Backpacking to Mount Assiniboine via the Marvel Pass Trail: Part 5
Nov 27, 2016 at 10:29 pm #3437642
Companion forum thread to: Backpacking to Mount Assiniboine via the Marvel Pass Trail: Part 5
Backpacking to Mount Assiniboine through grizzly bear country requires you to pay attention! Enjoy the final day of our journal.Nov 28, 2016 at 10:37 am #3437670AK GranolaBPL Member
Great series. Gorgeous scenery! I have a couple of questions. First, what is a “bear banger?” I live in Alaska, but I’ve never heard of this. Like a firecracker? Second, you saw a lot of bears! Are they known for attacking hikers in this area? While I live in Alaska and have backpacked around the interior, I’ve never run into so many bears on a single hike, probably for several reasons, including hunting pressure, and also less rich habitat food-wise than you probably have in Canada. I notice that you and at least one other commenter speak to how much better the hike would be without bears; would you want them to be eliminated? Or reduced in numbers? Slamming the vehicle door with finality makes it sound like a boot camp trudge instead of an enjoyable experience, presumably due to bears. Just curious if you would advocate a change in management to accommodate hikers.
Thanks also for your gear list, will peruse when I have more time.Nov 28, 2016 at 4:54 pm #3437721James MarcoBPL Member
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
A good series. Thanks!Nov 28, 2016 at 8:10 pm #3437737Al VBPL Member
@sparkmanLocale: The Great White North, eh!
Thanks for the excellent write-up and great pictures. As a frequent hiker in the Canadian Rockies, I have never set of a bear banger (https://www.mec.ca/en/search/?text=bear+banger – posted link to answer Karen’s question), although I’ve come across many bears. The latest was this summer when my 12 year old son and I ran into a mother grizzly and cub while we were fishing in Kananaskis. We backed off, gave them space, and they pretty much ignored us as they were trying to fatten up on the (very early) berry crop. We had our bangers and spray ready, but would only have used them if they had come at us aggressively. Based on reading your reports, it seems like none of the bears were a threat to you, so I’m worried that firing off all those bear bangers is conditioning them to the noise. Just my interpretation, and forgive me if I’m wrong, but you seem to have an unhealthy fear of bears, not a healthy respect. You may want to find a bear expert to do a few hikes with to help ease the fear and enjoy these types of trips even more.
AlNov 28, 2016 at 8:22 pm #3437739AnonymousInactive
Enjoyed it immensely, from beginning to end. What a trip! And a tribute to your will to survive an accident that would have put an end to the backpacking life of most people.
“Force of nature”. Yeah, that sounds about right. :0)
I’ll look forward to hearing about your next adventureNov 29, 2016 at 6:10 am #3437773Greg ConnollyBPL Member
Neat write up. Waited anxiously for each Part to arrive. Fun to read how you planned to avoid the major groupings of humans.
Bears? Wandering where they live is IMO an acquired skill. Too many people take them too lightly, I think. Fear does enhance the senses. Did well.
OmD tip……get a circular polarizing filter for your lens and experiment with it and the exposure settings available on that great camera. Scenics will pop!
Look forward to next Report.
ThxNov 30, 2016 at 5:32 pm #3438040Dena KelleyBPL Member
@eagleriverdeeLocale: Eagle River, Alaska
Truly enjoyed this series, IMO the best write up series of the year.Dec 2, 2016 at 2:28 pm #3438337Benjamin StewartBPL Member
Setting off gunfire-like noises because you’re near a bear?
If that’s your approach please stay out of bear habitat.Dec 2, 2016 at 10:29 pm #3438415Monty MontanaBPL Member
@tarasbulbaLocale: Rocky Mountains
What an enjoyable read! It seems like ages since I was last in Canada; we went bike touring around Calgary and Banff. I was most impressed by the free provincial campgrounds with hot showers, something you’ll never find down here.
Having spent the first part of my adult life working for the Forest Service, I’ve had more bear encounters than I can recall; luckily the majority involved black bears, which tend to avoid humans, and the few grizzlies were observed from a safe distance. But the possibility of an adverse encounter always looms, so I keep the bear spray easily accessible on my shoulder strap and not stowed inside the pack. A couple of recent maulings involved folks who did indeed have bear spray…inside their packs. Not much good there! So far this fall four or five hunters have been mauled here in Montana, and none of them had bear spray. Only one of them was able to bring the bear down with his rifle. But if you talk to them (hunters) they all scoff at the idea of using spray and think I’m quite bonkers for hiking solo without a gun. Fact of the matter is, more people are killed by cows each year than by bears. You know what I’m talking about.
I noticed in some of your photos you seem to be wearing ‘skeeter netting leggings. How did those work out? Was the skirt, netting combo better than long pants? I’m curious because I’ve been toying around with the idea of a kilt…but then all the bugs, yikes! Also, I’d like to hear something of your food choices: commercial freeze-dried, DIY dehydrated, coffee vs tea, etc.Dec 3, 2016 at 8:59 am #3438447AnonymousInactive
“If that’s your approach please stay out of bear habitat.”
Spoken with the benefit of expertise acquired from living in Chicago? What is your approach when hiking in Grizzly habitat and how is it superior to bangers, which are one of the methods of choice up there for dealing with Grizzlies?Dec 3, 2016 at 11:46 am #3438474Adam KlagsBPL Member
@klagsLocale: Northeast USA
Wow Emylene, this sounds like an amazing trip. You did a fantastic write up and the photos are gorgeous. I am impressed with you attitude, abilities and successful completion of you plan. Cheers to Craig for being a trooper about his knee, I know how hard that can be! Looking forward to your next report.
Benjamin Stewart – you must not know anything about bears. Bear bangers are an extremely effective and very light method of repelling bears. Don’t be a jerk… its better than carrying a gun, IMHO. Beyond which, sometimes yelling at a bear and moving away slowly doesn’t do the trick. Better safe than sorry. I wish bear bangers were sold legally here in the states.Dec 3, 2016 at 1:06 pm #3438484Greg ConnollyBPL Member
Good to see the Discussion of Bears here.
“Bear attacks happen as fast as lightning!!! Most situations where you will need to use bear pepper spray will be in a close surprise encounter. When people are injured by bears in most cases it is due to the fact that the person and the bear were unaware of each others close proximity. In a surprise encounter as this, a person usually has less than 2 seconds to react. UDAP Pepper Power’s® belief is to get as much bear pepper spray as possible between you and the bear in that 2 seconds.”
Complex subject for sure. Knowledge and preparation are your best defense. But Studies have shown Spray is superior for defense than firearms, period. And even Spray has its limits. An experienced guy in the Madison Range last Sept was charged from a relatively long distance while hunting/scouting and he had a sow literally run through the Spray and attack him and multiple times.
i personally know professional hunting guides who operate in NW and NE BC leading Grizzly hunts for bow. They generally all carry and use two canisters. Have abandoned even big handguns for defense over the last five or so years. Having spent four or more weeks a year in that area over the last twenty five years, the SOP has changed. Rarely do I see anyone carrying a firearm. And Bangers? You bet…….crazy you cannot get them in the US.
Never allow your self to underestimate these great creatures.
GregDec 3, 2016 at 2:20 pm #3438502AK GranolaBPL Member
I’m still trying to understand how these bangers are supposed to be used. Do you set one off when a bear charges? When you are actually under attack? Or just randomly whenever you happen to see a bear? that seems counterproductive to me, since part of hiking is seeing the wildlife, not frightening it all away. Or do you only use them when you happen to be very close to them? I hike in bear country but I do not understand how these should be used, since I had never heard of them.Dec 13, 2016 at 10:14 pm #3440360Benjamin StewartBPL Member
Adam and Tom, I’ve spent months backpacking among grizzlies and longer than that among black bears. I don’t surprise grizzlies, I pack food in an Ursack, and I carry spray when solo in bear country.
Sure, there are risks and fears. But we need to put that into perspective. In North America about 3 people get killed by bears every year. Ninety get killed by lightning. About 50,000 by automobiles. Air pollution kills way more than that. Our wild soundscapes are worth a lot more than a dubious solution to a relatively tiny risk. Can anyone seriously imagine the backcountry if everybody was setting these damn things off?
In the end, there’ll always be wild in wilderness with all its risk and beauty, gratias Deo.
People setting off explosions because they see a bear should take a break from the backcountry, spend some time learning about bear behavior and low impact wilderness philosophies, and see a counselor about their fears if necessary. Come back and enjoy the sounds of the wilderness rather than creating a war zone.Dec 15, 2016 at 7:06 am #3440506Greg ConnollyBPL Member
@bretondogLocale: Rocky Mountains
Just a few things…..Bangers if used properly do not create a war zone.
Bears will always lose to humans over time. Enough people around and Bears will eventually be extricated.
Using a banger to warn a bear is a safe and sane way to give them a chance to move along and get out of the zone of trouble. Depending on wind and conditions and their alertness wise use of such devices is an adjunct to living with us and them.
Similarly certain dogs like a Karelian with experience and training are a real benefit to you and the bear. Until you have been around a Karelian or even some Elkhounds in serious bear country where they literally live around you, interact in the evening and dawn, I would say your bear experience is a little ….could be better.
GregDec 21, 2016 at 9:06 pm #3441439
Haha, I see the conversation has been going on without me while I was being a beach bum in New Zealand.
I will try to address as many questions as possible. Likely in a couple parts….
I’ll start with the main question: bears.
Grizzly bears can run an incredible 35Mph which means if they are within 300 feet and charge you are an easy meal ticket. Contrary to popular belief they can climb trees and run down hill. The greatest risk to hikers is when they get close to a grizzly and startle it.
The main factor in startling a Griz? Being too quiet. In almost all cases of bear attack, the victim startled the bear and the bear acted aggressively in response to human error of the human trying to run away proving they were prey and food for a bear. A mother protecting young is another scenario but again likely precipitated because the sow didn’t hear she had company and reacted aggressively.
On two of my bear meetings the bears were displaying assertive to aggressive behaviour which was not far off of what could have become a mauling. I’ll explain:
First was with the yearling grizzly I met on day two. He initially ran off, then turned around and began coming toward me. Of all the bears on the trip, this was the most likely to kill me.
Why? Bears are tactile learners. He was deciding if I was a threat, food or a plaything. He would very quickly decide I was food if he got close enough to realize how easy to kill humans are.
I may have been that bear’s first human contact and instead of avoiding me, he began pursuing me. This is even worse if I am not this bear’s first contact. If I was not his first contact, he is no longer seeing humans as a threat and is exploring the possibility that we are food.
No pun intended but that’s ‘bad news bears’ for me and the bear. If the bear and I get into an altercation, I am likely to be seriously injured and the bear is likely to be destroyed for his trouble. Make no mistake, I sized the bear up and saw curious but verging on predatory behaviour from him. I’m experienced in animal behaviour studies and have no doubt that’s what situation I was in.
Backing off and talking to the bear did nothing to slow his strides toward me.
In this situation, bear spray was useless and detrimental. The bear was too far for the spray to be effective but was rapidly closing what was a safe buffer zone for us both.
For those of you who have never used spray (By used, I mean have deployed it and dealt with the consequences thereafter) I’ll explain some logistics.
Bear spray is an airborne lung and skin irritant in an aresol can with a wide discharge nozzle. If you discharge bear spray, you and the bear and anyone or anything around you is getting coated in it too. Once discharged, bear spray actually attracts bears. It tastes good to them and is suspended in high fat oil.
Discharging the spray in the middle of a busy hiker thoroughfare and having to bolt down the trail contaminated with it myself and spending three more days, in grizzly country, in spray tainted clothing and equipment is possibly my own personal worst nightmare. Not only could I be attracting bears towards other hikers, I have made myself walking bear bait that has breathing difficulties from my own exposure.
Now let’s talk about bangers. A bear banger is a modification of a marine signal flare, basically a long range fire cracker. In this situation, I could safely fire off a bear banger and not only increase my safety, but the safety of other trail users.
The yearling bear who was curious about my potential as a meal ticket suddenly had very good reason to avoid my kind: we’re loud and we might bite harder than he can. After such a direct confrontation, the yearling bear is likely to avoid that trail area and any humans he hears for the rest of his life. Bears are very trainable and humans train them all the time. Usually humans habituate bears by leaving food, food scraps and even bear spray residue out for them. In this case, a bear banger very well may have saved a human and a bears life by teaching him to avoid humans.
The second bear I met on day two was the other bear I was extremely concerned about. As much as she startled me, she wasn’t startled. She had been watching us for a short time while we were eating our lunch. Ultimately she decided I was too much effort but she was very intentionally following her nose to my food. In this situation she was within 30 feet and I was under an avalanche shelf and it was not safe to discharge a bear banger. If she had come closer one of us would have deployed spray. Not ideal for the reasons I’ve outlined, but it was the best option of the two deterrents.
From there on, the bears were generally easily deterred, noise is the best deterrent. In the places there were bangers fired off and no bear, there was fresh predatory bear sign. What that means is shredded trees, uprooted trees, fresh dug holes and bear scat which contains animal parts and no berries. All of the combined bear sign told me: ‘the bear that lingers in this area is carnivorous and bloody dangerous.’ That instinct comes with experience and knowledge of bears. The baddest bear in the woods is likely to be startled because he doesn’t have to watch his back. Let him know I’m here before we find each other the hard way.
A banger is a good way of telling the bear I’m there and getting him to pay more attention than usual for several hours. The bangers were all fired off at least 10 kilometres apart and sometimes much further and often in completely separate mountain passes, so I’m not too concerned about the bears getting used to them. None of the hikers we met had even heard our banger just off the main trail. They are loud but have limited range. I’ve never used that many before, but I’ve also never had that many close encounters in one trip either.Dec 21, 2016 at 9:37 pm #3441443
And on to a few specific questions:
Karen, there have been many bear incidents in this area. I call them bear incidents because the bear is doing what is natural in its habitat. Humans are just are just visitors and some of them fail to take proper precautions and act according to the ‘law of the jungle” as it were, which ends badly.
I think I’ve outlined my process for deciding to use or not use a bear banger. As far as the how, it’s fired off just like a marine flare, Straight up in the air. This makes a visual and sound barrier around you which is uncomfortable for bears. The banger is never fired towards the bear as it may explode behind him and drive him towards you. Feel free to post or inbox me if that is poorly clarified.
I think my joyful door slam had a great deal to do with 15 hours of hiking that day, I’m actually planning to go back to the area, hopefully with a telephoto lens to get some Griz pictures. I may be insane but I rather liked it there, though I can’t say as I’ll ever hike through Marvel Pass again, I’ll probably go for a more conventional route with less miles and less unknowns so I can play with my camera.
Monty! Great question about the skeeter leggings! Best part is I have two articles coming out on backpacking in kilts and skirts! Coming soon!
I dry most of my own foods and use some grocery store options. I actually have a MYOG article all about it in the archives. If you have more questions than I answer there, feel free to fire me a message.
Greg: good tip on the filter, it’s on my list but good ones are killer pricy. Maybe when I get my cheque for these articles ;-) If you know of a particularly good one I’d love to hear your thoughts. Fire me a message to my inbox if you think of something.Dec 21, 2016 at 10:03 pm #3441449Greg ConnollyBPL Member
@bretondogLocale: Rocky Mountains
Summer in NZ? Tough life, Ms.!
Anyway, goodness what a fine Post here. A real service and should be required reading for anyone venturing into Bear habitat. Lotsa experience, wisdom and animal behavior knowledge. Good on ya, girl!
Hopefully many will read and slowly re read your info. So many, as in numerous well made Points.
Polarizer? Will look at the brand I have on my EM 1 and email you. I usually try to go for the mid priced ones.
Yeah,, the compensation should be high for your Article! Ha.Dec 22, 2016 at 11:10 am #3441510BC BobBPL Member
@bcbobLocale: Vancouver Island
Fortunately, there are no grizzlies here on Vancouver Island. But lots of black bears and cougars. I’ve considered a bear banger, but have opted (for now) for one of the small air horns (76g) similar to this one.
It’s painfully loud (though not as loud as a bear banger). My theory is that the sound eminates from me (or at least my location) and it’s very quick to engage (it hangs in front on my shoulder strap). And a fresh one should produce at least a dozen short toots. (I haven’t actually used it yet in a bear encounter.)
PS. You’re a very good writer. I’m expecting a book soon. :-)Mar 30, 2019 at 11:38 pm #3586307
So this is months … years late Bob.
I do like the air horns. The only issues I have had with them is failing in the cold overnight temperatures, bulk and weight. Cold overnight temperatures would have been an issue on this trip for sure. On Vancouver Island, I would for sure recommend an air horn for the reason that water can damage a banger and cause it to misfire. Even here, I keep them in ziplock bags and take them out of my pack and inspect between trips.
I have to say my favorite solution though, has been the mini-speaker and tunes running. iPods / Bluetooth speakers etc. are getting to have great battery lives and they warn the bears well before I get there.
As much as I like seeing wildlife, I don’t want to be close to 90% of what is in the Canadian Rockies. Moose, Elk, Caribou, Bison, Wolves, Wild Horses, Cougars and Bears are lovely to look at but they can all be deadly dangerous up close. If I recall my stats correctly, Caibou, Elk and Moose actually kill and injure more people than bears every year. Which is why I carry a massive camera for an ultralighter. I want to get a look up close, without being up close.
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