I am often asked about what animal encounters I’ve had in the backcountry. There appears to be a grand misconception that anyone who steps into the backcountry must have at least one or two bear attack stories. This is not so. Bears are to be respected, not feared. There are others animals out there to fear.  And so I think it is time that we have a little talk about unicorns.

Anyone who has spent any time backpacking with me knows that I fear mountain lions. In fact, for my own sanity, I have simply chosen to believe that they do not exist. I choose to believe that they are no more real than unicorns. I sleep better this way.

My backpacking friends know and understand this. And so the story begins.


A rare trail sign, on a rare trail.

When we hiked into Pika Lake a great search was made for the perfect campsite. I had thought there was a great looking spot in the sand, down near the lake. Karen and Val didn’t seem to like it and I easily relented, sitting down on a convenient rock while they chose another site. The spot they found was somewhat awkwardly nestled on a little hill above the lake. There was some nonsense muttered about there not being a spot for Karen to hang her hammock down below and so we all squeezed into this spot on the hill.


I will admit that Karen had one of her best hangs at that campsite, but we’d never camped in such close proximity before. Rich was set up in a nice spot just about 20 feet away from Karen, and when I found a spot to squeeze in not 15 feet from him in the other direction I suddenly found Val setting her tent up literally right next to mine. Our tent stakes touched.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI didn’t pay much attention to the odd set up. We’d only had a short distance to hike that day and had gotten in to camp in time for lunch. There was a long list of wonderful things to get do. Take a swim, watch Val fish, enjoy a nap, write in my journal, see what food I had left to snack on. It wasn’t until the next morning that I understood what had happened.

As we hiked out the next morning Karen turned to Rich and Val and said, “Should we tell Carolyn now?”

It turns out the reason they hadn’t wanted to camp in the sand by the lake was that the area was covered with unicorn prints. This was the reason we’d all camped so close that night. It was the reason, unbeknowst to me, that Rich slept with a pile of rocks, Karen slept with her knife in reach, and Val had her hiking poles at the ready. It is only because I was unbeknownst that I slept at all.

Later, on our hike out I asked Rich about what he’d been doing up in the middle of night, was it peeing? He told me he hadn’t been up at all. Val? Karen? No one had gotten up in the night. Now, I don’t sleep with my contacts in but I’m certain something walked across our campsite. And since I know mountain lions aren’t real, I can only assume it was a unicorn.


Looking back at Pika Lake on our hike out the next day.

3 responses to “Unicorns

  1. I actually lived in a place where unicorn sitings were perhaps not frequent, but occasional. I always hoped to catch sight on one, but they are such shy critters. There were times when I felt a bit uneasy if I ventured into the woods alone. 😉

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