Sunday, August 17, 2008

I hate bear bells

I don't really hate bear bells but they are my least favorite means of warning bears that people are approaching. This entry is to discuss some of the noise-making methods I've encountered and some of my thoughts. Sometimes hikers are more enthusiastic about noise-making than I like but I do recognize the importance of warning grizzlies of people and that my threshold for making noise may be different from others and not necessarily optimum.

Beyond old jokes, I'm uncertain how effective bear bells really are, others with much more knowledge than I have expressed this concern, a search on Google shows several relevant hits. Also, the noise from the bells may make it harder to hear bear sounds. But mainly I dislike bear bells because they aren't easy to turn off and so on crowded tails and in parking areas you hear their noise when not needed. Once on Glacier Park's Highline trail, I was followed for nearly 5 miles by a couple with bells. I tried stopping, speeding up, and slowing down but they continued to pace me.

Some people whistle more or less continuously; something I can't do. To me, the volume isn't enough and it sounds like birds. Of course I'm not a bear but I doubt that whistling is very effective.

Recently, Glacier Park has suggested clapping hands in addition to talking loudly or other noise making strategies. That is difficult to do if using hiking poles but otherwise seems easy and flexible.

My usual method is to talk loudly or shout especially when alone and going into a wooded area or other area out of view. I usually shout something like 'coming up the trail' so I don't have to think about what I'm shouting. I've always thought shouting 'hey bear' to be a bad idea; more like you are calling the bear. With shouting, I can stop and listen, it isn't continuous. The only problem is I sometimes run out of wind.

Occasionally I meet people who seem to be quite anxious about bears and make noise in areas that I consider unnecessary. Now again, I'm not an expert and maybe they have a point. It is just on a crowded trail, lots of noise becomes distracting. A couple of years ago, I met a man hiking into the Alpine Lakes region of Washington's central Cascades who was shouting every few minutes 'hey bear' quite loudly. Washington does have a few grizzlies but in the north Cascades not known to go as far south as we were hiking. Also, there probably were 50 people ahead of him on the trail or at the closer lake. While he couldn't have know that, the number of cars at the trailhead should have been a clue. I felt sorry for the couple about 1/4 mile ahead of him listening to him all the way up the trail.

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