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Hey! Who Invited The Bear? Part: 1

Claw Marks on a Tree in the Eagles Nest Wilderness

It may not seem like it just yet, but spring is right around the corner. And for us that means a lot of road trips and adventures are ahead. Though winter isn’t quite over, it’s coming time to pack up most of the cold weather gear and start enjoying the sunshine. Of course we won’t be alone, many woodland creatures will be out enjoying the warming days leading to summer as well.

Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is one of the most prized experiences about what we do, but it can also be one of the most hazardous if the right precautions aren’t taken, especially in bear country. That being said, contrary to most movies bears aren’t out just looking for backcountry athletes to munch on. Less than positive encounters are usually out of surprise or some sort of misunderstanding between beast and explorer. Bears and other wildlife are usually just looking for food, so you should always keep yours and other scented items invulnerable, particularly while in camp.

I’ve never had the misfortune of needing to fight off a bear or play dead for one; but I have come across bears in three separate occasions, perhaps four if it was indeed a bear cracking trees outside my tent in Glacier. I’ve spoken with many wilderness athletes that hold varying opinions about how to handle a situation with a bear, and have heard numerous techniques to prevent an encounter all together. From these, and other research, I‘ve come to my own conclusions that will hopefully help clear things up or at least create an open discussion so that you can come to your own as well.

First off, anytime we travel into the backcountry whether a National Park or wilderness area we should always be aware of our surroundings and mindful of bears and other wild animals. Even though a place appears to be controlled it’s still very much wild and home to wild animals. Bears sometimes leave signs of their presence. Often tracks and scat can be found in areas of repeated use. They also rub against and scratch trees and dig at fallen timber for food like grubs and small mammals. These signs aren’t always obvious but should be looked for before making camp in areas inhabited by bears.

It‘s been found that traveling in groups of three or more will drastically lower the chances of an encounter by giving fair warning of your approach, through noise that groups inherently create. Other tools that work well are bells that attach to your pack, clapping, singing and banging on metal cookware, I’ve even seen music used. I was hiking with a few friends up a trial in Yosemite when out of the silence we heard music and it got louder and louder the farther we traveled. All of a sudden we crossed paths with its source, a solo hiker that had connected small speakers to his iPod. This method may seem to kill the ambiance of being in nature but it certainly seems less invasive than the constant clang of bells or droning of pots being beaten all day. At least it would be music to just warn the bear to move on instead of torturing it with bad singing, which would be the case if I were to screech a tune along the trail.

These are just a few tips to prevent an unwanted encounter, but there are plenty more. This won’t be our last conversation about traveling in bear country and how to keep yourself and your group safe. Check back for more info about how to prevent an encounter and what to do in the case of a confrontation.

Enjoy Your Adventure.

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