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Tenaya Lake, Yosemite National Park

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Re: Tips for bear encounters

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Tips for bear encounters
June 13, 2017 04:43PM
Hi All,

I know some folks on here spend a lot of time in the backcountry and I'd like some tips for handling bear encounters -- specifically in the Yosemite backcountry. (I'll also be heading to Yellowstone / Grand Teton in the fall but I suspect the recommendation might be different there.)

Regardless, I'm back from my trip to SEKI / Yosemite (which was a great success) but I did have a couple encounters with bears that left me feeling pretty vulnerable having no additional tools / techniques to use.

Now, I'm sure that all you knowledgeable folks are going to say "Oh, you have nothing to worry about." which sounds great until you're staring at a big bear at dusk heading back to LYV.

Both of my encounters were when I was solo hiking up past LYV along the Merced River.

The encounter that concerned me a bit was when I was solo hiking in the late afternoon, heading back to LYV along the river. I was probably about 1.5-2 miles from LYV. I was making noise, whistling, etc. but, unfortunately, we surprised each other on the path -- he was heading from the river across the path and stopped and stared at me.

I made some noise, talked and, honestly, he didn't move. Just stared at me.

I very slowly backed up and headed the other direction. Of course, I *had* to get back to LYV so I was kind of stuck. I hadn't seen anyone else on the trail so trying to hook up with other hikers seemed unlikely. Anyway, I hiked a bit along the river and eventually turned around and slowly made my way back. I'd like to say that the bear was totally gone but it wasn't. It was just off in the brush a bit and flanked me for a little while but, luckily, grew disinterested I guess. From there, I hustled back to LYV.

Anyway, I guess this left me wishing I had additional tools to handle such a situation. Now, you're probably going to tell me that nothing would have happened but I literally had no additional tricks or tools to use if that bear had decided to attack for whatever reason.

Bear spray is not allowed so I left that at home. What would you guys have done? (Other than not solo hike in the late afternoon.)

Thanks for any info.
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 13, 2017 08:15PM
I would feel spooked. I haven't seen a bear in Yosemite since one invaded my campsite in Tuolumne Campground about 5 years ago. However, I too, hike alone, and would like input from others.
avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 13, 2017 09:12PM
Time of day doesn't matter for Black Bears. They are active any time of the day or night.
Diurnal or something like that.
Maybe hike with hiking sticks and just keep telling yourself you have absolutely nothing
to worry about and that no one has been killed by a black bear in Yosemite (supposedly).
They really don't pose any threat. But I do know the feeling. I've had the same
thing happen to me once. The bear was following me above on a slope... very
unnerving... And I'm a scaredy chick-on... Grab some rocks and a stick if you don't have
hiking sticks and you can continue on... which may be easier said than done.
Of course you can yell at it and all... don't throw any rocks to try to hit it though...
and don't wear bear bells for any reason. They don't do a bit of good.

Old Dood would literally run AFTER the bears when they would saunter into a camp.
With bear cans we don't see many bears anymore... but there are problem spots
as you found.

Most of all

Have fun

Chick-on is looking at you!
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 10:36AM
Thanks everyone for their thoughts. I wish there was something new -- a different technique that would give me confidence.

There's just nothing like that feeling knowing you've used every trick you know and the bear is still just staring at you. :-)

And, actually, this thought did run through my head:

> ... that no one has been killed by a black bear in Yosemite (supposedly).

Mostly because I thought I really didn't want to be the first. You know:

Noone had been killed by a black bear in Yosemite until that DCHook guy was attacked.

Thanks all,
avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 12:32PM
Fortunately for all of us, the Yosemite black bears have never developed a taste or desire for human flesh. What they went from us is only our possessions, especially those that smell nice to the bear. Maybe the bear that you encountered was hoping that you would ditch your daypack and flee. I'm glad that you didn't do that.

Leave No Trace
avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 05:59PM
Bears in the Sierra spend all day every day looking for food. A person with a pack on will eventually set the pack down so a bear will just wait for an opportunity to snatch the pack after it has been set down. They will not try to take it from you but once they get it's theirs so don't try to take it back. A common tactic is to wait for the pack set-down and then bluff charge to scare off the pack owner. This is only done by habituated bears. A wild bear in the back country will not even get close to you. Where there is a lot of hikers and backbackers on popular trails and campsites is where you will get the "bad" bears. I've had three encounters with a sow with cubs. First one momma brought two really new cubs into camp and took them right up to where we were boiling water for dinner. One was on my foot. We just stood still for two days (30 secs) and they wandered off. The other two times momnna and the cubs hightailed it as soon as they saw me coming. The big boars lumbering into view is a bit spooky.

Old Dude
avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 02:02PM
Old Dood would literally run AFTER the bears when they would saunter into a camp.

That's what I do. Been mock-charged many times. They back down when it doesn't work.
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 21, 2017 11:11PM
Old Dood would literally run AFTER the bears when they would saunter into a camp.

That's what I do. Been mock-charged many times. They back down when it doesn't work.

I'm not big, but I act big and I've chased plenty of bears away. Mostly in the Valley campgrounds. Rarely have seen them in the backcountry. Worst "remote" incident was a bear making the rounds at Mono Creek jct on the JMT. Was working his way up through all the camps. I heard people yelling. I let my friend take some pictures then stood up and yelled at it and stomped towards it. It then ran off and apparently hassled another group for a full half hour (so we heard the next morning).
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 13, 2017 09:38PM
While in Yellowstone and Tetons make sure you carry bear spray all the time. Yellowstone has a great website you can get information from and I posted the sight because it has so much information you can see by clicking on links. We never used to see grizzly or signs of them in the Tetons until our last trip three years ago and were extremely vigilant while fly fishing in areas with high brush and bushes.

avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 13, 2017 11:43PM
If you encounter a bear, the first thing you should do is to make sure that there are no cubs nearby. If there are cubs near the mama bear, do not go towards the cubs or the mama bear and don't get in between the cubs and the mama bear. That's the most likely scenario where you might get the bear charging towards you.

If it's a solo bear, stand your ground and don't retreat (nor turn your back toward it). Keep the bear in your eye sight as long as possible.

What would I have done is probably what I've done in the past in similar situations: talk to it.

I usually open the conversation by talking loudly to to the bear asking, "Hey Yogi! Where's Boo-Boo?" The bear usually responds with a puzzled look. If it then doesn't wander off by itself, I'll tell it to go away in a loud voice by saying, "Go! Go!" "Out of my way!" "Vamos!". I clap my hands and take a few steps toward it. By this time, the bear has ALWAYS moved out of the way and continued on its journey.

The last time I had such encounter was a few years ago near the top of the Four Mile Trail. It was dusk and I heading up the trail just past the traverse towards Glacier Point. The bear come form the ridge above. Looked at me for a moment and two and then went down towards the Ledge Trail (I presume his destination that evening was Curry Village).

Note: my advice above applies only for the American Black Bears that live in the Sierra Nevada. Black bears that live elsewhere (like in the Canadian Rockies or along the East Coast) can be far more aggressive than the black bears that live in the Sierra.

Leave No Trace
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 04:50PM
... What would you guys have done? (Other than not solo hike in the late afternoon.) ...

I've had several dozen black bear encounters. I would have gotten excited to see another bear. Reached for my camera and taken pictures. Made sure it knew of my presence (by making noise). Enjoyed watching the bear and observing it's behavior. If it continued to block my path for some time, I would have eventually tossed rocks near it to get it to amble off.

Had it been with cubs and I was close (say within about 20 yards), I would have backed up some very slowly to make sure the Mother did not feel threatened.

If it was in camp and threatened my food supply, I would have thrown rocks immediately.
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 14, 2017 05:10PM
Well, I don't quite have that comfort level yet.

It's interesting, the first thing my sister asked me was whether I'd gotten any pictures. Unfortunately, I'd gone off path a little prior to this to follow a group of deer and snap some photos after which I returned to the path. As a result, I had my zoom lens attached.

So, when I encountered the bear, the zoom lens was still attached. Funny thing is that I knew I was *way* too close the bear to use that zoom lens so as I was making noise, etc. I was also trying to swap lenses and it just didn't happen before I decided to slowly ease out of the situation.

When I came back, the bear was in the brush and flanking me but, at that point, I was pretty much just thinking about getting back to LYV.

avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 16, 2017 04:36PM
You should place unwrapped chocolates, sausages, cheese, tortillas, or you know pretty much any food on the trail...

Err uh, my hiking partner tells me that would not be good. He says I should relate what he did when "Blondie" tried to invite himself to lunch on the High Sierra Trail...

Several years ago, my hiking partners and I had set out to hike the High Sierra Trail in SEKI. It was the first day and just a few miles from Crescent Meadow when we sat down for a bit of a break and a quick lunch. As we were finishing up this old blond-fur bear comes sauntering up the trail, a short distance from us. At first my partners and I were a bit shocked that he came up to us and also in awe because he was rather handsome. Anyway, he looked at us and cocked his head a bit. My partners heard a grunt (they don't speak bear) and I heard "Aren't you going to invite me to join you for lunch?". Well my older, larger hiking partner started talking to Blondie (the bear) and standing up. Mostly it was him telling Blondie that giving him food would be illegal and not good for long term survival in a fairly loud voice. Blondie got a sad look on his face and grunted a bit of an apology and wandered off into the brush away and downhill from us. Blondie stayed in sight for a bit of time but at a reasonably safe distance grabbing some wild grub down the hill.

It was rather disconcerting for all of us. The lesson for black bears is make yourself appear larger and be loud(er).

Do what you love.
Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 17, 2017 06:29PM
I have dealt with many black bears in Yosemite, including several along the same trail you were on, as they seem to congregate in popular areas of the park. They enjoy using the trail at times to go places. Most of them still have a healthy fear of me, so I can enjoy watching them from a safe distance, but the ones that don't fear me (and don't have any cubs), get rocks thrown at them while I charge them doing my best crazy man act. Old Dood has the right idea, and it has worked for me on all but one bear, who had to take some serious hits from rocks before he decided to leave my campsite for his own safety. I always make sure that the bear has a way out of the area besides where I am standing before I charge it, since you don't want to corner a bear in a box canyon or some other place that they can't get out of easily and quickly.

Bears are extremely intelligent animals, so never underestimate one. Don't assume that because you are using a bear locker or a bear canister that your food is safe. Always go on the offense to defend your space, since a bear interested in your food will test you to see what you will allow them to do. I have met hikers who did not defend their campsite and lost their food. The older chain based lockers were figured out by the bears eventually, and a few of the canisters have as well.

Note that none of this applies to grizzly bears. I would never dream of charging a grizzly.
avatar Re: Tips for bear encounters
June 20, 2017 01:09PM
Much of what has been said is true, particularly from MRCondrun (Olde Dude). Unfortunately, the area around LYV is notorious for bear activity, second only to the car camping areas. I don't even consider LYV part of the back country because there are so many day hikers and backpackers present. Poor food protection practices, particularly from some of the day hikers, are a main draw for bears in the LYV area. When you get much further out into the Yosemite back country it is not uncommon to go years without even seeing a bear. The bears tend to hang out where all the food and odors are prevalent.
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