charge of tourism for the Fresno Chamber of Commerce have a very difficult job. Fresno has 80 known gangs with 20,000 members. It is the dog and cockfight capital of the world. The local college’s mascot is a pit bull. This is where ultimate fighting (with humans) was invented. There is not much room in Fresno for tourism. On the plus side, there are nine medical marijuana dispensaries.
Our 12-day hike began pleasantly enough. Day One was an 8.3-mile hike in rolling terrain. Camp was set, dinner was prepared, and we set up tents and slept.
On Day Two, our problems began early.
Both of my sons have a light streak of obstinacy that they must have inherited from their grandfather. Eddie, the elder, had decided there was no need to filter his drinking water. “That stream I fished this morning is cleaner than the tap water back home,” he said.
That was the last thing he said that was decipherable.
It began with what sounded like a fat man burping. It quickly escalated into something altogether different. Young Edward began howling like a coyote caught in a steel leg trap. Then he began vomiting in an unusual rapid fire manner. He kept this up for much longer than would seem possible. The emergency response by our guides was admirable, and Eddie was airlifted to a hospital in Bishop.
Chatham, my youngest son, was completely unnerved by the whole ordeal. He walked for the rest of the day with his head down, muttering to himself and checking his forehead for any sign of a fever. He wasn’t able to worry about his brother for long, though.
Our guides had made one thing perfectly clear. It was a policy written in every memo regarding the trip. “NO FOOD IN THE TENTS! EVER!!!” it said.
All food was to be suspended from a tree 100 yards from our campsite to discourage bear attacks.
Chatham, like his father, has always had a phobia about hypoglycemic diabetic comas. He has slept with candy under his pillow since he was a child. I had seen Chatham purchase two boxes of SEES candy at the Salt Lake airport and figured that he had eaten them before our trip began.
Shortly after midnight on Day Three, our camp was awakened by a roaring noise and the sight of Chatham’s tent being swatted down the mountain like a dandelion puff. Chatham made his way out of his shredded tent and, rather than assume a fetal position or run downhill, he actually attacked the bear.
His bravery may have caused the bear to forgo an attack on Chatham’s genitals (a bear’s favorite target), but with a box of candy in one paw, the bear swiped his free claws across Chatham’s forehead and scalped him so clean it would have put an Apache warrior to shame.
I heard Chatham mumbling to himself as they loaded him into the helicopter. “It would have been a good day to die,” he said, just before passing out.
It was suggested at this point that I give up on the challenging walk ahead. But there wasn’t much I could do for my boys now except to forge ahead and to make them proud. I still had nine days of climbing rock walls and scampering up sheer sheets of frozen waterfalls.
But that would have to wait until at least Day Five. I woke up on Day Four and stumbled from my tent to relieve myself. Relief would not come. A medic had joined our troupe in an effort to save on helicopter evacuation costs. I was diagnosed with a rare combination of prostatitis, kidney stones and a gall bladder infection.
Uncomfortable with the brutish-looking medic—and having once considered going into medicine myself—I MacGyvered a catheter from the 7/8” tube coming from my Camel-Bak water system. Once my bladder emptied, I cauterized the gaping wound with hot embers from the campfire.
After that ordeal, I reasoned, the rest of the trip would be a piece of cake.
Again, I was wrong.
To be continued…