Growing up I thought that quicksand was going to be a much bigger problem than it has been. Similarly, as I got older I thought that bears are a reasonable concern when going to the outdoors. After some deep pondering, I realized that bears may be more common than quicksand so it’s time to stop saying I will look it up later.
I consider myself pretty outdoorsy, but I have been embarrassed to admit that I have never seen a bear. I have even been to Yellowstone for a full weekend, and I spent 2 weeks camping in the backcountry of the Wind Rivers. No bears. The research I have done for this article, taught me three important things:
- Not seeing a bear means that I’m probably doing things well
- I may be a chatty Cathy (I have never used bells or anything like that to make noise)
- Compared to other things (dehydration, lightning, etc) bear attacks are not frequent
After all this, I have determined that there are two main parts to bears:
- General management to avoid bears
- When a bear crosses your path
- What kind of bear is it?
- How do I react?
This article is going to focus on the exciting topic of #1: General management to avoid bears. My next article is the excited topic of what to do when a bear actually crosses your path!
Where to store?
Food should stored 100 yards from where campers are sleeping. Assuming a 2.5 foot stride that is 120 steps.
What counts as food?
According to the USDA, “To bears, “food” includes water bottles, coffee mugs, soda cans, trash, wrappers, cosmetics, grocery bags and ice chests.” Has gatorade ever been in your refillable, eco friendly Nalgene bottle? That bottle counts as food to a bear. Obviously, anything else that is actually eatable counts as well.
Although local rumor says that the boy had a sealed candy bar in his sleeping bag, news reports do not confirm if there was food involved. I do not mean to mar this tragic story, but it taught me about sealed foods so I have altered it as I first heard it.
A few years ago a young 11 year old boy camping with his family (allegedly) had a candy bar in his sleeping bag on Mount Timpanogos in American Fork Canyon, Utah. Unfortunately, an aggressive bear dragged him out of his tent. The young boy died as this bear struggled to get the candy bar out of the bag the scout was in. Sealed food is not the same as storing in in a safe container.
What to store it in?
For Mount Whitney its really easy to find what to store food in. The area requires a bear canister! Terrain plays a big deal with any decisions. Are there trees to hang something (like a sack) on? Or is it Alpine and lacking trees?
I used a canister when I was in the Wind Rivers. Canisters are pretty much super child proof buckets. They can be pretty bulky, but some also double as a chair. The canister I used did not block the smell of food, but it did make it so that the bears could not access the food. It is also thick enough to keep pesky marmonts from chewing through the container. I’m planning to rent one when I pick up my permit in California.
Compared to nothing, a sack counterbalanced 10 feet off the ground and 4 feet from a tree is a great alternative. It does require a tree, but is less bulky. It also requires the weight of a rope.
Some people claim that bacon is a fad. I’m not sure what kind of childhood these people had because I have loved bacon since I first had it. I don’t believe that bacon is or has been a fad. However, as anyone who has made bacon knows, it smells dang good. So unfortunately, not the best bear country food.
- Grilled Fish
- Sour Cream and Onion chips 😦
- Apple pie 😦 😦
- Plain potato chips 🙂
- All my research has said not to wear the clothes that dinner was cooked in to bed. So now I have to bring an extra outfit when I was planning on bringing just the one.
- Just this weekend my friend sprayed some coconut scented Sunscreen. It smelled just like the beach! So yummy. I thought about eating the sunscreen and I’m not a bear.
- I made the unfortunate mistake of buying a used backpack that had previously been used by a very sweaty person who needed much more deodorant than they used (I suspect they wore none). When I cleaned my bag in the bathtub, I bought special camp soap to get some unscented cleaning done for my bag. The soap is also eco friendly and does not leave residue in nature.
- After that I bought a bottle of unscented deodorant because I got this irrational fear that I am going to start sweating more than I have ever sweated in my entire life and stink up my bag like it was when I bought it.
- Toothpaste: as much as I try to eliminate extra weight I cannot give up my toothpaste. It is just so magical to have clean minty teeth.
In an ideal world bears stay away from humans. Even though we carry tasty treats (hopefully not our body!) we are also strange. In the Wind Rivers the one member who saw a bear saw the bear trail running. The friend was trail running alone and not making a lot of noise. They turned a corner and an unsuspecting bear was right on the trail. The bear paniced and jumped on the tree in a defensive manner.
- The moral of the story is to make a lot of noises as long as a bear is not visible (next post we will go over what to do if a bear is visible). Some people purchase bells for their packs. That makes any movement cause noises.
- I’m a chatty Cathy so if I think it has been too quiet for a long time I clap my hands and say loudly, “Hi Bear”. Luckily a bear has never said, “Hi Kim!”
- Occasionally I pass a group of hikers blasting awful music (if it is not 2000s punk rock is it even worth listening too?). While it can be annoying, it is a great way to constantly make some noise to scare off the bears.
For you experienced campers out there, is it more dangerous to have smelly food breath or minty fresh toothpaste breath while sleeping?
“Bear Canister Basics”, REI, Accessed July 30th, https://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/bear-resistant-canisters.html
“Hiking the Mt. Whitney Trail”, 2013; United States Department of Agriculture, Accessed July 30th, 2018, https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5333235.pdf
Pendrod, Sam, 2007; KSL, “Boy Killed by Bear in American Fork Canyon”, Accessed July 30, 2018, https://www.ksl.com/?nid=148&sid=1363845
“Stop There! Be Bear Aware!”, Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center, Accessed July 30th, 2018, https://www.grizzlydiscoveryctr.org/education/bear-awareness-hiking-camping/