Sunday, February 11, 2007

Camping with rodents

When I hike I usually setup a base camp and day hike from near the camp. As I get older and as I continue hiking during colder weather, the campsite increasingly is a car camp. Sometimes I sleep in the back of my pickup which has a light canopy, sometimes I sleep in my tent. Many times the campsite has an abundance of rodents, either mice, voles, or ground squirrels. Sleeping on the desert in southern Idaho, I've enjoyed watching kangaroo mice jumping around my sleeping bag. Sometimes various rodents get into my tent or pickup with comic results.

Late one fall I setup camp about noon near the Chiwaukum River and ate lunch closely watched by serveral golden-mantled ground squirrels. I thought I had kept all the squirrels out of my tent and left for an afternoon's hike. When I got back, no squirrels were evident and I laid out my sleeping bag in my tent and sat by a fire until it started to rain. After getting ready for bed, I opened my sleeping bag to be surprised by a ground squirrel sleeping on the pillow who had left gifts of pellets and at least 1 flea. I spent several minutues trying to get the squirrel out of the tent which was surprisingly difficult, it was very quick and could hide in places is I couldn't imagine. During this, I ended up getting myself and my gear somewhat wet and getting less and less thrilled about camping. I tried cleaning my bag and pillow of pellets and fleas but couldn't see well and remembered that bubonic plague is endemic in the western USA, although rare. Finally, I gave up and dumped my gear in the back of my pickup and drove home, about 3 hours away. The following day I discovered I had not suceeded in removing the squirrel, gnawed fabric showed it came home with me. Fortunately a neighborhood cat expressed much interest in my pickup and gear, I don't know what happened but I didn't see signs of the ground squirrel again. I did thoroughly clean my sleeping bag, etc. after this.

Another time along the White River (flows into Lake Wenatchee), I was sleeping in the back of my pickup when I started hearing a scratching, scrabbling sound. I was sleepy and it didn't bother me until something crawled across the top of my head. I woke rapidly and was able to see a deermouse inside my pickup bed. Attempts to get the mouse out were not successfull, it could squeeze between pieces of metal that seemed much smaller than the mouse. After several attempts, I just opened the tailgate and went back to sleep. I didn't see more of this mouse and it didn't really disturb my rest. I guess because I was already in possesion of my bed I was less upset by its presence.

I am more careful now about keeping rodents out of my tent or vehicle and if they are about don't setup a camp and keep doors closed. Also because I camp more in bear country, I do not keep food in my tent or near my campsite, except in an enclosed vehicle. Still, I expect more rodent camp encounters.

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