If everything goes well with my minivan and money, I’ll be backpacking in Yellowstone and beyond on 3 to 4 day treks within a month. I’m bringing my friend Wendell along; he’ll be painting near my minivan while I do my solo trips, which is very reassuring that I won’t have to worry about home invasion and have someone to split the gas. However, I am concerned about Grizzly bears. Idiot visitors have been training the bears that people = food, by leaving trash and not even hanging their food in smell proof bags. Visitors are also trying to get nature shots like the pros with little digital cameras not realizing that nature photographers are using 8oomm lenses with tripods to get their shots, not canon ELFs with digital zooms.
I’ve already bought bear mace and have researched how to behave if a Ursus Arctos is startled. But quite frankly, pepper spray and playing dead don’t give me that much comfort. A 12 gauge with slugs is what I would like to put between the mace and play dead options. In 2010 the federal government allowed people to carry weapons in the parks, although the park rangers frown upon it. I went to Allegheny Trade and found a very nice “plain Jane” Mossburg with 18.5″ barrel and pistol grip. It’s not that heavy and the price tag of $400 seams reasonable. But with money being so tight and the weight I just lost by upgrading my equipment immediately being eaten by the weight of the gun, pulled me away from the purchase… plus the head ache of designing a way to lock it up in my minivan securely and varying state laws, all for something I will most likely not need, closed the book for me.
But I’m still a little worried about getting mauled by a Grizzly. Two years ago while hiking in the Adirondacks I came upon my one and only bear. It was a black bear cub drinking from a stream that came out of nowhere, about 25 feet from me! It was simultaneously one of the most amazing and terrifying things I’ve ever seen in nature. I have no doubts that mama was very close. I never saw her but I’m sure she knew I was there and was debating whether to rip me to shreds or not. It’s not a good idea to piss someone off that’s 3 to 4 times your size, that can sustain a run of 30 miles and hour and has fangs and claws.
I realize that hiking by yourself is a fairly dangerous thing to do. A broken ankle or water purifier malfunction can ruin your day, a snake bite or bear attack can end it. Last year on the West Rim trail, my backpacking buddy “Neverlost” came about a foot away from stepping on a huge timber rattler. I could have easily had to suck on his leg and carry him to the trail head. (it’s a good thing I’m writing this, I just ordered a snake bite kit, my yoga isn’t what it used to be)
I’ve done some reading about bear bells, a bell that looks like something a reindeer would wear. The available literature seems to be up in the air about it. Granola heads seem to think it’s a winner for not startling a bear and the tea partiers seem to think that it’s the topping to mace scented bear scat. I don’t trust either group so I searched for a scientist’s opinion. What I found is that the granola heads are most likely wrong (trust rednecks with red neck things). Bears either ignore it as a background noise, like a burbling “crick” or tweeting birds or will investigate to see what this strange tinging sound is: backpacker freaks out, drops their bag of granola and then it really does become a dinner bell.
Being in a group is the best way to not startle a bear. Normal conversation is enough noise to alert the bear you’re not their average dinner and mama bear will get their cub out of harms long before they want to kill you. They also are far less likely to attack a group because they know the odds of winning goes down, and the odds go up that your mates will pussy out and run, causing the bear to chase them down so you can make an escape. None of this applies to the solo hiker though and I’m not going to talk to my self all day long, “I’m here bear, don’t eat me.. I’m here bear, don’t eat me…”
My solution is a simple one, that’s lightweight and will not detract that much from the beautiful environment I’m there to enjoy. I already carry an iPhone5, which is my GPS tracking kit, books/games, and spare flashlight. I also carry a lithium polymer batter that can charge it three times over. My solution is music. I’m ordering an external powered speaker that runs for 12 hrs and can be charged by the same charger that powers my iPhone. Nine Inch Nails will be accompanying me on my treks and surely will be recognized by bears as something unnatural and to be avoided.