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.


Monday, August 11, 2008

WA hiker recently shot by hunter

Recently, a Washington state hiker was shot and killed by a bear hunter (link). I've blogged before about hiking during hunting season (here) and my conclusion was that I am basically comfortable most of the time. This recent incident raises my level of concern even though of itself it does not mean hiking has become more dangerous, simply that the dangers are now more to the forefront of my mind. I also want to keep the relative risks in mind, no other non-hunter has been killed in Washington by a hunter in the last 20 years. In those years, many hikers have been killed by falls, hypothermia, and other risks.

Like many hikers, I don't pay strict attention to hunting seasons. Of course I know when popular seasons are open, the number of obvious hunters makes that apparent. On the other hand some seasons, especially bear seasons, are much less obvious to me. If I don't realize it is hunting season, I may not make an effort to wear brightly colored clothing and not bushwhack or graze on huckleberries. I think I will be more careful about what I wear when hiking. Unfortunately my basic rain and wind shell is solid black, not a good color for hiking during bear hunting season. I have an orange vest but still am uncomfortable with the shell, too much black showing above the vest. I'm not sure what I will do, maybe replace the shell. I'm am already looking for some brighter mid weight tops instead of the black I now use. I do know the hiker killed was wearing a bright blue poncho which one would think should be bright enough to distinguish her from a bear.

I wish there were simple answers, I doubt there are. I wish hunters would not hunt on and around popular hiking trails but they also want access to the backcountry and need to find ways in. Of course I wish all hunters were certain of their target before shooting but experience suggests that isn't likely to occur. Most hunters may be very responsible but it only takes a small percentage of careless hunters for tragedies to occur. Looking at the population as a whole, there is always a percentage of people who are careless or reckless. Hunter safety courses help but do not eliminate the percentage of reckless individuals.

I'm not going to stop hiking during hunting seasons. I will weigh the risks and take appropriate safety measures.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Digital Camera - what I bought

In my earlier post here I discussed buying a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS. After doing some more research I decided to get the Canon A720 IS, see a review here. I wanted the higher zoom on the SX100 but I also wanted the optical viewfinder. The last 2 weekends I have played with my new camera while hiking and so far I'm quite happy with it. Both weekends have been sunny in the open and I'm glad I opted for the optical viewfinder, even at the brightest the LCD screen washed out for me. The camera is lightweight and easy to use for a beginner but has lots of more advanced features I can grow into.

I'm still learning to use the macro for closeups but the rather orange Indian Paintbrush and the Alpine Cinquefoil came out fairly well.

I also liked the mushroom and spruce grouse hen below.

Downloads of the few pictures I've taken have been quick and painless. The editing software which comes with the camera isn't great but it is enough for basic functions and I can get more advanced editing software if I wish. Landscape pictures have been okay, not outstanding so I have more learning to do there. I do know I will continue to use this camera, unlike my previous digital camera which collected dust.