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The Bear Bell Boys

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The Bear Bell Boys

Postby balzaccom » Mon Aug 09, 2010 10:15 am

From our blog:

So there we were, resting below a pass over 9,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada,and a strange tinkling noise came to our ears. I looked at my wife in confusion. A bear bell? In the Sierra? (We've seen one bear in the last three years and three hundred miles of backpacking--and it ran away when it saw us.)

For those who don't know: bear bells are used by some hikers in Grizzly country to give an audible warning. Grizzlies hear a lot better than they see, and the goal of the bear bell is to let Ursus Horribilus know you are coming. In Glacier National Park the old joke is that you can always tell the difference between Black Bear and Grizzly Bear scat, because the Grizzly Bear scat always has little bells in it!

But the last Grizzly Bear in California was shot in 1922, and there have been only 12 Black Bear attacks in the state since 1980--that's thirty years-- and none of them were fatal. (To put this in perspective, over 4,000 people die every year in motor vehicle accidents in the state.) So wearing a bear bell in the Sierra is a bit over the top---particularly if you drove your car to the trailhead!

When the group of middle-aged men passed us, I couldn't help asking: Is that a bear bell your wearing?

Yep, it was. "I really, really don't want to see any bears on this trip!"

Nor any other wildlife, it would appear.

After they passed us by, we waited a bit longer on the trail--we could hear that bell dingling down along the trail for quite a few minutes after they passed. We shared chuckle at their expense, and then finally took up our packs and followed them down the trail in peace ad quiet.

Which would have been an amusing end to the story, but it wasn't. The next day, as we rested in our campsite, we heard a familiar tinkling coming down the trail. Yep--they were hiking the same route, and set up their camp across the lake from us. No harm done, and we shared another smile.

The next morning, as we started out, we found our same group of just leaving their camp. I invited them to go first (since they had passed us the first time, I assumed they were the faster hikers.) I figured that they would be out of earshot within a few minutes, especially if we walked a slower pace behind them.

Not so. It turned out that they were quicker to descend a trail, but slower going uphill. Within five minutes we found them sprawled along the trail resting. "We take a lot of rests, so we are probably going to be passing each other all day long," explained one of the men.

Oh joy.

"I hope not," I replied. "You should just pick a livable pace and hold it." I replied. I was not in the mood to hike to the sounds of little bells in the wilderness all day long.

To their credit. they did just that. And it turned out that their pace up over the next 10,000 foot pass was slower than ours. We had a lovely day hiking in sweet solitude, the only sounds we heard being the wind in the trees, the burbling of the streams, and the singing of the birds.

It was only much later that afternoon, after we had set up camp, that I heard the bell again. I was fishing the nearby creek when I heard its now familiar tinkle as the men walked by up the canyon.

We never saw or heard the again. No did we see any bears.

But if you find some bear scat high in the Sierra with a litte bell in it, you'll know what happened!
Balzaccom

check out our website: http://www.backpackthesierra.com/



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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby rayfound » Mon Aug 09, 2010 11:57 am

I hate it when something on my backpack is giving a squeak or rattle with every step. That rhythmic droning just drives me nuts. I can't imagine wearing a bell whilst hiking all day.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby rlown » Mon Aug 09, 2010 12:21 pm

A great story balzaccom. I had a friend that i used to hike with in the late 70's that put his ol' fashioned sierra cup in his hip belt and would constantly tap on it with a spoon. Drove me crazy. Never saw a bear on any of our trips anyway, and it didn't drive the snakes away either.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby maverick » Mon Aug 09, 2010 12:26 pm

Hey Rlown

That would have been the first, and last trip together for me.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby rlown » Mon Aug 09, 2010 12:31 pm

maverick wrote:Hey Rlown

That would have been the first, and last trip together for me.


It was the last trip with him. Go figure.. :wink:
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby Take-a-Hike » Mon Aug 09, 2010 4:49 pm

I remember about 4 years ago we did the Glacier/Waterton lakes thing for about 10 days....bear bells galore. Nowadays, the little ditty about the bear scat is supplemented w/not only the bells but it smells like bear repellant. I lost that arguement w/the wife....as we're standing in REI in California I'm trying to talk her out of spending the $50 for the spray can. I told her..."Where r u gonna wear it?" "I don't know". Me, "Right, so if you don't know now, you'll put it/hang it somewhere and IF and when u see a bear do you think you'll 1: think about the bear spray, and 2: remember where u put it and 3: have near enough time to react and use it in the unlikely event the bear is running at us rather than as fast as he can away from us?" BUt as in most arguements w/my wife, I paid the $$, we stowed it away, drug it to Montana and Canada, never pulled it out again until it was confiscated by our TSA friends in Kalispell on the way home..( that along w/a bunch of other stuff that made it through ONT's TSA folks no problem). But the bear bells are still the butt of the jokes by the locals and park employees there...most likely always will be.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby AldeFarte » Tue Aug 10, 2010 7:55 am

Might just be me and admittedly I am a small sampling, but I have never seen any bear scat with lead in it. I have checked.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby Cross Country » Tue Aug 10, 2010 5:26 pm

The problem is probably related to the media. A story that is a representatoinal story of bears won't sell news. A sensational story (rife with terror) sells. Bears pose little problem. My experience with them had nothing but good conclusions. I had many of them. Some of them were scary. On one of my trips to Sphinx Lakes I (we) were camped for the night at Sphnix Cr Crossing. A bear, in an unusally aggressive mode, unable to reach our hung food circled our tent severl times times (with us inside) rolling rocks and snapping its jaws. On a later trip a park naturalist (hiking with me) told me that an angry bear will do this (he later agreed with me that refering to bears as "angry" may be inaccurarte). Neavertheless I was afraid and slept uneasily because bears are very strong wild animals. Bears are not cuddly, cute animals and we need to respect these facts. Also, I and others are not immune to the media. Also I never checked bear scat (crap), nor claimed to, in jest.

My point is, it's not a good idea to discount the opinions nor the feelings of others. I'm not saying anyone was doing this, I'm just saying what I said, nothing more.

This was Palasade creek/San Jua. Riv Junc. We hung our food (obviously).

A bear never ever got my food. I never used a bear canister for the first 500+ days of BP (until forced too).

Beware of bandwagons.
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Re: The Bear Bell Boys

Postby haus » Sun Jan 02, 2011 1:55 pm

In June 2010 we were coming down from a day hike up the Bubb's Creek Trail (starting at Road's End, just an out-and-back). We had just cleared the last of the little creek crossings before the Bailey bridge when I looked up and noted to my wife that there was a bear on the trail coming toward us about 30 yards away. That was the second bear we'd seen in Kings in two days, the first (the day before) being much closer than I'd like, despite everyone's insistence that black bears are nothing to worry about.

As we watched carefully, the bear made her way toward us on the trail, completely oblivious to our presence. We raised our voices, slammed our poles together, and tried to make as much noise as we could, but the noise from the creek completely drowned us out. Either she didn't hear us or she didn't care. As she made her way directly at us, all attempts to gingerly cross the creek on the rocks (to keep shoes dry) went out the window. She was on a fast clip. We hopped right in the water, as there was nowhere else to go, and made our retreat slowly, keeping an eye on her the whole time and trying to get some distance between us. She was intently looking at the ground and into the scrub by the trail the whole way.

Finally she turned south and moved off the trail. We were standing on a small island between a couple creek flows, being eaten alive by mosquitoes and still trying to make noise, when we saw her two cubs following her behind a tree. She was maybe 30 feet from us at that point and I still believe she had no idea we were there. At that point we decided making more noise might actually make the situation worse, so we kept an eye on her and continued to increase the distance between us, wading through the water. When they were about 50 feet away, one of her cubs stopped, turned, and looked directly at us. It took one step toward us and then noticed it's mom was still moving away, so it changed its mind and followed her.

So many people say black bears are nothing to worry about. While I feel honored to have had the chance to see 4 black bears at extraordinarily close range (the first was about 15 feet away, the day before), I believe these situations can get dangerous quickly and black bears certainly can attack people. Just because there hasn't been a fatal black bear attack in California in so many years doesn't mean I want to end my trip in the hospital in Fresno. A couple of weeks after our trip a man (who for some reason slept with a cooler of food in his tent) was attacked by a black bear in Eldorado National Forest. Doesn't mean he wasn't at fault, but it also shows that black bears are not harmless creatures.

While I wouldn't necessarily have a bear bell dinging all day long up Paradise Valley or tromping through Zumwalt Meadow following throngs of people, after these experiences I would still carry mine and shake it now and then when we're on a trail that obviously hasn't seen people for awhile (encountering spiderwebs across the trail is a good telltale). We talk, clap once in awhile, and tap our poles together periodically but it isn't always enough when the Kings river is roaring nearby. I don't know if a bell would help much in that case, but frankly I'd rather hear a bell chime now and then instead of hearing people shouting or talking loudly.

To end the story, we tromped the couple of miles through Zumwalt with wet boots and only saw one rattlesnake about half a mile from the parking lot. We saw 4 bears and just two rattlesnakes in two days (more bears than snakes?). A ranger in the parking lot congratulated us on seeing so many bears. I know we may never see another one no matter how many years we continue to visit Kings, but if you listen carefully in the early summer you may hear my bear bell now and then.
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