Saturday, December 30, 2006

Black Bears and hiking

I frequently see black bears when hiking both in National Parks, mostly Yellowstone, Glacier, and North Cascades, and in forests. I enjoy seeing the bears and get a thrill of excitement when when I do but usually am not anxious about black bears or alter my hiking plans. I've settled on a rule of thumb, if the bear doesn't move away when it sees me if we are close, I will move away.

A few years ago I was hiking in the Wenatchee National Forest and heard noises ahead of me. Thinking it might be a bear, I called out several times but continued. As I came around a bend, I saw a large, golden (black) bear tearing a log apart just above the trail. I stopped and considered how to detour around but decided against it since I wasn't familiar with the trail. My next thought was to take a picture but my camera was in my pack and watching the bear who was about twice my weight rip the log convinced me I should turn back on the trail. A few minutes later, I heard a large animal coming toward me through the brush, fortunately it was a deer.

More recently I was hiking down into the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Blacktail Deer Plateau and saw 2 bears ahead of me. Because this was grizzly country, I was more careful but got to a position where I could watch them. I was reasonably certain they were black bears but they were also moving across the entire trail and there was no good way to go around. I finally decided to go back and take the Resue Creek trail.

In both of the cases above I'm sure the bears were aware of me, I wasn't that far away and had been making noise. I've wondered what I would do if I were to meet a bear on the way out of a trail. I guess I would just do my best.

Some of my bear encounters have been funny, at least in retrospect. I was coming down Specimen Ridge in YNP one warm sunny day and as I came down a gully, I heard a scrambling just behind me. I looked back and a bear had come down almost to the same point in a different gully. It scrambled away while I stood there with my mouth open and fumbling at my bear spray. I looked down the trail and saw 2 hikers getting up off the ground so I met them and we talked. They had laid down once they saw the bear so it wouldn't see them. Later on the hike I saw the bear again a few times and verified it was a black. I've seen black bears several times around the Yellowstone Picnic area and Specimen Ridge trail but didn't expect to see one up on the treeless ridge.

One fall day I was coming down from the Thunderer in the northeast of YNP when I walked off the trail a few feet to take a picture of something. I almost stumbled over a black bear I presumably startled out of its day bed, I was less than 15 feet away at the closest. I had my camera in hand and took a picture but the picture is blurred, I wasn't still.

The last 2 encounters were amusing but also a reminder that I need to be aware of my surroundings. I could easily have gotten too close to a variety of animals and gotten hurt. I am lucky that the bears were not aggressive.

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