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Where to camp to avoid bears

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Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby SSSdave » Thu Jan 07, 2016 3:17 pm

Thought this would be a worthwhile mid-winter topic while most of us are still hibernating from backpacking until summer arrives.

For those with enough experience to suggest tips, what do you do to find campspot locations that better avoid bears in the backcountry? To offer advice one should have some understanding of where bears tend to spend their time at various times of day and night and routes they take to get there. One also should have some understanding of the way air moves during the day and at night because obviously it is an advantage to not have a breeze blowing from your just cooked trout frying pan wafting along terrain to where Mr Bear might be snorting about for directions to travel. And please do suggest some well used camping locations to avoid that always seem to have bears during summer.

Some might immediately blurt out, "don't care, we always carry bear canisters" and ignore them." Well good for you and pleasant dreams. But even then if camping some places, one will have to be extra wary whenever one is preparing or eating meals. And for others with canisters, just having bears walking about at night making one of their monstrous sounding snorts is enough to keep some creeped out and awake for hours.

For others like this person who on longer trips where weight and bulkiness is an issue, prefers to dispense with the 2.8 pound canister, one may consider the destination zone and if legal choose to deal with the possibility of bear visits by non-canister means. For some that may be traditional hanging food from a rope in a tree or using Ursacks without liners. Whatever. And if so the wisdom of not camping where bears are likely to roam, has value.

In this thread, PLEASE, let us not get into how we are storing or protecting food and focus only on camp spots that avoid bears. The reason I'm asking that is some enthusiasts cannot discuss that issue without becoming emotional and we've heard it all in any case several times over. If you want to talk about food storage you are welcome to start your own thread.

I do have some inputs to make but except for the following will do so later.

Do not make camp inside a bear cave. :)
Avoid camping at Beehive Meadow.
Avoid camping near Vidette Meadow



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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby The Other Tom » Thu Jan 07, 2016 3:32 pm

Bears go where the food is. So, stay away from bear food. This means downed trees (bugs), berries, etc. It also means where others have camped and perhaps left small bits of food or food odors. I don't know if bears fish in the Sierra but if they do, stay away from lakes and streams with fish in them. IMO you're less likely to encounter a bear above tree line but we all know bears can be anywhere. But if I had a choice, and I was trying to avoid bears, I'd camp above tree line in an area with large granite slabs.
By the way, I've heard that Lyell canyon is bear central but I've camped there several times and never encountered a bear. Maybe I'm lucky or maybe I was careful how I prepared and consumed food :)
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby maverick » Thu Jan 07, 2016 4:07 pm

Stay off-trail, away from designated campsites and trail, have yet to run into a bear while going x-country, which is a majority of the time.

Here are a few places that you should avoid:

Little Yosemite Valley
Rancheria Falls
Vernon Lake
Bear Valley
Glen Aulin
Lyell Canyon

1000 Is Lake
Lake Virgina

Tehipite Valley
Lower Muro Blanco (near Paradise Valley)
Paradise Valley
Rae Lakes
Vidette Meadow
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby jmherrell » Thu Jan 07, 2016 5:59 pm

One of the stranger places I found signs of a bear - fresh bear scat in the middle of the Ionian Basin close to Lake ~12070 north of Scylla. Fortunately no Mountain House wrappers or such. Just a reminder that they can be found anywhere.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby oldranger » Thu Jan 07, 2016 6:42 pm

Places to avoid have pretty much been identified. During my time as a backcountry ranger I noted time of the year was pretty important. Namely the bears became focused on people food during the peak of the season. Primarily the last week of July thru the third week of August. Bears at that time would establish a routine and a single bear would hit Seville, Lost, Ranger and Twin lakes in a single night. But you could be camped at Beville Lake and the bear wouldn't bother you because no one ever (except this ranger) camped there. Back in the 80s the bears near Vidette Meadow were pretty aggressive. Once when camped there in September a bear came into our camp but we scared it off (a ranger in long johns and cowboy boots, throwing rocks, screaming like a banshee, and chasing the bear for about 200 yards usually did the trick for the evening) the next morning a pair that camped up at Lower Vidette Lake got nailed by a bear and lost some food, so apparently that was within the normal range of the bear. The advent of the cannister is a wonderful thing as there are fewer and fewer bears keyed into people as a food source. Personally I've never been cared whether in bear country or not-- just take the precautions and relax and hope you have the good fortune to meet up with one--they are pretty nice creatures, nicer that more than a few humans.

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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby rlown » Thu Jan 07, 2016 7:05 pm

Bears don't bug me much since the early 90's. Don't really care about avoiding them. Still do the pile of rocks near the tent if I think they're around. It's fun to watch them mull around if they don't see you first. Beautiful creatures.

Oh, one thing I should add:

jmherrell wrote:One of the stranger places I found signs of a bear - fresh bear scat in the middle of the Ionian Basin close to Lake ~12070 north of Scylla. Fortunately no Mountain House wrappers or such. Just a reminder that they can be found anywhere.


This is common in the Vogelsang area. Like Hanging Basket Lk, with wrappers in the scat. They follow their nose.

Now, where to camp to avoid the Squatch! anywhere. :)
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby balzaccom » Thu Jan 07, 2016 8:53 pm

We've found that the best way to avoid problem bears is to camp where other hikers don't go. It's a nearly perfect system. IN the last ten years we've hiked over 1,000 miles in the Sierra, and have only seen bears three times. All three times, the ran the other way when they saw us.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby Wandering Daisy » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:17 pm

Do not camp near me. I seem to be a bear magnet. Not really camping, but hiking. In the last five years the encounters have reduced. I think more use of bear cans help. But I run into bear ALL the time. Perhaps I see bears more than others. I used to hunt a lot. I really look for them, always looking way ahead. Usually I hike solo so no distractions. I am always looking around- rarely just look at my feet. And I am off-trail most of the time. I think I simply go through a lot of bear habitat. On one trip in northern Yosemite I ran into 8 bears in one day, just about one per hour. Last bear encounter was this summer, on the trail, just a few minutes from Crescent Meadow.

In spite of seeing lots of bear during the day, I have never had a bear problem in camp in the Sierra. (I did have a bear hang around camp and roll the bear can around and want to look inside the tent- in the Wind Rivers.) That is not to say a bear has not come into my camp, but nothing that awoke me. Last two years I have had a dog on some trips. I do think dogs deter bears. I try to camp in spots not regularly used - but not always. So I am not sure why no bears in camp. Lately I have been doing a lot of fishing so I smell pretty fishy too. Still no bears in camp. By the way, I have had more problem with deer poking their noses in my tent. And lots of curious elk on the Lost Coast last year. And a few moose way too close (in Wyoming), two summers ago.

These are the only things I can think of:

I continue walking on if I see bear droppings or other bear sign.
I am a super clean-freak with regard to cooking and my campsite
I wash hands and face every night - I still can smell some fishy smell on my hands after cleaning a lot of fish but no food smells
Fishing gear and cook gear always away from tent
Food in bear can, away from tent, but not too far.
No campfires
I prefer open camping in rocky areas rather than in timber
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby LMBSGV » Thu Jan 07, 2016 10:37 pm

While I have encountered several bears in car camping campgrounds (a few times closer than comfortable–at Moraine in King’s Canyon one almost went into the bear box when my wife was rearranging things; she slammed the door shut right in front of it and it hardly reacted until we shined our flashlights in its eyes and yelled rather loudly so it ran away), I’ve only encountered three in the backcountry in the last 16 years. One was in Lower Paradise Valley on the other side of the river. My wife and I had a good time watching it since the food was in the bear box. The other two times were unexpected daytime encounters, one in 1998 on upper Palisade Creek, the other far off trail in the Upper Kern in 2007 when I was sitting and writing at my campsite, heard a noise, and saw a bear about 15 feet away drinking from the lake. I yelled and he ran away. Obviously, he had been completely unaware I was there, which I found surprising since my tent was visible nearby along with my rank smell from six days in the backcountry.

I agree that with the insistence on and use of canisters, bear encounters have greatly decreased. In the 1970s and 1980s, we had several encounters, two which are "family stories" (though we lost no food). Over those last 16 years I’ve camped in Lyell Canyon, Vogelsang Lake, Lower Cathedral Lake, Tuolumne Canyon, Upper Paradise Valley, Dusy Basin, Roaring River, Kearsarge Lakes, Rae Lakes, Franklin Lakes, and Kern Canyon, which are places where one would expect to encounter bears. I’ve seen no bears in all these places and scat only a couple of times on the trail. I’ve never had a canister even slightly disturbed. Maybe I smell so bad, the bears stay away.

One thing to add since WD's post came in while I was writing mine. I also do not have a campfire in the backcountry. Maybe that helps keep the bears away.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby balance » Thu Jan 07, 2016 11:12 pm

Of course bears can show up just about anywhere in the Sierra Nevada, but you'll rarely encounter them up above treeline and off the beaten track.

I was told by a ranger that there isn't much bear activity in Desolation Wilderness because bear hunting is allowed. :snipe: That might apply to other places as well. I'm not a hunter, and not really certain about that though.

Also, I've never seen a bear when I'm snowshoeing. My guess is, they see those big snowshoe tracks, and figure it would take some huge monster to make those tracks. So they get the heck out of there. That has to be it, right? :retard:

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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby kpeter » Fri Jan 08, 2016 5:55 am

I will second the notion of avoiding Vernon Lake if you really care about avoiding bears. The last time I was there (2010), I watched as this handsome creature inspected each camp in broad daylight to make sure they had bear canisters. Who needs park rangers when this guy works for free?

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Seriously, though, I have not suffered any bear attacks anywhere in twenty years--this bear inspection was as close as I have come, and Vernon of course is at lower elevation, and heavily trafficked. Many people on these boards enjoy cross country above treeline, and that no doubt reduces the odds of bear encounters. But SSSDave and I tend to prefer to mix trees into our viewsheds, and so we won't have that bear avoidance advantage. But frankly, I just don't even think about it anymore. I do tend to cook far away from where I sleep--as in more than 100 feet--often going on a short hike to find a nice dining room with a view.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby Wandering Daisy » Fri Jan 08, 2016 9:15 am

I wonder if being alone (no human talking) vs being in a group (lots of chatter) makes a difference? Bears have keen senses of smell but not great eyesight. But what about their hearing?

I think all our experiences are anecdotal, including mine. Not exactly scientific research. If you have only seen three bear in 15 years, then none in camp, regardless of where you camp, not much can be concluded. Staying out of areas where bears have become habituated is obvious. In other areas bear population is sparse. I think it is a luck of the draw.

Hunting both makes bear avoid humans, as well as provide some tasty treats. They go after the meat that his hung in camp. They also go after domestic animals that have wandered into their habitat. They know when it is hunting season. How much they "fear" people out of hunting season is debatable. Repeated contact with humans probably desensitizes them whereas the naturally avoid the unknown creature. Bears are pretty high up on the food chain; I do not think they fear many other species. So the net effect of hunting on bear behavior is uncertain. Rather than resenting the no hunting policy in National Parks, I resent that they do not allow me to carry bear spray.

The Canadians I know who backpack, when in bear territory, cook dinner before they reach camp then pack another mile or two to sleep. That is taking the "cook away from the tent" one step further. And they ALWAYS carry bear spray.
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