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Review Your Skills for Hiking in Bear Country

Posted by Loren Drummond at Oct 15, 2012 10:05 AM |

While it's almost time for most bears to tuck into their dens for winter (except in some coastal areas, where bears may not hibernate), autumn can still be a pretty active time for Washington black bears. These furry omnivores can forage up to 20 hours a day as they store up for winter, so it never hurts to refresh your skills for hiking in bear country.

While it's almost time for most bears to tuck into their dens for winter (except in some coastal areas, where bears may not hibernate), autumn can still be a pretty active time for Washington black bears. These furry omnivores can forage as many as 20 hours a day as they store up for winter, so it never hurts to refresh your skills for hiking in bear country.

Find out how to tell the difference between a black bear and a grizzly bear. (Hint: if you see the bear in Washington state, it's probably a black bear, even if it's brown.)

Refresh your skills for avoiding encounters:

  • Make noise by singing or clapping your hands while in bear country, and especially around streams and blind corners. (The goal is to avoid surprise encounters.)
  • Hike in small groups during daylight hours.
  • Keep a clean camp and hang a bear bag (if you plan to overnight).

Learn what to do if you do encounter a bear:

  • Do not look the bear in the eye; this can be perceived as a challenge and a sign of dominance.
  • Never turn your back to a bear; if safe to do so, slowly walk backwards and give the bear as much space as possible.
  • If you are hiking with small children, pick them up (so they do not run, scream or panic).
  • Talk calmly and quietly so the bear can identify you as a human, and do your best to diffuse the situation.

Photographing a bear:

  • Follow good Leave No Trace principles and observe bears from a safe distance. If you encounter a bear on trail, put some distance between you and the bear before pulling out your camera.
  • Use a powerful telephoto lens for capturing your close-ups.
  • Try to keep extra distance when photographing bears during sensitive times (like when they have young cubs).

>> Read more tips from "How to Hike and Backpack in Bear Country"

Tell us your bear story

Did you see any bears while you were hiking this year? Tell us about it in the comments section (or share the link to your Trip Report).

*Some of the tips above adapted from the Washington Trails magazine January + February 2012 article, "Bear in Mind", written by Tami Asars and the September + October 2011 article "Wolves and Grizzlies," written by Eric Neumann.


Comments

White River / Wonderland Trail sighting

I was hiking north (uphill) on the Wonderland Trail from White River Campground heading towards Sunrise on Mt. Rainier last Saturday, 10/6 when I heard a cracking branch in the undergrowth off my left. A rather large black bear was busy foraging maybe 50 feet away from me. I was too tired at this point in the hike to be scared. The bear, if it noticed me, didn't pay me any attention. I just kept trudging up the hill until it was out of sight.

Posted by:


"andre_99301" on Oct 15, 2012 02:57 PM

Bear Encounter in Alpine Lakes Wilderness

While hiking near McCue Ridge above Chiwaukum Lake west of Leavenworth at 5200 feet I stop along the trail to read my map and look at the sign that were posted about 10 to 15 feet up on the tree. I was told they are mounted up high so they can be seen in snow by skiers, snowshoers and snowmobiles. As I was reading the map I heard some noise like sticks breaking so I dropped my map and saw a very large black bear standing about 20 feet in front of me. This encounter like so many others would lead me to believe this bear stood taller than me on all four legs because that is what I saw or thought I saw. Either way it was the closest I had ever been to one. I carry a small air horn on my chest strap of my backpack and my first reaction was to sound the air horn. This worked quite well as I watched the bear run up the side of the hill so fast that I now know why they say there is no way to run from a bear. I turned slowly and headed the other direction looking back over my shoulder for awhile. No more sign of the bear of the next three days hiking in the Chiwaukum Mountains. My thought is that the bear did not hear me because I was standing still not making any noise reading a map and it did not smell me because the wind was blowing in my face which made me down wind of the bear. Lessons learned on my part to make more noise especially as I come to a stop. This will ensure bears around me know I am there.

Posted by:


fox15rider on Oct 16, 2012 07:52 PM

Mamma Bear & 2 Cubs near Smith Brook trailhead

I saw a black bear with her 2 cubs today off of NF-6700 about a mile south of the Smith Brook trailhead. Most of the time black bears will run away if they hear, smell or see a human (Which is what this group did).

BUT BE VERY AWARE: You are MORE LIKELY to be attacked by a bear if you do the following: Come too close to a mamma and cub, in between a mamma and her cub, or if you just see and approach a bear cub (YES the mamma IS around).

Also, since bears sometimes scavenge for meat before hibernation, I've heard they can be highly aggressive when they do find recent kills and/or remains.

Posted by:


"Medusa La Stone" on Oct 20, 2012 11:10 PM

Mother and two cubs

I saw a mother bear with two cubs today while on the Puget Power Trail - this is a very busy trail on the west side of Tiger Mountain. I had hiked from East Sunset Way up Section Line Trail and was heading back to the car when I noticed what I at first thought was a very large dog with two smaller dogs, off-leash. I stopped and waited for their owner to come up when I realized it was a mother bear with two cubs. She stared at me pretty intently and I slowly - very slowly - backed away. So, moral of the story, you can encounter bears even on a fairly populated trail so just be aware of your surroundings. Happily for me, she was more interested in feeding on berries than on humans.

Posted by:


Joel_Grant on Sep 21, 2016 05:29 PM