June 23, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!

So did anyone else who enjoys camping and hiking see this article and feel totally creeped out?

It's a news item from a few days ago, in which a black bear (not a Grizzly) slit open a tent in a campground and dragged off an eleven year old boy.

The story does not have a happy ending.

Yes, Crabby knows: it's very rare, it's not the bear's fault, expanding human habitation, blah, blah blah.

Still--the kid was minding his own business in a tent and got dragged away, like something out of a spooky old German fairy tale or your worst nightmare.

Hiking in remote and beautiful national parks is one of Crabby's favorite recreational activities. It's healthy and fun and Crabby loves it--or she always used to. But with more and more stories of bear and mountain lion attacks (sorry, no actual tigers in this post), she finds herself enjoying these hikes less than she used to.

When she's in Serious Bear Country she and Most Significant Other still venture out. (They love the Canadian Rockies, for example, but--loads o' bears there.) But if you're not traveling in a large group, you're supposed to make a fair amount of noise so you don't startle any of them and rile them up.

Have any of you ever done a hike like this? Do you not feel ridiculous? We shake cans of rocks or clap; we talk extra loud or sing silly go-away-bear songs. We then cringe when stray hikers surprise us coming from the opposite direction as we are bellowing out nonsensical lyrics. The experience is not all that relaxing.

Crabby knows actual bear attacks are rare, but she and MSO had a scary bear encounter a year or two ago. It was a black bear too, but one that had grown unafraid of people. It was waiting for us on the trail; it had heard us coming, as we'd been making all the requisite noise, but it did not flee as it was supposed to. It advanced. Banging sticks together and trying to look large, we demanded, in stern tones of voice: "Go Away Bear!"

The bear did not go away as requested.

It was a really big bear too. Crabby had never seen a huge bear up that close, at least not a live one outside of a cage.

The bear seemed intrigued by the noise, but not the least bit frightened. After a bit it stopped advancing, but it still did not leave, either.

Okay, so eventually it did. But not for a really long time. (Well, maybe three minutes, but it felt like a very long three minutes).

So Crabby will still go hiking, sometimes, but she and MSO find themselves, more often than they used to, sticking to crowded trails with plenty of other hikers. Sometimes, when choosing between a potentially spectacular nature hike in an area where mountain lions have been recently sighted, or a nice paved path around a lake where they have not, Crabby and MSO will opt for the wimpier route.

Crabby knows she really should somehow end this post with a cheerful "don't let your silly fears stop you, go out there and explore the wilderness! After all, you're much more likely to get hit by lightning than eaten by a bear or a lion!"

But this is Cranky Fitness. And Crabby is plenty scared of lightning too.

So, dear readers, any thoughts about hiking, bears, freak accidents, fears, the necessity (or not) of braving said fears? All comments welcome, relevant or not!


  1. I actually have no comment on the bears -- just haven't been the first comment here in like forever. Yea me!

  2. Hey Crabby, remember this post? SAME MOUNTAINS.


    We just heard on the news the other night that they tested the bear for diseases (hopefully) and found none.

    It's a wonder I can sleep at night.

  3. I haven't ever come across a bear, thank goodness, but in 1990 I went on a week-long yoga retreat in the mountains and one morning there were bear tracks around our tents. The bears didn't bother us, though.

    One should assume nothing about the wilderness, though, and especially in regard to its residents.

  4. Bears scare me too. I do think that with urban sprawl they are getting scarier and scarier.

  5. Wow! What an adventure filled life you lead little Crab. One of the great blessings of New Zealand is that we don't have any real outdoor dangers - except our changeable weather. No snakes, no "wanna eat you for breakfast" type animals, only one species of poisinous spider which not many people have ever seen.

    Many of our wildneress areas are very remote and there are dangers with weather changing and people falling. Usually one or two die in our mountains each year. But no body gets taken out for dinner by a bear!

  6. That sounds really scary. Almost all my hiking has been in areas where the bears were wiped out by fiercer predators. And by fierce predators, I mean people with guns. The closest I've come to a bear face-to-face was camping in Yosemite as a kid and a bear got into our food box - KoolAid and honey, it must have been a feast.

  7. Hi Jennifer,
    Way to get in first! Yay you!

    Oh man. I'd be scared too. And what a pretty hike to have spoiled by bear worries.

    (You're probably safe at home at night, though--if a bear rings the doorbell, please don't let it in!)

    Hi bunnygirl!
    Good point about the wilderness. But if anyone could take on a bad bear, I'd put my money on you.

    Welcome Penguin!
    Crabs admire Penguins, especially Penguins who blog and refer to themselves at times in the third person. Crabby senses a kindred spirit.

    Yeah those bears are getting closer and closer to home. (And for you, there's the whole polar bear issue I imagine). And I know it's the fault of humans, not bears--but I still don't want to deal with them up close and personal if I don't have to.

    Hi Dawn!
    Well poisonous spiders and bad weather sound scary too! And I wish I could claim to be more adventurous. We're not the rugged backpacker, tent type campers--we're the Campervan kind who sleep inside the van where its safe. (And I've never been along on a pig hunt, which sounds quite adventurous).

    Hi Peggy!
    Actually, guys with guns scare me almost as much as bears.

    We've mostly seen bears from inside the safety of our van, where it's like oh look, a bear, isn't that cool? But outside it's a whole different story. Glad nothing bad happened with the whole Kool Aid raid!

  8. Ah, one of my favorite subjects. I often entertain audiences with stories of bear encounters in Alaska. At last count three. My favorite story is too long to tell, but the essence is one is that I stepped on an 800 pound or so (I did not have scales and he did not seem in the mood for a weigh-in) in a "day bed," where they go off to nap after a big old lunch of fresh salmon. He was sleeping in some very high grass, I was looking for bears beyond him and down went my foot and up went the bear and down went my body. He gave me a good sniffing (no stench in the world than that of a salmon eating bear. And did I mention the scratch of his chin hairs on my cheek? Whoo!). Well, anyway, he was just a kid and decided I as neither a threat nor good to eat and ambled on off into the grass. Think of my heart as a fast pounding tympany drum.

    Bears are not your buddies and every one you see in the wilderness is armed and dangerous. That is why we have tree huggers and not bear huggers. While most people fear the grizzly, the western black bear can be a much bigger threat. They will attack you, they will take you off and they will eat you. So much for that top of the food chain business.

    I still fish. I still see bears. But I never, ever assume what one is going to do. And no matter one's experience with them, that is the best advice.

    Interestingly, the bears in the deep wilderness(as opposed to close proximity to towns, campgrounds, etc.) are the least like to be a problem...unless the human visitor does a poor job of storing food.

  9. Welcome David,
    And oh my goodness is that a good bear story! My only encounters with "day beds" involve reclining on them, and they are the safe indoor variety with only excess cat hair to worry about.

    You stepped on a bear! It loomed and sniffed you and rubbed your face with his whiskers menacingly! EEEAAAHHH! That would be enough to keep me indoors for a good long while. Yet you still venture outside in the wilderness to fish, good for you!

    Thanks so much for scaring the crap out of me, er, sharing! (And for not making fun of my wimpy encounter, which you could have easily done.) Hope any future bear encounters you have are from a good distance away.

  10. It's a whole different world when one is not at the top of the food chain!

    I was in South Africa near the Kruger National Park and wanted to do a 10K run. They dropped me off 10K from the campsite with serious instructions as to, "Never move if you see a lion or other large animal, just FREEZE!" I guess 'we' didn't need to worry about if THEY saw me first? Let's just say I ran the fastest 10K of my life!

  11. (Signed)
    Dr.J :-)

  12. When I was a kid, we went camping in nothern Michigan every year. We usually ended up one night at the dump where we watched the bears coming in for food. There would always be a few fools out of their cars taking pictures and enticing the bears with food. When I saw the John Candy movie (I think it was called the Great Outdoors) it brought back those memories.

  13. Dr. J:
    So they told you a lion might eat you and you went on a ten 10K run anyway?

    I don't know whether to admire you or wonder whether you should be on medication! (Maybe both!) You are certainly made of braver stuff than the crab.

    Hi Halfman!
    So OK, this marks me as a terrible human being, but there's a part of me that is sort of hoping that at least some of these fools got a serious chasing and scaring or even worse at some point?

    (A ranger at a national park told us once that some dumb tourist saw a bear, got out of the car with his kid, and actually put honey on his kids face hoping that he could get a good photo of the bear and the kid together.) Human stupidity apparently knows no bounds.

  14. To paraphrase John Denver:

    Thank God, I'm a city girl!


  15. Bear wrestling probably burns a lot of calories.

  16. Hi Terrie,
    Well, thanks a lot for putting that song in my head! But yeah, I don't know if I'd want to live somewhere i ran into them very often.

    Hi John!
    Good point. Especially if you lose an arm or a leg--think how many fewer pounds you'd weigh!

  17. Just last weekend, my husband and I were in Yellowstone and we did the same ridiculous things to avert bears (clapping loudly, singing nonsensically while panting etc.). And we did give up a more challenging, peak climb because there was practically no one on that trail and bears were prevalent. We did cross a huge snake on the trail though! We ended up seeing a grizzly with 2 cubs later on, from the safety of our car. The news story is really scary and tragic. To think that we were also camping a few days earlier *shudder*

    Totally with you, Crabby. I hate giving up the tough hikes and often spectacular scenery for the sake of safety - but it does make sense!

  18. Hi Rookie, and welcome!
    We seem to be totally on the same page on the bear thing. And glad to hear you got to see some cubs from the car--the best way to enjoy bear sightings.

    (However, I checked your blog and I'm afraid we're not on the same page when it comes to exercise--you're way ahead of ol' Crabby with your 13 mile uphill runs. She's way impressed and wishes she had your stamina.) Thanks for visiting!

  19. The common wisdom (regarding lion attacks anyway) seems to be that in many cases, an underlying factor is the encroachment of humans on lion territory. As our population grows and housing developments spread up the mountainsides, suddenly people are hiking and jogging where furry beasts do roam. Habitat erosion may be another factor. Less game equals hungrier lions driven to take greater risks such as attacking something as big as a human. At least we're not India, where an estimated 80 people a year are killed by tigers -- a number that has increased eightfold since the 1970s. In that country, a simple tiger deterrent is to wear a mask of a human face on the back of the head. It can convince a stalking animal that the intended prey is aware of its presence. Since the whole point of stalking is surprise, being watched can short-circuit the attack impulse. As for bears, surely someone is working on an effective bear repellent that smells to us like, say, roses...

  20. Appleton!
    Thank you so much, not only for all the intriguing information, but for bringing Tigers into the post and making the title more accurate!

    I love the thing about wearing a human mask on back of the head. Wonder if it would work with mountain lions too? I can see a whole new line of trail-hiking gear: mountain lion repelling two-headed hats.


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