Monday, June 18, 2018

Close Encounters of the Beary Kind

I have a confession.

I am unreasonably, irrationally afraid of BEARS. I managed to get this fear under control when I worked as a wilderness kayak ranger in Alaska. After all, we would sit eating our rice in our remote backcountry campsites, we would count the bears we saw strolling past our tents (seven at one time was the record).  Then myself and five companions were charged by a coastal grizzly in 2009, somehow escaping injury. The fear came back. Now that I live in a place where they are rarely seen, I'm more nervous than ever.

However, this nervousness is confined to the night, when I'm in a tent. For some reason, I don't get scared hiking. I realize this makes no sense.

Even though I'm afraid of bears, I still go out. This summer, if you can call this desperately rainy, cool weather as summer, I've been out a lot alone. The trails are deserted in direct contrast to prior seasons. People are going to warmer, dryer places. This has led to some long and beautiful hikes and runs in solitude.


Yesterday I headed up from the "green gate", a typical running and walking route that gets you up to the moraine quickly. It's a local favorite that gains only 800 feet to a beautiful plateau. Due to the record-setting rain, the grass was nearly higher than the dogs.

it's all fun and games until a bear crosses your path. I don't have any pictures of the bear.

I heard a stick break in the woods and thought it was Ruby, so I called her (I try to keep her in sight at all times). To my surprise, a large bear emerged from the woods and loped across the trail, just feet away.

When you're not used to seeing bears anymore, there is a second of disbelief before your mind can process what it is. The dogs were up the trail, between me and the bear, so I decided to go after them to make sure there weren't any bad outcomes. As I cautiously moved up the trail, I came upon a recently dead fawn, still warm. It was obvious the bear had been lurking near the carcass.

This is pretty dangerous, and it seemed prudent to withdraw.


Even though it was a nice day on the moraine. Sort of.

Typical views. So many clouds, so little sun.
I really don't know how to get over the fear of night time bears. I'll continue with immersion therapy and hope it somehow goes away. In the meantime, I guess I'll dig out the bear spray and start carrying it.

21 comments:

  1. I love this post! Fears and night time bears are so problematic.

    My first week back on the Appalachian Trail here in Georgia, I met a young hiker whose food was taken by a bear the previous night. That re-kindled my fears, after not having to think about them the past two years.

    Then last week backpacking on the AT, I was getting startled at every single darn rustling in the bushes and could not fall asleep. After a while of me tossing and turning, my partner whispers, "Don't worry. That's probably a deer. Definitely NOT a bear." Not sure how he knew what was keeping me awake, or why unsubstantiated reassurance was so soothing, but I instantly fell asleep.

    Tomorrow I'm going back out there solo. Maybe the night will be still.

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    1. I find sleeping by creeks is really the only way I get rest. Unless someone else is around. Silly I know but it makes me feel better. I wonder if they'll ever make people carry canisters on the AT.

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  2. I went hiking yesterday and felt like there were bears around. I found out today that Fish and Game had traps out in the area and trapped a grizzly there this weekend, I think the same day I was hiking.

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    1. Eek, at least we don't have those.

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  3. Holy crap! Someone I know spotted a bear in the Gorge this weekend, on one of the just-reopening trails.

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    1. I wonder how they will do in the burned areas. If there isn't a good berry crop perhaps they will be seen more often.

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  4. during all my PCT hike I didn't see a single bear, but I know there were a lot of them. Afraid at night? No. But I snore so loudly I think the bears were afraid of that thing roaring in the tent!

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    1. Wow! I've section hiked about 2000 miles. Trying to remember how many I have seen. Actually not many. The main area I felt was really beary was between Chester and Burney, and in Lassen.

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  5. I'm mostly afraid of the things I can't see: a poisonous snake on the other side of a log or rock, a scorpion, or a tick (I've had Lymes). I've had a close encounter with a grizzly, moose, and many black bears. For these larger animals, I've felt more adrenaline than fear. Not sure why. I haven't been charged. I'm sure thats part of it.

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    1. Interesting. Very different than my experience, I worked around snakes for years and probably was too cavalier. Also I swam in lakes with alligators. Didn't worry about what I couldn't see.

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  6. I respect bears and take the usual precautions with them, but I haven't developed a real fear of them. On the Divide route, I felt fine camping in my bivy sack in grizzly country, while others chose to move town to town through Canada and Montana to avoid camping out. I'm sure this would change drastically if I ever had a bad bear encounter. But I already carry so many fears (wolves in Alaska among them ... talk about an irrational fear) that I'm grateful the be free of bearanoia for now.

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    1. Whereas I never even think about wolves, and other people in my town won't even walk the trails because of them. We all have our own fears I guess. Sleeping in a bivy in grizzly country would make me feel like a snack.

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  7. I haven't ever worried much about our black bears in Wallowa County as they are hunted Spring and Fall and I always see them hightailing it once they know I'm there.
    A fresh kill could be a problem, and dogs can cause problems too, certainly you've heard of encounters in Alaska where someone's dog brought a grizzly back to their owner with a predictably bad outcome. I don't know if blacks respond the same way to dogs or would run away.
    I usually carry bear spray - liking to be prepared for both non-human and human animal encounters...
    Fears are something we each carry and have to deal with in whatever way works for us, they often aren't very rational...

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    1. I've had a dog bring a bear back to me. Not a good situation. Here in 9 years I've seen maybe 5 bears? So I know realistically it's not something to worry about. Somehow I still do.

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  8. It took me a long, long time to get comfortable sleeping in a tent. My biggest fears, bears and snakes. I still won't get out of the tent at night unless M absolutely needs to.
    Another reason why I love the area down there. No big bear worries, and enough dogs in the campground to wake the world if one strolled through. Now a big sign with pink flagging warns about "bear precautions", and placards on campground bulletin boards note when most recent bear sighting was, and what loop location. This tells me more that camp goers and tourists aren't doing their part to keep a clean camp site. It's was a hard summer of fires that displaced a lot of wildlife, followed by a longer than normal winter. They'll find calories, and a home wherever they can now. We have to coexist and share. We can do it, we just have to remember not to be complacent.

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    1. I'm afraid that as the use increases there could be more issues back on the trails. People sleep with food in their tents which is never a good idea.

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    2. I won't even let M wear lip gloss to bed. When I saw her putting it back in her toiletry..."Did you just put that on your lips?"..."Yes."..."Wash it off with soap and hot water. I don't want bears in my tent because your lips smell fruity." Over precautious, maybe. Then again, I don't want to find out.

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    3. A boy scout who put on deodorant woke up to find a bear in his tent a few years ago (not there) so it's good practice to hang that stuff or stow it in the car if you're car camping.

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  9. I am more afraid of an encounter with a mountain lion than I am with a bear. I have had more than my fair share of bear (grizzly & black) encounters, all with positive outcomes, yet a couple of those encounters were quite scary. My first camping experience was in Waterton National Park and I thought my friend was snoring in his tent next to me, it turned out being a black bear sniffing and breathing loud while circling my tent. Even after all these incidents, I am not afraid. I just don't want to see a mountain lion out there.

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    1. Yikes. That sounds scary. I have had one interesting mountain lion encounter, and have seen others in the wild. The lion came in my camp at night and snarled and walked around. I didn't like it one bit. My scariest night in the mountains.

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  10. I am terrified this summer being in places with grizzlies. I'm not really fearful of black bears (I should be). Also, I couldn't be out here alone, not yet.

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