Bear Encounter | High Sierra Topix  

Bear Encounter

Grab your bear can or camp chair, kick your feet up and chew the fat about anything Sierra Nevada related that doesn't quite fit in any of the other forums. Within reason, (and the HST rules and guidelines) this is also an anything goes forum. Tell stories, discuss wilderness issues, music, or whatever else the High Sierra stirs up in your mind.
User avatar

Bear Encounter

Postby copeg » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:45 pm

I just returned from a trip to Sphinx Lakes in King's Canyon. I'll try to post a more thorough report with pics when I get a chance, but I wanted to recount this very strange (and frightening) bear encounter I had.

At the time, my head was somewhat groggy from a 3AM wake up call followed by a 5 hr drive to start my trip hiking in the rain. Walking along near the near the Bubbs Creek/Paradise Valley trail junction, I saw a bear in a meadow off to the right. I coughed and made noise as I always do to let it know I was there, it saw me, but paid no attention. So I took off my pack and pulled out my camera. Got some photos and I followed alongside it back down the trail about 100 ft. Then I stopped just to watch as it started toward the trail, crossed the trail about 40 feet behind me, kind of stared me down, then stood up on its hind legs and started scratching a tree (I recalled at the time this is some sort of territorial behavior when they do this). This was when I saw a little cub run up behind it. Crap...I slowly started to back away from them to my pack, walking backwards and snapping off a few photos. For some reason the cub somehow took a liking to me. It slowly approached, and all the hooting, yelling, and slapping my hiking poles together didn't detour it (mamma bear had drifted out of site off the trail by this time). So I thought I'd try to put some space between it and me and maybe it would cease and stay close to mama, so I started to go faster back to my pack. Then the cub started charging me! Holy &*^%! :eek: I slowed trying to make as much noise as I could, which slowed it a tad but by now it was 15 feet and closing fast. So, I went to my last resort and started pelting it with anything I could find on the ground, branches, dirt, and finally I pelted it with a small rock. That got its attention and by now momma had drifted back to see what happened to junior. Great. Luckily, momma came back, gave junior a look like "what the hell are you doing"...and they both slowly walked up off the trail and out of sight while I was left looking for my toilet paper to clean up the mess I left. :puke:

Now I've had too many bear encounters to count, from being face to face with one to watching one fish in a nearby stream, but never anything like this. I still feel bad about tagging it with a rock, but did I have an alternative? Could this encounter have been prevented (other than not stopping to photograph it)? I could not imagine if this were an adult 5 times the size charging me to try and get my food (which I have heard sporadically happens in some trouble spots with trouble bears), but I always hear "never get between a mother bear and its cub"...and while I wasn't between them once junior backed off, I thought I'd have to deal with momma.

I did report this incident to the Visitors Center at the end of my trip on the way out of the park (but it seems as always when I go there to report on conditions, etc... with all due respect to those that work there, was met with indifference).

Junior spotting me and thinking I was its next toy:
Image



User avatar
copeg
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
 
Posts: 1968
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 9:25 pm
Location: Menlo Park, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Postby Snow Nymph » Tue Oct 17, 2006 12:57 pm

Wow! :eek: Great photo, btw!

Do you think junior was after your pack? I was told to never leave your pack, even for a few seconds.

Trailtrekker lost her pack a few weeks ago by setting it down my the truck. A cub had been watching them all morning, and as soon as she turned her back the cub got it. Mtflyer went after it, and spotted the eyes (early morning). The cub started walking towards him, so he made noises, but it kept coming. There was a boulder between the two, and when the cub got to it, the cub grabbed the pack, which was on his/her side of the boulder and took off.

So maybe the cub was eyeing your pack. You were between the cub and the pack, and being young, it just wanted that pack. :dontknow
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


http://snownymph.smugmug.com/
User avatar
Snow Nymph
Founding Member
 
Posts: 2041
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 6:43 pm
Location: Santa Barbara & Mammoth Lakes, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby SSSdave » Tue Oct 17, 2006 1:44 pm

Yes Snow Nymph has is right. Out in the backcountry NEVER leave a pack on the ground with bears around. For whatever reason that bit of wisdom is not something usually taught to visitors. If one is taking a break with a pack off and spots a bear, the first thing to do is get that pack back on your back as black bears seem to consider any pack not on your person as fair game. That cub was apparently taught that by Mom. If a pack is on a person's back they normally won't try and do anything more than try and frighten people into taking off their packs. And once they get your pack, it is THEIRs, as it would be eaisier trying to take away a bone from a pitbull. ...David
User avatar
SSSdave
Topix Fanatic
 
Posts: 1967
Joined: Thu Nov 17, 2005 11:18 pm
Location: Silicon Valley
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby Trekker » Tue Oct 17, 2006 1:48 pm

Trailblazer;

My GUESS, not being a bear expert by any means, is that the young cub has not had enough time to develop the natural 'fear' or hesitation around humans, and may have been practicing instinctual protective actions, but, much like a human child, is not aware of boundaries at this time. Or it may even have been curious. Or wanted to play!!! :unibrow:

Here's an interesting article on bear behaviour; a llittle bit of a different take from what you usually hear.

Bear Facts

For Policymakers/NGO's For Bear Managers Breaking News Take Action More Stuff



The Truth About Black Bears
site map | donate now | contact us


How Dangerous are Black Bears? Can we Coexist with them?
by Dr. Lynn Rogers

In working with wild black bears for the past 29 years, I have generally become more and more comfortable with them as I learned their "language" and how they think. During the last 10 years, I have earned the trust of certain bears and bear families to the extent that they seem to ignore me as I walk and sleep with them for up to 24 hours at a time.

My thinking has evolved in much the way that other people have changed their attitudes towards gorillas. Both species have blustery, bluff charges that seldom end in contact but have helped earn them a reputation for being ferocious. Dian Fossey showed us that gorillas are mostly gentle, and we are learning the same thing about black bears. I now interpret aggressive displays by black bears in terms of their fear rather than mine. I try not to scare them and their fear turns into trust. Their most common aggressive displays are merely rituals that they perform when they are nervous.

This trust on my part took years of erasing the thoughts I grew up with. The outdoor magazines I read usually portrayed bears as dangerous and unpredictable. Official brochures that I thought were authoritative warned about the dangers of bears. Bears that were mounted in the finest museums showed unnatural snarls. When I began my studies, I had all the common misconceptions that come with a lifetime of misinformation.

Black bears have killed nearly three dozen people across North America this century, but this no longer worries me. My chances of being killed by a domestic dog, bees or lightening are vastly greater. My chances are 90,000 times greater of being murdered. One of the safest places a person can be is in the woods with bears.

In working closely with wild bears, we have been slapped occasionally, but black bears are not prone to bite. No black bear has ever come after me and bitten me. The slaps were not that damaging – usually ripped clothing and welts on the skin. This is nothing close to the folklore which states that a bear can disembowel a steer with a single swipe. The claws of black bears are strong for climbing trees but not sharp for holding prey.







A big revelation to me was how reluctant mothers are to defend their cubs against people on the ground. Defense of cubs is primarily a grizzly bear trait that people have generalized to black bears. We routinely capture black bear cubs in the presence of mothers and have never been attacked.

Up until the last 10,000 years, black bears survived by being continually ready to run from saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and short-faced bears. Black bears existed by staying out of open areas and near trees. The timid ones passed on their genes, creating the black bear of today. This inherent timidness continues to serve black bears well in the face of modern predators such as grizzly bears, timber wolves and people. When black bears are startled they run away, often for a tree.

Despite all their timidness on the ground, black bears seem to feel more courageous in trees. After all, none of the huge predators that they evolved with could climb. Bears sometimes kill each other by throwing their opponents out of trees. The bear below has the advantage because the bear above cannot easily hang on and face downward to fight back. The bear below seems confident of the advantages and mothers have even come up trees after people who thought climbing was prudent. On the other hand, bears that are above an opponent seem to feel at a disadvantage. The consequences of this in capturing bears in trees for research was that no matter how large the bear – we always had to pursue them all the way to the tops of the trees. They just wanted to get away.

If mother black bears with cubs are no problem, what's the story behind the killings and injuries we've heard about? I put them in two categories - offensive attacks, which are very rare, and defensive actions, which are easily avoided.

Offensive attacks include all of the killings. These are generally unprovoked predatory attacks. Most victims were eaten. These attacks have almost always been in remote areas where the bears had little or no previous contact with people. Bears that raid campgrounds or garbage cans are almost never involved. The rarity of the killings goes along with the non-confrontational, timid disposition that's been bred into black bears. But why approximately one black bear in 600,000 becomes a killer is a mystery. None of the killers had rabies. Some had physical problems, but that's common. Some were skinny, but in some years whole populations are hungry and starving with no attacks. There is no consistent explanation. Fortunately, there are fewer dangerous bears than there are dangerous people.

What can you do in the rare case of being attacked by a black bear? Fight back. Predators are not angry and are cautious to avoid injury. Play dead only in the even rarer case of being attacked by an angry mother.

Are menstruating women more likely to be attacked? None of the people killed by black bears were menstruating, and I've never heard of a menstruating woman being attacked by a black bear. In fact, it is now considered coincidence that the two women who were killed by grizzlies in Glacier National Park in 1957 were menstruating at the time.

Will black bears attack because they sense a person is afraid? No. Most people who encounter bears close up are afraid, and attacks are rare anyway. The idea that bears will attack if they think we're vulnerable is an idea conjured up out of our own fear. Black bears aren't territorial towards people and usually behave like they're worried they'll be attacked.









Black bears look ominous when they approach. They look like their hackles are up but this is only because their underfur makes all of their fur stand up. Often they have a ridge of guard hairs standing up on the back of their neck and spine. This is the last of their old fur to be shed, so it is simply longer that the rest of their fur. When half-tame bears approach out of simple curiosity, they often walk slowly with their eyes glued on the person, which looks disconcertingly like they are stalking - but it's just the way they look.

What are defensive actions? These are the situations when bears treat aggressive people in the way that they would treat other bears who had bad manners. These include the times when we were swatted while capturing or crowding bears during research. Incidents in national parks usually involve crowding or petting. Wild bears don't understand petting because they are solitary animals that don't do mutual grooming. Typical incidents involve people offering food to hungry half-tame bears to lure them closer than the bears feel comfortable. When the bear opens its mouth to take the food, a fearful person often involuntarily jerks the food back. If the bear is hungry enough, he might make a quick move to get it and bite the hand too, causing a bruise. Another scenario involves half-tame bears feeding from the hand calmly until the food is gone then suddenly feeling crowded without the distraction of the food. Too fearful to turn their backs and leave, they slap defensively, giving themselves an instant afterward to turn and run.

It's easy to avoid defensive actions - just don't entice hungry, half-tame bears any closer than the bears feel comfortable.

Bears that come into campgrounds are usually hungry and half-tame but I have never had any problem simply chasing them away. No matter how bold they seemed, they still recognized aggressive behavior and ran away when someone yelled and ran towards them. If people are hesitant to chase bears, throwing sticks in the brush to make them think that another bear might be coming helps to unnerve them. Hitting them with rocks is effective and is better than letting them get into bad campground habits that could get them shot. I have never seen a black bear that would hesitate to retreat when people came running and yelling at it. A study in Yosemite National Park showed the same thing that we learned – the more aggressive a person is to campground bears, the more timid they become.







Although bears have injured people in national parks and campgrounds where food is scarce, I've never heard of an injury at a garbage dump. When there is so much food around it's hard to tempt them with food. More importantly, only those bears that feel comfortable will come close. Most dumps are closed to the public now, but for decades, people and bears mingled daily at hundreds of dumps with hardly a problem.

As people learn more about black bears, old fears are being replaced with understanding. Attitudes are improving. Fewer people are so fearful that they shoot bears for simply showing their faces. Bounties on bears and other predators have become less common. However, people are moving into bear country in unprecedented numbers - buying cabins for recreation or as primary residences, conducting business via computers, modems and fax machines. The attitude of the increasing rural populations will play a large part in future black bear numbers.

Can we co-exist with black bears? The residents of Hemlock Farms, Pennsylvania suggest we can. Seven thousand residents share their seven square mile town with over 20 black bears. That's three bears per square mile, a higher density than is found in any national park. The bears are being studied by biologist Dr. Gary Alt, who finds bears hibernating under people's porches and in their back yards, often without the residents' knowledge. In the summer, people have thousands of 'encounters'- that is, they see bears. But in this town it's not considered a problem - they enjoy seeing the bears.

© Dr. Lynn Rogers


Each year in the USA and Canada
1 in 16,000 people commit murder
1 in 35,000 grizzly bears have killed a human
1 in 100,000 black bears have killed a human
(Source: US Department of Justice)

Copyright 2006 Get Bear Smart Society info@bearsmart.com
User avatar
Trekker
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 236
Joined: Fri Mar 03, 2006 1:46 pm
Location: San Diego
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby copeg » Tue Oct 17, 2006 2:34 pm

Thank you all for your input. My guess was, after rolling the thought around, that you are all right and he was after my pack (and had, as trekker stated, not developed the natural 'fear' around humans )- I was just between the two. I am usually VERY protective of my pack in bear country - NEVER leaving it - especially when bears are present(whereas on numerous occasions have seen backpackers leave their packs alone for up to a half an hour without supervision). This was my mistake in this instance. I have a rule of never leaving my pack alone unless all the food is out of it and safely stored - and the one time I actually break my own rule I get taught a lesson. I stayed with it for the first few minutes until the mother had drifted off a few hundred feet or so, and then I assumed after looking around the area there wasn't another bear in the vicinity, slowly drifted away from my pack glancing over my shoulder to check on it every few seconds. Never will I do that again.

Trekker, thanks for posting that article.
Last edited by copeg on Tue Oct 17, 2006 2:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
copeg
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
Founding Member & Forums Administrator
 
Posts: 1968
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 9:25 pm
Location: Menlo Park, CA
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Postby Shawn » Tue Oct 17, 2006 2:38 pm

Trailblazer -

When I started to read your message I thought you were going to say the bear encounter was along Sphinx Creek as the place used to be teaming with them below tree line.

Just the other week Harry L. and I went up Sphinx Creek too. I had mentioned on our way out that I anticipated seeing a bear at the bridge crossing Bubbs to Sphinx trail as they seem to be habituated to the camp ground there.

Anyway, glad to see you made out okay (and with a great photo as SN says). I look forward to seeing more about your trip.
User avatar
Shawn
Topix Expert
 
Posts: 795
Joined: Sat Nov 12, 2005 9:56 pm
Location: Paso Robles, Ca
Experience: Level 4 Explorer

User avatar

Postby cmon4day » Tue Oct 17, 2006 3:47 pm

Rock the bears every chance you get. Defend your food!! That will solve the problem of them getting used to humans and human food.

Vic
User avatar
cmon4day
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 214
Joined: Wed Mar 29, 2006 3:08 pm
Location: Dublin, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby AldeFarte » Tue Oct 17, 2006 6:50 pm

My opinion is that you did right, but should have started with rocks. When I see bears my first thought is "Where is the best ammo?"Everyone has their own personal "space",or "zone" in which bear intrusion should not be tolerated. Mine is generally as far as I can throw a rock. Authorities be damned in such situations, because it is your life at stake. Tough love saves bears lives. Some black bears have a predatory nature towards man. We cannot know which ones do,or when they do, so stay safe. Remember that when you know a bear is around, also try to know where it is around. jls :paranoid:
User avatar
AldeFarte
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 215
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:46 pm
Location: Eklutna, Ak.
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby AldeFarte » Tue Oct 17, 2006 7:01 pm

P.S. Timothy treadwell found out the truth about bears. Unfortunately his ignorant bliss cost another person her life. Interesting article, tho. jls
User avatar
AldeFarte
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 215
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2006 10:46 pm
Location: Eklutna, Ak.
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby hikerduane » Tue Oct 17, 2006 8:25 pm

On another topic I had mentioned that I hadn't seen a bear for some years. I just remembered (duh) that the only bear I saw on my trip this summer out of Mammoth was by the restrooms at the trailhead parking by one of the campgrounds, around 9 in the morning.
Piece of cake.
User avatar
hikerduane
Founding Member
 
Posts: 1194
Joined: Sun Nov 06, 2005 9:58 am
Location: Meadow Valley, CA, Carson City, NV
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Postby Ranboze » Wed Oct 18, 2006 8:32 pm

WOW, what an awesome photo! My first thought after reading your story was, "wow, what a good mom that bear was...letting her little one follow it's curiosity, but obviously not worried about the safety of her cub".

I learned something about not ever leaving your pack, so am appreciative of that great hint.

I salmon fished along side grizzlies in Alaska a few years back and a cub kept swimming out to the little dingy I was in. It was nerve wrenching and awesome at the same time.
Walking outside is where I find what's inside.
User avatar
Ranboze
Topix Regular
 
Posts: 148
Joined: Fri Oct 28, 2005 7:35 pm
Location: Long Beach, CA
Experience: N/A

User avatar

Bear stories

Postby gdurkee » Wed Oct 18, 2006 8:48 pm

You were right to toss some rocks at the yearling -- looks older than a first year cub. Rogers (biologist above) is correct, I think, in that Black Bears don't seem too aggresive about defending cubs. They'll be concerned, but the ones habituated to humans don't get too excited unless the cubs are only a few months old.

Generally, start by tossing some large rocks their direction. If that doesn't work, you've unfortunatley got to actually hit them (on the side) with a few. As a few people mentioned, it's likely the bear was heading for your pack. They pick up that habit sometims -- especially in the Bubbs or Woods Creek areas and need to be discouraged immediately.

I wish we had more clueful (hmmm. A word??) Visitor Center folks. That's an incident that should have been reported to bear management.

George

George
User avatar
gdurkee
Founding Member
 
Posts: 658
Joined: Tue Nov 08, 2005 8:20 pm
Experience: N/A

Next

Return to The Campfire



Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 8 guests