Tuesday, January 25, 2011
Scanning for Safety-a Bear Story
I have this method of scanning when I'm hiking or backpacking. It really doesn't matter whether its on a long hike, bushwhacking or even in town.
I first learned it in driver's ed. They teach you to scan continuously: left, right, rear view mirror, up, down, complete range of periphial vision. Movement is what catches your eye even more than color. Both help remarkably.
Hearing helps, one reason I only listen to music with one ear, and only on the tried and true four mile mountain trail used for morning exercise.
One day on the Pacific Crest Trail I was hiking alone when suddenly, 15 yards ahead, a creature began emerging from a big tree stump. A furry brown head, with a black mask of color around the eyes. He looked really sleepy, and my initial reaction was to stop in my tracks. That's one huge raccoon, I thought. But, the animal kept coming, and I realized it was a bear! I stood there, watching, not certain what would happen next.
Seemed the bear was trying to ignore me, and once free of his crib, jumped onto the trail and bounded away.
I paused. What to do next, my trail led in the direction he ran. I gave him 5 minutes head start, and continued hiking, singing softly.
That night some trail friends showed up and we all camped together. Alexa said she'd seen a bear "scared to Jesus".
Coulda been my bear.
I try not to make a lot of noise while hiking so that I see more wild life. If I know a bear, especially a mother and cub, are up ahead, I will sing, or purposely hit rocks with my hiking poles.
Rangers have told me most bad encounters come from surprising a bear.
If you want to make noise without talking and exerting too much energy, simply tie a metal lid from the cook set to the handle of your hiking pole.
If you've ever heard the bear bells they sell at National Park Stores, they sound like birds on the trail. You can't even hear them near water, a prime location for feeding wildlife.
When hiking a winding trail with bear, the automatic noise making of metal on metal will alert bear and prevent unwanted encounters.