Saturday 22 November 2008

Why camping in bear country sucks

We were reasonably familiar with the whole bear-country camping game before we started this trip, but camping in grizzly hot spots like Yellowstone, the Tetons, and the Rockies brought it to a whole new level.

Bears were never far from our minds, and now I can sympathize with Americans that are petrified of all the things that can kill you in the Australian bush. Give me deadly snakes and spiders any day, here's why camping and walking in bear country sucks:

  • Don't leave food unattended at any time, even while you are preparing it. Food (and all rubbish) needs to be stored in bear bin or hard-sided vehicle, with everything not already vacuum packed in air-tight containers (we used dry bags).
  • Don't cook and sleep in the same clothes. Impossible! I only had room for one down jacket and it was damn cold...
  • Don't wear deodorant.
  • Don't cook tuna for dinner. Seriously bad idea, this was one of the mistakes we made in Shenandoah.
  • Don't spill food on yourself or the ground.
  • Don't have your period if you are a girl...
  • Don't leave your pack on the ground with your back turned at any time. Bears lurk around back-country campsites where they have previously gotten access to food.
  • Bear hangs (dry-bag on a rope over a high branch) at back-country campsites are fairly ineffective. Bear canisters are the only proven way to stop bears getting at your food. Just don't put it next to a cliff or lake because bears can't open them, but they roll really well...
  • Announce yourself (yell!) around every corner to avoid surprising a bear. We used super-loud bear bells to avoid having to do this. The noise needs to be particularly loud near streams where it has to be heard over the flowing water. Unfortunately you scare pretty much all other wildlife by being so noisy. And you attract any problem bears that already associate humans with food rewards....
  • Carry bear mace. Better than a gun, but unlike guns(!) you can't take it on an airplane, even in your checked luggage. Since it is about $60 per canister, there was no way I was going to buy a new canister at each location. So no mace for us.

The most annoying part is washing your dishes. Here's how you're supposed to do it:

  • scrape leftovers into a plastic bag and put in bear proof bin.
  • Fill bucket with water and wash dishes in it at your tent site.
  • Scrape off floaties from water and put in bag in bear proof bin.
  • Pour dish water into pit toilet.

Of course this assumes you actually have a bucket, which we didn't. So I had the pleasure of washing our pots and bowls over the open pit toilet (i.e. massive pile of poo), hoping I didn't drop anything. I'd recommend one of those collapsible plastic camp sinks....

The rangers killed a problem bear at our Grand Teton campsite a couple of months before we got there. There was a posted list of its activities that led to its death, there were about 12 separate incidents where it got food either by breaking into a vehicle or approaching humans. Unfortunately you can do everything right and still get approached by a bear if it has associated humans with food rewards...

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