Wednesday, July 2, 2008

How to Outrun a Grizzly Bear (NOT)

I was through hiking the Great Divide Trail from Glacier National Park, Montana to Jasper Alberta, Canada in 2001. I stopped just before dark and cooked a meal right on the trail. A half hour down the trail I found a beautiful campsite along Dutch Creek and set up my tent. No-see-ums were swarming about me en masse as I hung my food bag on the opposite side of the creek. On most nights I would sleep under my rain shelter only. With this horde of insects, I decided it would be wise to erect my tent inside the rain-fly if I wanted a good night’s sleep. I piled everything near the tent, threw it all inside, dove in myself and zipped the mesh door behind me.It was fortunate that the bugs were menacing that evening, forcing me into the added protection of my fine-screened inner tent. I awoke suddenly in the early morning hours to a grunting sound outside my tent. With the fly open I had a clear view of a large male grizzly pacing back and forth, shaking his head and grunting as if he were irritated. Instead of grabbing my bear spray (I now use Counter Assault Bear Pepper Spray) I grabbed my camera and completely opened the aperture in hopes of getting some pictures in the low light. I held it against the fine mesh tent wall and shot a roll of film. After exhausting the film, I became concerned and started thinking about items that were still in my pack next to me in the tent vestibule. Fragrant things that should have been in the food bag, like baby wipes and toothpaste, were still in pack pockets and might be reason for this abrupt wake-up call. I decided it would be smart to subtly let the bear know I was in the tent, if he hadn’t figured it out already. I first cleared my throat. When that had no effect I coughed a couple times very loudly. The bear continued to pace and violently shake his head. What I did next could be better protection than bear spray. It worked so well I have had thoughts of sharing the procedure with the Forest Service. I took a deep breath and began to sing as loud as I could, “I’m in the mood for love. Simply because you’re near me. Funny but when you’re near me. I’m in the mood for love.” That bear went up the trail like a rocket leaving the Cape. He must have thought, “This guy not only smells bad, he’s horny.” The problem was, I had to go up this same trail a half hour later after breaking camp. I never saw the bruin, or any sign of him again. I’m not sure if it was my voice or my choice of material, but the results were amazing. I whistled my way up the trail just to let him know I was coming.

Other methods I use with great success:

1. Robert Service Poetry. Bessie's Boil works best. It's a long poem, recite it loud. Grizzly's hate it. I have never had one bother me during a rendition of any Robert Service poem.

2. I poetry isn't your forte, try whistling. It's better than bells. Bells are useless. The Canadian Forest Service did a study using bear bells along grizzly game trails. Observing the bears while ringing the bells they noticed the bears never reacted at all. The thought was that the bears equated the sound of the bells with birdsong.

3. For thirty years before I began carrying bear spray, I carried a sawed-off road flare. What do animals fear more than hot, phosphorate fire?
I spent a July morning in 1999 helping the park service look for a lost hiker in Yellowstone's Heart Lake Geyser Basin. It was during my CDT (Continental Divide Trail) thru-hike. The two backcountry rangers I was working with noticed I didn't carry bear spray. When they asked what I did use I told them about my flare.
They laughed uncontrollably and asked me if I had ever had to use my flare. "No," I replied—a little indignant.
Still chuckling they said, "What are you going to do if you pull out that flare and the bear keeps coming?"
"I’m going to use it as a suppository and outrun him." I said, " What are you two going to do with that bear spray if it doesn’t work?"
People are now more inclined to take their chances using bear spray. This method works best if you keep your composure while five-hundred pounds of muscle, blood and bone charge you like a freight train. You have to wait until the bear is right in your face (to be sure he’s not bluffing), then irritate him just a little more with pepper spray.

4. Get into the fetal position (I call this the fatal position) cover your neck with your hands, tuck your head and kiss your ass goodbye.

5. Do not try to outrun a griz. They can cover a football field in seven seconds. Don't try climbing a tree if the bear is charging. A kid in Idaho did that in 1936. His experience should teach us all that a griz can snag you out of a tree quicker than you can swat a mosquito. The kid was just tying his horse to a tree to do a little fishing. The bear charged and he started up the tree. The bear started up the tree with him and tore his right buttocks clean off. The boy survived the mauling but was known for the rest of his school years as "Half-Ass."
6. Bear spray is probably your best bet. They say you have to get the pepper spray into the bears mouth, nose and eyes. I can tell you this: Sept. of 2007 I was doing a 200 mile loop in Glacier National Park. I spent the night camping alone at the far end of Elizabeth Lake on the north side of Ptarmigan Tunnel. I decided to get up in the dark, break camp, eat breakfast and be ready to hike at first light. Something had been pawing around the tent all night. I assumed it was deer. My first chore after crawling out of my tent was to get water for breakfast. I started down to the lake with my headlamp leading the way. I decided maybe I should carry my bear spray since it was dark and a little brushy along the trail to the lake. When I reached the lake, two things caught my attention. First, I heard some faint rustling in the brush to my left. This prompted me to pull the safety off my bear spray. Second, a trumpeter swan was floating just off shore in the moonlight, about 15 feet out. I spotted the swan as soon as I had passed through the tunnel the day before. You don’t have to be an avid birdwatcher to ID something the size of a trumpeter. Even from the top of the mountain I knew what it was as soon as I noticed a white spot floating in the lake below me. I was concentrating on the swan and not paying attention to what I should have been doing. I slipped the bear spray into my pocket and bent down to fill my GatorAid bottle with water. I heard an odd noise and came up quickly to listen—everything seemed quiet. I bent down again and heard the same noise—pssssst. Then all hell broke loose. The noise was my bear spray going off in my pocket. FIRE IN THE HOLE! Within seconds the oily concoction of Cayenne Pepper had set my world on fire. I was out of my clothes in seconds and into the lake. It cured my knee problems. I didn’t even know I had knees. I was doing an Indian War Dance in the lake, the swan was blushing and I was howling at the moon. I ran up to the tent and grabbed my packet of baby wipes. The alcohol in the wipes helped put out the fire. I felt like an idiot. I looked like an idiot. I knew if my wife was along she would say it was just another Pre-Dick-Ament. My clothing was shot. This stuff will never come out. I carefully wrapped them all in a garbage bag and duct taped it shut. I cleaned up completely with more baby wipes and finally started breakfast. While eating my oatmeal my lips started burning. My first thought was, “I must have sunburned my lips coming over the pass yesterday.” No, it was bear spray. I have no idea where it was coming from but it was moving up into my nose and sinuses. I needed to stick baby wipes in one ear and pull it out the other just to clear my head. I have always heard that you need to wait until a bear is right in your face and then shoot the bear spray into the nose and eyes. I don’t believe that any longer. From now on I’m going for the undercarriage. Truth is, I will never pull the safety off my bear spray again unless a bruin is chewing on my leg. For the rest of the trip I could smell cayenne pepper on all my gear. At night it seemed to fill my tent. Maybe there was some health benefit to this wild scenario. My legs felt pretty good all day.
--Keep Smilin', Dick E. Bird

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ha ha ha,
You write funny. I really enjoyed your story and imagine you are a good story teller.

(from Surinam South-America living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands)

ps I reached your site because grizzly amaze me and I searched for "fatal grizzly encounters"