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Where to camp to avoid bears

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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby paul » Sat Jan 09, 2016 11:52 am

Haven't had a bear encounter - other than hearing one go past in the night - since I stated carrying a canister. And have rarely seen one during the day. One thing I've wondered about is why in the Emigrant wilderness, which gets a fair amount of use and certainly has plenty of bears, there don't seem to be as many bear issues, and canisters are not required. When I am there I always see bear tracks right on the trail somewhere, so they are obviously around, but have never had an issue.
I don't know if it's the hunting - that area is very popular with hunters - or perhaps the horses, as there are a couple pack stations that serve the area and plenty of horses and mules in there. Horse packers often have dogs along as well, and I know bears tend not to like dogs, so that may play a part, but I don't know.

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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby Wandering Daisy » Sat Jan 09, 2016 3:55 pm

Emigrant is used a lot by horse people. It was historically more used thus less of a "grandfathered" wilderness. In fact there are a lot of structures in Emigrant. The FS management policy is a lot more "hands-off" than other areas of the Sierra. I think this reflects local wishes. So I think the no canister rules are more politics than science. Nevertheless, I usually take a bear can when in Emigrant. The part of Emigrant that borders Yosemite does have a lot of bear, but is not used as much as the northern part that is more accessible from Sonora highway. I probably would not take a can for a 1-2 night trip, but for a week, the extra weight of a can is not much. I suspect if bears became a big issue they would require bear cans. I think most of the users in this area simply do not want the regulation , so even if their food gets stolen, they do not report it.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby SweetSierra » Sat Jan 09, 2016 6:22 pm

Maverick's list is pretty complete. I don't worry about black bears. I've run into bears on many trips in Yosemite, the Golden Trout, the Tablelands, but generally not off trail above timberline. And the ones I've seen, have run away. Bears don't snort or make any noise at all. For being so large, they are light on their feet. :) You won't even know they're there unless you're hanging your food and they're trying to get at it.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby norak » Sat Jan 09, 2016 7:04 pm

We backpacked in Emigrant every year (always entering from the west) for about seven or eight years in the early to late 2000's and for most of that time used the counter-balance method of food storage. Never saw or heard a bear in that entire time, though we occasionally saw scat. I once asked a ranger at the Summit Ranger Station at Pinecrest about this, and he said the bears stay wild in the Emigrant because bear hunting is allowed there. I suppose that any bears that get habituated to humans would be more likely to be taken in a hunt, so a kind of natural selection occurs. Bears that stay away from humans have a better chance of surviving, and the problem bears get eliminated. We started using bear canisters there once we acquired them for other regions where they're required, simply because it's so much easier than hanging. We used to spend between 30 minutes to an hour every evening finding a tree that would do the job, then throwing the rock tied to the rope over and over until it cleared the branch without getting stuck in the branches, counter balancing, etc etc. Don't miss that at all!
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby SSSdave » Sun Jan 10, 2016 11:50 am

Back home now from skiing yesterday. Decades ago there were far less black bear in many of the National Forest areas people now backpack in because they were shot. Of course hunting was generally in our society much more acceptable in that day including bear hunting. Packers ride alone with horses back up to meet clients to bring them back down the mountain. One told me he shot bears in areas they were bothering clients and I suspect he was not alone in that attitude. With a change in societal attitudes, it was in the 90s that I began to see a rise of bears in many areas they never used to make an appearance.

If it matters to you, where to camp in order to avoid black bears?

    When not prowling for people food, bears are very smart at finding areas nearby where people almost never go. They very much want to avoid people areas when not prowling.

    In summer black bears very much like areas with tall conifers, especially dense forest with big yellow pines, incense cedar, jeffrey pine, sugar pine, white fir and red fir. Black bears are spooky creatures, evolved to quickly escape from grizzly encounters or larger black bears, and do so by climbing trees they can easily reach most of the way around with their long hairy arms and claws.

    Don't camp at places people camp at, along trails, lakes people camp and fish at, popular cross country routes say to some lake or peakbagging peak.

    Don't camp along or near larger canyon streams. Bears very much seem to like following up stream courses. As noted odors at night sump down such as night cold air flows so a bear can follow up to the source of smells.

    Camp away from places they naturally forage at like meadows where rodents abound and in season slopes with berries that are often on sunnier aspects.

    Don't camp along natural routes and ridge saddles deer and bear take to travel across zones. Like us they take efficient routes instead of climbing up to heights needlessly.

    Camp at or above timberline in areas people have no reason to pass through. If bears go into those areas because they are exploring, it is not likely to be during night hours but rather during the day. At night they know where they are going.

    Good choices in such areas are minor ridges, hills, and domes with open glaciated bedrock. Air in such places tends to be gradually pushed up by expanding cold night flows below. Such areas usually have small gruss flats between trees and rocks easy to make a minimalist camp on.


The above topo link shows Tuolumne Meadows and areas west. Wonder where some of those bears that plague the Tuolumne Meadows campground or Cathedral Lakes at night spend their day hours? One of the places is between Low Profile Dome and Whizz Domes and areas below to Cathedral Creek. A lot of climbers are about Daff, Fairview, Melicott, and Polly Dome and some backpackers may camp where the Murphy Creek Trail meets Polly Dome Lakes. But almost no people have reasons to wander about where I noted.

Whizz Domes are the unnamed on topo two adjacent domes northeast of Polly Dome Lakes. They are not visible from SR120 because the conifer forest is very dense and tall there with considerable forest floor obstacles all about like logs. As an area of heavy snowfall, it tends to be very moist and cool thus also has lots of mosquitoes in season. Lots of climbers follow up Cathedral Creek south of the SR88 crossing but none descend into the Labrador tea jungles to the north along the creek. The domes behind Daff Dome that is point 9153 are all fascinating places to visit. Dome 8744 has nice views and I camped there once during a May storm that dropped 11 inches of snow. Also not a place bears would bother with. Another very nice place for a remote backpacking destination just a legal mile from roads with nice views up towards Cathedral Peak is the 8403 dome area because the domes have nice areas of bedrock. Despite myriad day hikers and backpackers nearby up in the Cathedral Lakes area each summer, ironically these areas which are real wilderness see almost no one. To see bears in these areas requires quiet slow travel treading lightly, stopping to look around, then moving ahead, lest bears hear and immediately hide.
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Re: Where to camp to avoid bears

Postby JWreno » Sun Jan 24, 2016 7:31 pm

I am glad to be using canisters. We lost a lot of sleep in the early 90's defending our hung food from dive bombing bear cubs. Since 1990 we have only lost food to a bear once. We stopped for a break and my son took off his fanny pack with goodies. We were within a few feet of the fanny pack when a bear makes a quick dash out from behind a house size boulder and snags the fanny pack and runs off. I tried to follow it to retrieve the pack but he was a lot faster than me. The only time my wife was nervous about a bear was when we were camping in Little Yosemite Valley and she wakes up to hot garbage bear breath from a bear sniffing around the campsite. She was too nervous to react other than pulling the sleeping bag hood over her face.

25 years of Sierra backpacking has made me pretty comfortable about being around and aware of black bears. I have be a bit reluctant to take a backpacking trip in Grizzly country.
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