Living in Jasper as a teenager, I had an amazing opportunity that few have: to live in a national park and experience some of the world's last wilderness. I went on many hikes and camping trips in those years. But I almost stopped camping altogether after I heard this creepy story from a friend at school.
One summer my friend and his little brother were on a three-day hike on one of the longer, more remote trails in the park. These are trails where it’s not unusual to hike for an entire day without seeing another living soul. On the second day of their trip they’d been up near the treeline and had dawdled around in the sunshine, taking pictures and enjoying the scenery. By the time they came back down into the forest and got to the campsite where they’d be spending the night, it was past sundown, nearly dark, and starting to rain. They had to set up camp by flashlight. They were so tired they ate trail mix for dinner then crawled into their tent and fell asleep quickly.
In the middle of the night my friend woke up suddenly. It was dead quiet: the rain had stopped. And in the silence my friend could hear something large moving around outside.
His first thought was bear! That was scary, but my friend had been on many hiking trips, and he kept his head. He’d secured their food in an animal-resistant bag hung from a cord between two trees. There was no food in the tent, or anywhere else in the camp. If this was a bear it would probably sniff around a while and then leave. My friend kept still. He could hear his brother’s steady breathing and decided not to wake him. He didn’t want to make any noise that might spook the bear.
But then my friend became aware that the sounds he was hearing were not those of an animal. He was hearing slow, deliberate footsteps outside the tent. This wasn’t an animal, this was somebody walking around in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere. In the complete darkness.
The sounds of walking stopped. Someone was outside the tent. Someone just standing there. Who? Why?
That was far worse than a bear. My friend broke into a cold sweat and his heart began to pound. Who would be out the dark in the wild alone, standing outside someone else’s tent? My friend thought about the camping knife that was in his pack in the corner of the tent. If he moved to get it, the person outside would hear him. The only other weapon was the hatchet they used for cutting firewood. But it was outside, leaning against the trunk of a tree. It was out there, with somebody.
My friend stayed still and listened. He waited to hear the sound of footsteps start again. He waited and hoped to hear footsteps fading away into the distance. But he heard nothing. Whoever was out there had walked into the camp, and then stopped, and was still standing there. My friend waited, and waited, and finally, incredibly, he fell back asleep.
In the morning he woke up to discover, much to his relief, that he and his brother were still alive. My friend told his brother what he’d heard in the night. Searching the muddy ground around the camp, they discovered bootprints that didn’t belong to either of them. That morning they packed up their gear faster than they ever had before, and hiked at top speed to the end of the trail, where their dad would be waiting to pick them up and take them home.