Thursday, July 1, 2010
Backcountry Bear Basics
My first experience camping in bear country was at a private camping ground, car camping near Pike's Peak. In the middle of the night, I heard a loud sniffing around my tent and saw a very large shadow. I thought it was a bear. I shrunk down into my sleeping bag, praying it would go away. Thankfully, it did, because that was the wrong reaction. Had it been a hungry bear, I might not be writing this blog today. (It was a family of raccoons that found a cooler full of food that the neighboring camp left out.)
The next year I bought a can of bear spray and kept it in my sleeping bag at night. The plan was to spray any bear that dared to enter my tent. According to Dave Smith, the author of Backcountry Bear Basics: "You'd better hope it deters the bear for a while, because you will be incapacitated after spraying inside your tent." Ooops again...
I met with a group of 5 other members of Bayou City Outdoors in New Mexico and we were discussing what we knew about bears before we drove to Colorado for our backpacking trip in the South San Juan Wilderness. One person heard you were supposed to get as big as you can and make a lot of noise. I heard not to make any threatening movements and talk softly. Someone suggested it was different depending whether it was a brown or black bear.
We hung our food in camp, but I now know that while we didn't really do it improperly, we didn't use the best method. The ones we used were described as sufficient against inexperienced bears. Apparently the bears that are in places such as Yosemite know our tricks, and it would have taken only a few seconds to get our dinner.
A lot of the things I thought I knew about bears were wrong. This book tells you how to avoid conflict, the correct way to hang food, what to do if there is no place to hang the food, and how to protect yourself and survive if there is a close encounter. It addresses myths such as the one that menstruating women should avoid bear country, whether sexual activity attracts bears, and "bluff" charges. It's written in an entertaining and informative manner that kept me turning pages. I read it cover to cover in one night and will keep it as a reference. I highly recommend it for anyone who lives in, camps in, drives through, or otherwise visits bear country.
Oh...my new plan for if I hear a bear outside my tent (from the book):
1) Fight the urge to quietly shrink down into your sleeping bag.
2) Talk softly to the bear so it can identify you as a human being.
3) If you have bear spray, get it ready.
4) Pick up your flashlight, quickly unzip your tent door, turn on your flashlight, and shine it at the bear to momentarily blind it.
5) If the bear does not take off, whoop, holler, and make noise, or spray it with bear spray if you have it.
I bought mine at park headquarters in Great Sand Dunes National Park. It's also available at Amazon.com.