Attack of the Squirrels

This was no ordinary enemy. It was smart, effective, and ruthless. I came back to my camp to find it had been violated.

In the morning I woke up early to go for a hike, having slept so peacefully in the quiet pine-filled forest of Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California. The campground was comfortable. A bed of pine needles was spread everywhere giving it a naturally soft and cushioned surface. At night I could look through the pines and see the star filled skies. This morning, as the sun filtered through the trees, it made the ground like gold.

I changed into some suitable clothes for hiking and threw my backpack and everything I had with me in my tent into the car for safety. I left behind, of course, my sleeping bag and pillow. I zipped and locked everything and was off for a hike. I was in the Manzanita Campground and there was a trailhead for the Manzanita Creek Trail at the edge of the campground. I made my way from Loop C to Loop D  and then along the path in the forest. During my hike I saw scores of pinecones just strewn all about the forest floor. They were of that enormous type I’d seen the days before, some as big as my head. They were from the sugar pine tree. I’d read that some of these pinecones can reach a length of two feet.

The hike was rather uneventful and un-notable- no striking characteristics of features to set it apart from any stretch of forest in the park. I hiked for maybe a couple miles until the snow banks became so dense and tall that the trail was entirely lost. Just the day before I had gone on a hike up Prospect Peak and had gotten lost in a similar fashion. Of course I found my way back eventually, but I wasn’t ready to get lost again today. There were other things to see and do This hike was just a bonus to kick start the day, so I decided to turn around and head back toward camp. On my return I passed by two older men also out for a morning hike. “How’s the trail up ahead?” one of them asked.

“It kind of just disappears with the snow. I didn’t know where to go,” I replied

As I strolled back into camp I rounded the loop and came to my site. I could feel my blood pressure rise. Something was not right. The side of my tent was flailing. It had been ripped and was dangling and floating in the quiet breeze. My initial thought was that my camp has been attacked by a bear. A bear must have ripped into my tent! How could this be? I raced up to my tent and looked around. I didn’t leave any food nor anything with any odor in my tent, just the air mattress, sleeping bag, and pillow. As I observed the rip, I noted it  was peculiarly neat, almost as if it was carefully unwoven at the tent seam. A bear would have been more vicious and careless, I thought. Something doesn’t add up.

 Just at this moment the campground host was making his morning rounds in his golf cart. I ran over to him. “Can you come over and check out what happened to my tent?” I asked

 He followed me over, took one glance, and without hesitation declared “squirrels”

“I beg your pardon?” I asked. Just kidding. I never talk like that, instead: “What?!” I exclaimed.  Was he joking? How am I supposed to respond?

“That’s right, squirrels. They were after the stuffin’ in your sleepin’ bag. I betcha they used it to make their nests all nice and warm.”

I had never heard of such a thing. I considered myself pretty intelligent and well-versed in the ways of camping, and I was responsible and cautious. I knew not to leave anything of odor in my tent. All my food was in the bear box and I even made sure nothing valuable was left out, because you can never have the assurance of trust with strange humans. But squirrels? I had never thought that squirrels would be a threat.

“Oh yeah, they are a real problem ‘round here. There was a couple here with motorcycles- real nice ones. They woke up in the morning  to find the squirrels had chewed right through the leather seats of their motorcycles and pulled out the stuffin’. We even have to be careful with the tires on the RVs. Sometimes they’re after the rubber and can tear those things up. That’s why we have tire covers.”

I never would have imagined such a thing.

“It’s definitely the squirrels,” the man said as he reached his hand into my tent and pointed out some squirrel droppings sprinkled across my air mattress. How indecent! How corrupt! I was not happy. This was Kelty, my expensive tent. Since the weather was really nice and the temperatures quite comfortable, I wanted to sleep in my airy tent, where I could look up and see the sugar pines and the night sky. I thought this was going to be a safe place for my tent. But squirrels? How dare they! I took pictures of them the day before. I thought they were cute and friendly little woodland creatures, not vandals and thieves, taking stuffing from the very pillow I lay my head to rest on.

At the campsite next to me was a man packing up his things. I went over and I asked if he had any tape. He lent me his roll of classic duct tape, and so I taped my tent together. Take that squirrels!

This time I did not add this incident to my list of misfortunes. Instead, I laughed it off. This was quite funny and would make a story, I thought. Never before did I have a tale to tell of my camp being systematically invaded by squirrels and my tent chewed into by these rodents. 

This was the second tent destroyed on this trip. The first one was True Blue with it’s tent pole snapped in a monsoon at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Despite the misfortune, somehow my paradigm had shifted. I wasn’t focused on the negativity. I accepted this moment as part of the adventure. It is what it is, and there is nothing I could have done to have prevented this, for I did not have the knowledge to know about the threatening squirrels, and I didn’t even know to seek such knowledge. This had to happen for me to learn, and it had to happen for me to write this episode of my adventure.

When I reflect upon it, I think of how the forests out East are so lush and rich and full of plant life, so much so that the animals usually don’t care about the camper and his set up. Occasionally you’ll have a curious raccoon come by the campground at night, maybe a skunk (that’s another story), but as for the bears and the squirrels, they have a whole lush forest to enjoy. They don’t care about people’s riches.

Here in California where the forest is so dry, where drought has ravaged the land for so many years, where the plant life is scarce, these squirrels are desperate. They will go to the extremes of chewing into people’s tents and ripping the stuffing out of their pillows to make nests. And the bears too warrant concern for personal property. I remember at Sequoia National Park. in the visitor center, watching a film of bears ripping off doors of automobiles to get inside and consume whatever smelled edible. They even went to the extremes of eating car seats if they smelled appetizing.

Many of us not from California look upon California and say it is full of crazies. Like with any place, and any such statement, it can’t be applied to everyone, but here it certainly can be applied to the animals. Guard your pillows!

Read the previous entry “Lost in Lassen” here: Lost in Lassen – on the verge (

Check out my book Canyonlands: my adventures in the national parks and the beautiful wild here:

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