Your Friendly Hise Hikers Tuesday Tip: How To Be Bear Aware.
Over the years, we’ve hiked in many areas that are known for having a LOT of bear activity.
From Yosemite to Mt. Whitney, Mt. Lassen to Burney Falls… all around the Lake Tahoe Basin and some very obscure locations besides those, we’ve definitely had many a bear poop sighting… which is the universal calling card of “keep your head on a swivel, bears are in the vicinity.”
Now, when it comes to bear safety, one of the first and biggest things is making sure to secure all foodstuff and anything that has fragrance in your bear box.
Let’s first talk about knowing what bears are in your area.
In the US, you may have Black bears as we do here in California… or you could have Grizzlies or Brown bears and Polar bears, I suppose Polar bears would be in there, too.
FYI – Black bears are most common and are found in 40 of the US states. Brown bears (which can be the Grizzly or Kodiak bear) are in Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Alaska. Brown bears tend to be coastal, grizzlies are inland and Kodiaks are the largest of brown bears – and are only in Alaska… along with Polar bears (along the shore or on sea ice).
Next up, if you see bear scat on the trail… take a look at how fresh it appears.
Typically, it’s filled with vegetation and insect parts in the early summer. And lots of berries and seeds when berry season hits. Bears are omnivores and you may find other things in bear scat, too. Color can range from black to brown and depends on what the bear is eating. 🙂
Now that you know waaaay more than you ever wanted to know about bear poop… why do I tell you all of this?
When hiking and being in the wilderness in general, it’s my responsibility to know my surroundings… and since I’m in their backyard, I have to be mindful of encounters so that I don’t happen upon a bear and surprise it.
Our first encounter of being charged by a bear happened on a training hike 7 years ago. We didn’t know what we didn’t know at the time.
After that experience, we learned two things (ok way more than 2, and here are two): 1) what a bluff charge is and why mama bears (and other bears) use them; and 2) we chose to always carry bear spray as a line of defense (when we can, some places don’t allow it).
We read up on bear encounters and how to be prepared for a future encounter – because, again, we’re hanging out in their space… it is up to us to be prepared for the encounters because they will (and do) happen.
One thing that really lent itself well to our first encounter was that we both remained incredibly calm (there was plenty of time for freaking out afterward) – and remaining calm is a key component to a bear encounter turning out well.
Something else we have learned in all of our time in nature… bears don’t want to run into us any more than we want to run into them. And that fact allows me to rest more comfortably and feel confident going into the back country.
The best way to be bear aware is to know their habits, and how to notice ‘bear signs’ (tracks, scat, claw marks on trees, etc.), and how to react in a situation if you do find yourself face-to-face with a bear.