Porcupine World War

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I woke up at 2 A.M. and heard a gnawing noise. Still groggy, I listened a bit more. Yep. Gnawing noise coming from the rock next to me. I grab my headlamp, turn it on, and there’s a porcupine butt in my face.

To really put this into perspective, you need to know that I don’t use a tent. I use a bivy sack. That’s basically a waterproof sack for your sleeping bag. Well, should be waterproof—I’ve nicknamed my leaky bivy sack “Sieve” and my wet sleeping bag “Bounty, the Quicker Picker Upper”, but that’s a different story.

All you really need to know is that I’m sleeping on the ground next to this huge rock. I turn on my headlamp, and I am staring up at the huge bare butt of a porcupine looming above me. Literally three feet from my face.

The Destruction

Suddenly I realize the porcupine is chewing on my trekking poles! “Hey!” I yell. His quills perk up so I get an even better view of his butt, but he doesn’t move and just keeps gnawing. “Bug off!” I yell while throwing a pinecone at his butt. (For the record, I used a word other than “bug”, but I’m trying to keep this PG.) The pinecone to his butt finally gets his attention. He jumps off the rock and waddles into the bushes.

With his big butt out of the way, I can see my trekking poles. One of the straps looks frayed. He chewed my strap! That little bugger! (Again, trying to keep this PG.) But oh, it was so much worse than just a frayed strap. I grab my trekking poles and realize that he has chewed all the cork off one of my handles. Completely destroyed it.

The War Has Begun

I move the trekking poles closer to me, still leaning on the rock. A few minutes later, I see the silhouette of the porcupine against the night sky as he climbs onto the rock again.


He drops down and pokes his head around the rock. “Yeah, I see there. Bug off!” With that, he waddles into the bushes again. I take my trekking poles and lean them against the pine tree directly next to me. Now the porcupine would have to climb over me to get to the poles. Or at least climb around the tree—porcupines are excellent tree climbers, even ones with big butts.

Spoiler alert: the porcupine did NOT climb over me or climb around the tree. But the battle is not over. Indeed, the war has just begun.

Crappy night photos of my enemy as he encroached upon my encampment.

All night long, I was hyper vigilant to every sound. I would hear a sound in the bushes, shine my light, and there he was. “Bug off!” and he would waddle away.

By the way, porcupines really do waddle. It’s not just because this one had a big butt. I’ve encountered many porcupines in my life, and they all waddle. But I’ve never encountered one so brazen that it absolutely didn’t care that I was right there. Usually they’re frightened and scurry up the nearest tree. Not this one.

All night long, our war waged. To my detriment, the ground was covered in pine needles that muffled his footsteps. Frequently, he would get within just a few feet of me before I heard him. Light! “Bug off!” Waddle waddle waddle.

What Does a Porcupine Say?

Also, if you’ve never heard the sound porcupines make, let me try to describe it. Think of a goose with a sinus infection trying to quietly say “uh uh uh”. I heard that all night long, mocking me, teasing me, tormenting me. “Uh uh uh. (Translation: I’m over here. You didn’t know that, did you?) Uh uh uh. (Now I’m over here.)”

But the worst was the silence when I couldn’t hear him. Where is he? My ears straining. Eyes feebly searching the darkness. Did he wander away finally? Or is he right next to me on the soft pine needles? So many times in the silence the paranoia would overwhelm me—I would pop up suddenly with my light blazing…nothing. Then in the distance, a mocking “Uh uh uh. (Ha ha! Made you look!)”

All night long we battled. Even though I survived the night, I’m pretty sure that I lost the war. I guess I should be glad that the only casualties where my trekking pole and a night’s sleep. My enemy waddled away into the night with a stomach full of yummy cork, while I hobbled away, uncomfortably clutching the knobby remnants of his dinner.

I managed to fix my trekking pole at the next town. Found a bicycle shop in the tiny town of Pinedale, Wyoming, that miraculously still had cork wrap for road bike handlebars. Despite losing the battle, I was feeling quite pleased with my repair job.

However, the war is not over.

Trekking poles with one handle repaired with cork wrap.
My repair job using bicycle cork wrap.

Porcupine World War II

From Pinedale, I traveled to Grand Teton National Park. I decided to do an unofficial alternate to the boring CDT section between the Wind River Range and Yellowstone. My first night out was in Death Canyon Valley. I got to camp late because I was too busy taking photos of mushrooms along the trail. Plus, I accidently missed a turn, which resulted in finding even more mushrooms to photograph, thus making me even later.

By the time I got to camp, it was almost dark, so I decided to “cowboy camp”. That’s where you don’t setup your tent or bivy and just lay your mat and sleeping bag (down quilt in my case) directly on the ground. It’s frankly not much different than using my bivy, although you are far more exposed to bugs and overly aggressive mice (R.I.P. mouse). However, it’s pleasant on clear nights. Not as stuffy and humid as a tent or bivy. I quickly drift off to sleep after an exhausting day of photographing mushrooms. So many mushrooms.

I wake in the darkness to a sound near me. Next to me, actually. Like right next to me. I grab my headlamp and turn it on. You know what I’m about to say. That’s right…another porcupine. Literally inches from me. This time going to town on my backpack.

The damage to my trekking pole by the previous porcupine was irritating, but it didn’t jeopardize my trip. I can still hike with a pole that has been used as a chew toy. But my backpack? If that bugger has chewed through my shoulder strap or hip belt, that could end my trip. I’ve heard plenty of stories of vermin destroying backpacks of thru-hikers. I’ve already experienced some of that. Remember the video of the chipmunk chewing my hat strap? The mouse (R.I.P.) licking my legs as I tried to sleep? I remember in Boy Scouts when a marmot chewed through a tent and ate one of the dad’s leather belt. The porcupine eating the cork off my trekking pole, and now this porcupine is doing…what?

“Hey! Bug off!”

He gives me the side-eye, then waddle waddle waddle.

Porcupine Slobber

I sit up and peer around my backpack to assess the damage. How much did he chew? How much money is this going to cost me? How much time is this going to cost me? My pack is a Hyperlight, which is hard to find. Do I get off trail for a week or two while I wait for the same model pack? Or do I get a new pack and hope it works? What if the new one causes some chronic pain that ultimately drives me from the trail?

All this flashes through my head as I lean forward. Hmmm… That pack strap seems OK. That one, too. Hipbelt OK on that side… And the other side. No holes. Actually, there are pre-existing holes where the pack has been rubbing against me and my clothes for over 3,000 miles, but no apparent damage from the porcupine. What was he doing?

Then I realize the porcupine didn’t chew anything. He just licked the salt off my pack. Must have been licking my pack for a very long time because the entire back panel of my pack is wet. It even has little slobber bubbles on it because the porcupine was licking it so much for so long.

Porcupine slobber bubbles??!? Gross! Stay away from my stuff!

And thus began Porcupine World War II.

Porcupine Quills on My Head

Just like before, my battle with the porcupine raged through the night. The porcupine would come back, I would yell, and he would waddle away. Until…

As I am lying on my mat, eyes closed, sorta drifting off to sleep, I hear a dragging noise next to my head. Then I feel something dragging across my head. I realize the porcupine is waddling across the log behind my head, and his quills were first dragging across the log, then dragging across my head. Let me repeat that…THE PORCUPINE’S QUILLS DRAGGED ACROSS MY HEAD.

Oh no ladybugging way! That did not just happen. This porcupine obviously had not gotten word from the rodent community about what I do when my personal space is invaded (R.I.P. mouse).

More drastic measures are obviously called for. I can’t slap this porcupine with my hand like I did the mouse that repeatedly assaulted me. But I can whack it with my trekking poles! I set my poles by my sides with my hands on the handles, ready to play whack-a-porcupine the next time he pops up.

All through the night, I hear a noise, then whack! Whack! Whack! In the darkness, I can’t tell if my whacks are even close to the porcupine, so I switch to one hand on a trekking pole and the other on my headlamp. Noise again. Light! Whack! Whack! Whack! Dang. Too far away. Silence… silence… sleepy silence… noise! Whack! Whack! Whack! Light! Dang it, Bennett. Light first, then whack.

On and on we dueled. I have to be honest—I’m not sure that my whacks ever made contact. I was sleepy and fumbling in the darkness, and my foe was adept at waddling.

I do know that I fell asleep at some point, and when I woke, it was dawn. The porcupine is nowhere to be seen. I check my pack… Not chewed. Yes! I’ll take that as a victory, small as it is. I could have had porcupine quills stuck in my scalp. I could have had my expensive pack rendered unusable, forcing me off the trail while I carry my gear in my hands back to town. But I survived this encounter with just a loss of sleep and a backpack moist with slobber bubbles.

I’m getting better. Ready for Porcupine World War III…

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One Response

  1. J2 Basecamp, Oaxaca, México. A Mouse 🐁 Chewed Through a Brand New Tent Wall to Get to Food 🍬 Inside on the First Night. The Tent ⛺️ Owner Was Forewarned Beforehand.

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