LEARNING – the bear necessities

Now, don’t let the title scare you. No – I did not encounter a bear. But, I thought I might and that is what this post is about…

On my last day off I went for a little hike nearby to Muskeg Falls and the first thing I encountered was this sign:

I had seen these signs before. They are literally littered throughout Grande Cache and surrounding areas. But this was my first lone encounter. This was the first time I was venturing out alone… into the wild… with the bears. When I’m alone sometimes my mind gets the better of me, and I think things are worse than they really are. Needless to say, I was a bit apprehensive as I made those first tentative footsteps into the woods. My eyes dashed around to every sound and slight movement in my peripheral vision. I had read and heard that bears would really rather not encounter you either, so the best thing to do is make a lot of noise to warn them when you are approaching. So that’s what I did. I jangled my keys, I clapped, I whistled, I yelled, but mostly I sang.

I sang pop songs, and kid songs, and commercial jingles, and sitcom theme songs. I sang songs that were completely made up and completely horrible. I sang while panting up hills and climbing down rocks. I sang loud and long and somewhat off tune. I sang even louder the closer I got to the waterfall. And when I was finally there, I stopped and just listened. There was no way a bear or anything else was going to hear me over the roar of that water, so why bother. Just enjoy…

All in all the hike was wonderful. As I walked from the road to the river the landscape changed dramatically. I started in a sparse pine forrest and traveled through a dense patch of poplars, I scampered down the roots of trees and found myself at the top of a waterfall. It was beautiful and amazing and the photos I got don’t nearly do it justice.

On my way back up and out to the road, as I was panting and singing and appearing to be a mad woman, I came across a couple of other hikers. They were not singing. They were not even talking. Their little bells were ringing and they were looking at me in amusement. Although they were amused at the sight and of course sound of me, they knew I wasn’t crazy. They knew I was simply using one of the tools available to the lone hiker in bear country – song. We all had a little laugh, and as we were departing in opposite directions one of them said, “It really is very smart to sing. I have heard of numerous bear encounters along this stretch of the path.”

Great. Thanks for that. As if I wasn’t scared enough already.

I continued my trek, with greater vigor and volume. I sang and sang. Ironically, one of the songs I came back to time and again was originally sung by a bear – Baloo to to be exact. It was the Bare Necessities song from Disney’s The Jungle Book. A favorite of mine…

Speaking of the bare nessecities – there are a few necessary items one should know before venturing into bear territory. These are provided for your educational enjoyment with the help of www.wikihow.com You can learn just about anything there, including about how to escape a bear.

Bears hate surprises

Never surprise a bear — let it know you’re coming. Many hikers like to walk with cow bells or tie small bells to their feet, but many bear experts say this is not as good as talking, singing or clapping loudly as you walk. Bears are a lot more likely to recognize you as human by your voice than by a bell. Do not whistle to keep bears away; the bear may mistake this for the whistle of a marmot or pika and come closer to investigate.

Know the signs

While a bear standing on its hind legs appears very intimidating, this is usually a gesture of curiosity, and the bear is just trying to get a better look at you.

Never get between a mother bear and her cubs. Do not attempt to take any pictures of bear cubs or follow the bear cubs into the woods.

Avoid spending time near bears’ food sources. Walking near animal carcasses, berry patches, and fish streams increases your chance of meeting a bear. In addition, the sound of rushing water can make it very difficult for a bear to hear you as you approach.

Carry bear spray

Bear spray is pepper spray in a specially designed container, and it has proven to be an invaluable deterrent. You will need to wait until the bear is close to you, however, (about 15-20 feet), before you can effectively deploy it. Be careful, though. Bears in some higlhy touristed areas have become accustomed to bear spray. When they are sprayed, they will turn their heads. A direct spray to the face is the only way you will be able to deter a bear. In most cases, you will only have one shot at this, so make it your best. A way to get around this is to spray a quick short spray at the bear. If the bear turns on this spray you will not have wasted all your spray.

Show no fear

Stand your ground and try not to look frightened. Try to back away slowly—do not run—and speak softly. If the bear continues to approach as you back away, stop and stand your ground. Speak more loudly in a deep, calm voice, and wave you arms to make yourself look bigger. Keep an eye on the bear, but avoid direct eye contact, this can be interpreted as a challenge by the bear. Do not be aggressive, but do not crouch down, play dead or otherwise show fear or vulnerability. If the bear charges you, muster all your courage and stay where you are: the charge is most likely a bluff, and if you stand your ground the bear will turn away.

Play dead

If a grizzly makes a non-predatory attack: Play dead. If the bear (other than a black bear) is attacking you in self-defense, you can put it at ease (and possibly save yourself) by playing dead by lying completely flat on the ground. Do so only after the bear makes contact with you or tries to do so. If you need to play dead and you’re wearing a large backpack, the pack will add some protection to your vital areas, and you can lie on your stomach with your hands clasped behind your neck. Use your legs and elbows to try to prevent the bear from flipping you over, but do not struggle. If you look dead and harmless, a defensive bear will usually leave you alone.

Never attempt to play dead with a black bear or a bear that appears to consider you prey. If the bear begins to maul you after you have played dead, you have no choice but to fight back. Hit the bear with rocks, pots, pans, sticks or fists—anything handy. The odds may seem against you in a fight, but bears generally do not see humans as prey, and a bear that makes a predatory attacks is usually immature, starving, or wounded, and may easily be scared away if you hit it.

Leave the dogs at home

Parks Canada recommends leaving dogs at home. A barking dog does all the things that are most likely to infuriate a bear and, if it encounters a bear, it might actually run back to you for help — with an angry bear in pursuit!

Do not feed the bears

Duh. Not only is it illegal in all Canadian and U.S. national parks, it also trains bears to associate humans with an easy food supply and leads them to lose their fear of humans. This might make them a danger to other hikers and ultimately lead to them being killed by park or wildlife officials.

Here is a little video that tells you all you need to know, but in a more humorous manner.

So there were a few things that I could have done better… Carry bear spray, not whistled, and maybe avoided the river all together. But it all turned out okay. No bear encounters this time, and next time I will be even more prepared.

As I was nearing the end of my hike and I could see the trees thinning and the light making it’s way further into the woods, I sang this song.

I’m almost out of the woods, I’m almost out of the woods.

It’s get lighter. It’s getting brighter.

Stay away bears. Just a little longer.

I’m almost out of the woods.

Thanks for reading!


11 responses to “LEARNING – the bear necessities

  1. Okay, this is your mother speaking…Be Careful! Really, walking in the woods alone, and woods filled with bears. Oh My!!

  2. I really like your Mom’s reply! We just got back from a pack trip with horses into the Rainbow Mountains, amazing trip – and basically in front of the garden under the window where you stayed was a big bear poop! Maybe looking for you Rene =:) First time ever we have had a bear in the yard. Then last night I got home late with a bunch of fruit from the Okanogan and left it in the van overnight with the windows down a bit to keep it cool, today, bear paws tracks on both front windows. Hmmm . . .. . . lucky it didn’t break the windows, I expect we will have more visits from this guy, so far he hasn’t raided the garden, and I think the pigs and electric fence are probably too much for him. Hopefully the bees are safe behind that electric fence too.
    So fun to read your story, the pictures are beautiful. Hugs to you.

    • Holy crow Karen! A bear? Oh my! I want to see this beast. That’s crazy. I’m glad you and Clint had a great time on your pack trip. You two certainly deserved a little down time. Although I’m not too sure how much down time there is on a pack trip, but you enjoyed it none the less. I want a picture of that bear if you see it. -Rene

  3. Loved this post… Felt like I took a “bear” field trip right along with you!
    PS: Mom’s always worry 🙂

  4. I remember walking in woods that I thought might have bears. It is not a fun thing to think about, and I wasn’t alone. I especially liked the last little song you sang Rene. I know that is what I was thinking as my walk in bear country came to an end.
    Love Dad

    • Thanks for the comment Dad! I seem to remember doing a hike with you and Heidi on the Olympic Peninsula and seeing a small black bear in the distance. Funny thing is, I don’t remember being scared at all. Maybe it’s because you and Heidi were right. Y my side. Love you, Rene

  5. I lived in Upper Michigan. Bears would come into the small cities and raid the trash. Best to leave them a lone. I like your advice. Our signs in Michigan are not so detailed. Thank you for the entertaining story.

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s