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bear harassment

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Re: bear harassment

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Dec 11, 2010 1:39 pm

My experience is like Giantbrookie's. Even at our cabin location at Hermit Valley (7,000' on Hwy 4), until last year there were no bear issues and very rare sightings. :paranoid: Only when poking around in really untraveled corners doing geology work have I surprised them. I carry the Kevlar "bear bags" more for the small critters than for bears. The campgrounds are a whole 'nuther matter. I've had numerous close encounters in Tuolumne Meadows, including one climbing into my camper in the split-second I left the door open while carrying supplies to the bear box right next to my truck!



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Re: bear harassment

Postby oldranger » Sat Dec 11, 2010 2:48 pm

MK

Did he stay for dinner?

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Re: bear harassment

Postby markskor » Sat Dec 11, 2010 3:37 pm

Bring back an old story...seems to fit the topic.


The Changing Bear Philosophies of Yosemite 2/18/2006

As a kid, my earliest recollections of Yosemite, aside from the long car rides just getting there and my numerous times getting car sick in the back of the family station wagon (a new 1962 Olds Delta-88 – metallic sky blue), fond memories recall spending a week at those “whatever they call them” sites found at Housekeeping Camp. Three rickety walls, wooden bunks, frayed manila ropes strung and colored Indian blankets hung, crammed food lockers, family camping en mass along a lazy stretch of the Merced River. As a family vacation – an annual summer ritual, it was paradise; all a middle-class family from L.A. (the San Fernando Valley) with five kids could ever ask for.

Yosemite meant sleeping outside; long lazy days spent splashing in the water, kayaks and inflatable rafts – crammed ice chests, popsicles, and smoky, greasy BBQs. After dinner, little mouths filled, hands washed - just after dark, piling in the back of the car, dad driving over to the short distance to the Valley dump – a semi circle of cars, a tourist show – headlights illuminating the daily pile of accumulated Valley trash, hundreds of eager eyes watching and waiting for the bears to come down. You had to get there early at the Yosemite dump just to find a good parking spot, dad always pondering what was just the right spot to see best; it was better than the circus. The bears always came, eventually. Sometimes it was mothers with cubs in tow, other times various colored bears alone, their antics seemingly rehearsed, photographed, accepted, scrutinized, and apparently advocated by YNP. Two groups were always present: the tourists and the official park representatives, (some fur bearing, others in uniform hats); it was the nightly Yosemite Valley bear feed.

Somewhere between puberty and college summer vacation, my personal philosophies changed. In those eight years, no longer was the Valley environment or its 3000-foot walls adequate to captivate the day’s Sierra adventure possibilities. Coincidentally along the same time frame, no longer would the park continue to advocate the feeding the bears - trash, and calling it entertainment for the masses…two changes for the better. 1970 found me squeaking along under my powder-blue Kelty Tioga; Redwing Voyagers, Hank Roberts stove and cheap down gear, (the best choices available for a starving UCLA zoology student). Somewhere above Nevada Falls, (the old Little Yosemite Valley campground was still a dream – years away), found us camping – fishing, deep in along the Merced, hanging our food bags high suspended over one branch, and tying the rope off to a tree, another tree further away from under the primitive hang…this is how we were taught back then. The only time I have ever lost hung food to a bear occurred here, that night back along the Merced River, back in the dense river pines. Something noisy yet unseen attacked our food; I vowed it would never happen again.

The next morning, cautiously searching for the remains of the purloined food bag, and soon finding a trail, the torn shards and discarded nylon among the food wrappers, papers cartons, (and bear slobber), we saw another ominous sign - drops of blood. We obviously had not thought it through that the glass Jiffy peanut butter jar would ever bring critical harm to any bear, if we had, we would have packed something differently; maybe it was time to re-evaluate further our personal wilderness backcountry canons. Forums such as this were unavailable – (computers were slide rules), so… campfire discussions, scouts, trial-and-error, and magazines like “Field and Stream” provided the only available source of any required answers. Coincidentally again, Yosemite National Park also was undergoing a backcountry bear re-evaluation; soon came the advent of thick wire cables suspended above between chunky trees. These became prominent overhead and, in addition, brown painted metal vaults, with bear-proof-locks, called Bear Boxes soon also appeared in some congested camping areas. Things were changing.

A few years later, another variation in bear food management was also (temporally) attempted in Tuolumne…the “Gallows”. (This also may have been tried elsewhere too but most prominently it was mainly used in Yosemite, specifically in the backpacker camp…still there today too I reckon.) Someone thought up the bright idea that by vertically erecting/planting two aluminum poles, 15 feet high and 10 feet apart, then welding a top bar with hooks spaced across the poles, it would serve as an easy way to keep nightly food stuff sacks safe. The only problem was the only way to hoist up your food sack was to use the unwieldy 12-foot pole provided…itself weighing in at 25 pounds. Adding on 25 pounds of food and trying to position your sack over a small hook, 15 feet up…quite the riot actually. It was not uncommon to see many the frustrated fool attempt the hoist and fail, all under the watchful eye of the typically boisterous (highly audible) evening crowds generally gathering about. Getting your food down the next morning was another drama too. No way could you get any sack down quietly…if at all. Everyone in the camp immediately knew whenever the first try was made…impossible to sleep through the clanging and the accompanying swearing.

Years passed but for me, Yosemite’s charisma always still captivated; a climbing adventure up Snake Dyke (an easy 5.7 Half Dome route) found us that one fateful day on the way back down just above Nevada Falls. Together, the two of us sitting on top of a large, pyramid-shaped rock taking a break - smoking some primo Acapulco Gold (or maybe it was Thai stick)… whatever…we were just above the trail, observing all the hikers passing by just below. In those days, the powers of Yosemite were not as adamant about not allowing dogs on the trails; it was not uncommon to see Shepherds and Labs running along with their family units, hiking along, making their way up the longer trail towards Nevada Falls before returning the loop. That day, high above the trail… we looked down to see a well-dressed matron with pink hair hiking along with a poodle – a miniature poodle, also with matching pink hair. I remember her not being able to see us above as we laughed aloud at the ridiculous spectacle, obviously the custom die jobs designed to color-coordinate the unlikeliest pair of designer bi-tches.

Unbeknownst to the woman, a small bear opposite also traveled the same path, immediately meeting up with her and the dog, the confrontation occurring just beneath our advantageous but unseen boulder location. Reacting first, the pink dog (on a rhinestone leash) barked out as only a poodle can bark, that high-pitched yapping sound, oppressive to most mortals; the lady also joined in too, calling out in an amazingly similar voice – FIFI, FIFI!...we laughed harder. The bear first appeared unfazed by the entire spectacle; the woman, instead of drawing her pink dog back, away from the bear, safe, allowed it to get even closer, still yapping away, nipping at the bear’s legs, doing what poodles do…generally being obnoxious.

Yosemite’s bears may appear slow, sluggish, and possibly lethargic, much akin to cuddly sleeping giants, but do not let these pre-conceived appearances deceive you; they can get it done and get it done in a hurry when provoked. This bear, maybe 200 pounds tops, slightly cinnamon in color, an ugly bear too, took it all in stride… took all it could handle before reacting. While we watched, it made a kind of saluting motion, coming downward from the vicinity of its ear, catching FIFI across the back of its neck with its nails, just barely grazing it in one amazingly quick motion. The woman’s high-pitched calls – FIFI, FIFI – turned deep and guttural; I can still recall the one unfathomable, low-pitched FIFI called out as the dog’s head physically parted from its body - coming to rest in front of the woman, the leash now flapping free in the wind. My climbing friend sitting next to me, howled and laughed in amazement, then fell off the rock.

This story, about meeting significant people in the high country, actually begins years later, around 1990, up at Lower Cathedral Lake, at the drainage end of the lake, beneath the bear cable once suspended there, on a granite point between two gigantic trees. There were about three of four groups of hikers present, me solo as usual, all sharing a community campfire when he came through; it was about dusk. Gary Tenaka, the official resident YNP bear expert, came out of the darkness and dropped his pack next to the fire at my feet. Gary is not a big person, maybe 160 - 175 pounds, slight of build, dark hair, and a mustache, but he has an air about him that suggested someone much bigger – a distinct presence: when he talked, people listened. Gary started talking.

Above us, maybe twenty feet high up, learned bears were in the process of systematically destroying a half-inch thick, food hanging cable; claw marks indicated they were climbing up the tree, hanging onto and shaking the cables until food bags suspended there fell to the earth below. Gary, along with his personal gear, also carried a lot of other equipment, bear equipment. Today, among all the other personal hiking gear, he had a fancy rifle equipped to fire some sort of tranquillizer dart.

Sitting around the evening’s campfire, Gary informed us about a mother bear and two cubs that were presently making trouble by ransacking the area. He told of reports of nightly raids here, exactly where we were sitting, (peaking our interest) as he further explained his intended evening’s plan. Sometimes, he said, just the act of tranquillizing the bears was enough to discourage them…scare them off; maybe it was the drug, the headache, or maybe just the shock, but he said often bears would leave one area entirely after just meeting one of his well-placed darts. Gary asked us if we wanted to watch, and if so, we had to agree to do exactly what he said and remain calm throughout the entire ordeal; (how anyone could resist this opportunity would be a mystery). We, about eight of us, walked away from the fire, a bit north, up the hill a bit, crouched down in the shadows, and waited in silence.

Shortly, Gary somehow hearing something unheard, indicated for us to hush up, then took careful aim at a moving shadow, and fired a prepared dart into the darkness. A small cry went out, and then a plop; soon we were all gathered around Gary as he examined a bear - close up, looking inside its mouth, seeing the tattooed numbers inside of its lip, and helping Gary secure a green numbered flag to one of its ears. Soon more commotion from out in the darkness, the aforementioned marauding mother and cubs arrived, the mother instantly making a strange howling noise and the two cubs responding immediately by scampering up a convenient tree. Gary took careful aim; soon the mother, then in short order, the two small cubs, first calling out sorrowfully for the mother, then quiet as they fell out of the tree; they joined the original bear, all four bears drugged, fast asleep, lying at our feet. Before the night’s festivities were over, another bear, a yearling – maybe older, came along; Gary carefully loading up still another dart… when all was finished, there were five bears stretched out before us on the slab granite of Lower Cathedral Lake.

It was not so much this once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing five wild bears lying supine before us that stuck with me; instead, it was the casual information gleaned from Gary during the inspection process that struck home. He said (briefly in passing) that the pre-established days of bear storage cables, hanging food, and bear boxes were soon about to be part of Sierra history; these strategies, though effective in the past, were not working and were now actually causing more harm than good. He said that there were approximately 450 bear in the park, about 50 more than should be here for the park’s existing food supply adequately to provide sustenance for them all. He said it was we, the backpackers, who were causing the majority of the overpopulation problems; the bears, in well-populated camping areas, were now relying primarily on man’s food supply – poor food storage techniques mainly - and bears were increasingly learning and teaching others how to get to our hung food.

I gave Gary all the usual answers we still use today: “I never lose food, I know how properly to hang, I am careful, and I only camp up high, far above the bear’s territory, I throw rocks…bla, bla, bla.” He just sighed and said he had heard it all before, every time he tried to educate the masses about bears, but regardless, he said that something must be done…sooner than later, or the bear, as we know it, might disappear altogether from the Sierra range. He did mention something he heard about, using small portable food tubs, something we all could carry that might work, if they could figure out how to make them light enough…and strong enough. Interesting that back then, fifteen years prior, he was forecasting today’s bear philosophies of Yosemite.

Another solo backpacking saga…by markskor
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Re: bear harassment

Postby oldranger » Sat Dec 11, 2010 4:21 pm

Thanks Mark!

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Re: bear harassment

Postby mokelumnekid » Sat Dec 11, 2010 5:30 pm

What an *amazing* account- all parts of it! Thank you so much for going to the trouble of typing all that up. That is almost publishable. I too remember Yosemite in the "bad" old days of family vacations with bears everywhere- this would have been from about 1959-1965 for me. And I still haven't done Snake Dike- as the years have gone by and the Valley is more of a hassle to deal with, I've spent almost all my time at Tuolumne Meadows.

Everything you shared is fascinating and rings true.
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Re: bear harassment

Postby hikerchick395 » Sat Dec 11, 2010 7:30 pm

I love the Fifi part of the story. Believe me, that section of trail to Vernal Falls Bridge has seen it's share of characters (and high heels.) Even after the rock avalanche. It is totally walkable in heels now. (No first hand experience myself.)

When I went to work for Curry Co in 1978, we were informed that the new policy was to discourage the bears by yelling and throwing stuff (rocks) at them.

(I thought the hooks on top of the tall metal poles with the separate hooked pole to put food bags up or remove them worked fairly well.)
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Re: bear harassment

Postby LMBSGV » Sat Dec 11, 2010 9:16 pm

Thanks Mark - a wonderful, funny, and fascinating read. The days of tying the rope to another tree, the cables and the hooks on top of the metal poles. When I think of those times, I realize why I prefer bear cans, despite the weight.
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Re: bear harassment

Postby quentinc » Sun Dec 12, 2010 2:17 pm

I also particularly liked the FiFi story. My next door neighbor, up until now a seemingly sensible human being, recently acquired two miniature French Poodles. Now I know where to suggest he bring them on his next vacation.
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Re: bear harassment

Postby Cross Country » Sun Dec 12, 2010 5:32 pm

What Markskor said about what Gary said makes perfectly good sense to me. If you make almost everyone almost everywhere properly use a bear can it seems obvious to me that this would in fact nearly eliminate the problem. I never thought of it like that. Often by eliminating personal freedoms a general good can be accomplished that is worth the loss in liberties. I never thought of it from that perspective. You guys have changed my mind.

My own personal experiences showed me that there was a problem. Although I never contributed to the problem it doesn't mean that the regs shouldn't apply to me.
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Re: bear harassment

Postby rlown » Sun Dec 12, 2010 5:53 pm

A nice read, Mark.. My question was more about this year and potential harassment. It's nice to see the trend decreasing on problems with Bears..
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Re: bear harassment

Postby markskor » Sun Dec 12, 2010 6:11 pm

Just to continue on with the thread...(so Russ doesn't blow a gasket)
Saw 5 bears this season -
The two doing the "wild thing" in Valley backpacker...
One at lower Ottaway, near the trail crew quarters,
One just out from Tuolumne, up Rafferty trail a bit,
and one at Morraine Dome waterslide, just above LYV.
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Re: bear harassment

Postby rlown » Sun Dec 12, 2010 6:20 pm

so.. away is better from crowded places. (forgone conclusion here) I was surprised by the bear in 2007, but it wasn't agressive.. it couldn't run fast enough, as it was so fast i couldn't catch it on the camera. It was 10' away from John when he walked into it.

No gasket blown.. If you're near a LOT of people, and you're careless, you might see a bear.

Now.. How did they miss my fish bones in Sept?
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