Saturday, September 12, 2020

Bear tales: Readers share their stories

In my weekly “Adk News Briefing” newsletter, I asked readers to share stories of backcountry bear encounters. Here are a few that came in via email (and one was kind enough to share some skat photos too):

A DIFFERENT KIND OF EXPOSURE: My wife Brenda and I have been wilderness camping for forty years in the Daks.  We advanced from backpacking to canoe camping to small boat camping over many years. We finally got a pontoon boat so we could take our two dogs and as many “creature comforts” as we wanted. One of our favorite boat-in camping lakes is Lower Saranac.  In 2018 we received a notice from DEC prior to our departure that there was a bear problem. We were used to bears in our back yard in Pennsylvania so we didn’t give it a second thought. We had an aluminum clad lockable box to store our 50 pounds (two other couples were going to join us later) of food.

That night I took the air horn (required by NY law for boaters) into the tent with me.  In the middle of the night the dogs alerted us to activity near the picnic table.  I climbed out of the tent buck naked with my head lamp and air horn. A few blasts from the horn and a bear cub scampered off. As I stood there In my birthday suit I hoped that no one was videoing this for YouTube.

The next morning Brenda said, “Dave, where did you put the food box?” We soon realized that mama bear had been there too. She had chewed on and punctured the corners of the food box. She had then drug the box fifty feet down the path along the lake and lost control of it. It tumbled down the bank and came to rest just short of the water.

Some of distant camping neighbors were less prepared and had to go home because their food was gone.  We stayed and enjoyed the rest of the week.

We bought a more substantial metal box.

— Dave Houck

SOLITARY EXPERIENCE: In the summer of 1998, I decided to hike the entire Northville-Placid trail.  That Saturday, my darling wife Elisa dropped me and my backpack off at the southern trailhead with plans to meet the following Saturday, 133 miles away in Lake Placid, to celebrate the July 4th weekend.  The blackflies, mosquitoes and summer heat soon took their toll.  By Wednesday, I had hiked over 80 miles and was exhausted.  I took off my pack, sat on a rock and, as still as a statue, I stared at my hiking boots wondering how I would ever finish the remaining 50 miles.  Within minutes, a baby black bear ambled to within five yards of me, looking like an adorable teddy bear that had come to life.  When the cub realized that he wasn’t alone, he attempted to hide behind a solitary milkweed.  He kept peering over the dusty pink blossoms to look at me, apparently believing that he was concealed.  He eventually became bored and trotted off, presumably to join his mother who would have been much less cute had we met.  I enthusiastically hiked the remainder of the trail, hoping for another wildlife encounter.  The only animals I met during the rest of the trip were more black flies and mosquitoes, but those brief minutes with the cub made it my most memorable hiking trip.

— Marty Plante

CALLING CARD: My husband, son, and I were hiking on a short 2 mile trail in Cranberry Lake this past Labor Day.  We saw multiple spots of bear scat, but none fresh.  Where there is bear poop there probably is a bear!  Sure enough a mile in we heard this crashing, limb breaking noise from up high.  Two bear cubs came flying down the tree one by one and scurried off into the deep woods.  No mama in sight, we hightailed it right out of there!  My heart was racing and my legs were hurting!  :O)

— Kimberly Smith (photo provided)

TESTING THE BEAR BAG: My favorite bear story occurred while on a hiking trip with a camp I had attended for years in the Adirondacks.  It was 1978, I was an assistant on a mountain trip with 8 boys and an experienced trip leader.  We were off for a 4 day trip into the high peaks and our first stop was Marcy Dam.  We were warned by the ranger that a bear had been visiting all of the campsites almost every night that week and we should be careful to hang our food far out of reach.  The trip leader and I were quite pleased with the bear bag we hung 15 feet high and 20 feet between two trees using ropes specifically brought along for that purpose.  Sure enough, around 8PM, a mother bear meandered into our campsite.  We all carefully backed away from her not knowing what would unfold but we sure did not want to lose four days of food.  The bear went over to one tree, looked up at the bag and then went over to the other tree and looked up. Then, just like a squirrel, she climbed the 15 feet to the level of our rope in less than 5 seconds.  I remember being impressed with her strength and agility.  Now we started to sweat and worry that perhaps this was an experienced bear and might she cut our rope down.  Instead, she climbed another two feet higher to a branch, about two inches in diameter and 6 feet long, jutting out at a 45 degree angle toward our bag.  While grabbing on to the tree with all 4 paws and her back side facing the bag, she sat on that small branch, bent down with her head and chewed on it partially crushing and cracking but not breaking it.  Then, as if she had gone to bear bagging dance school, she bounced her buttocks up and down on that branch until it slowly bent down toward our bag.  We all stared in disbelieve at the ingenuity.  However, despite her best efforts, it became obvious that the branch was too short and would not make it close enough to the food bag.  Then, just as fast as she climbed up, she climbed down the tree and ran off to the next campsite. For the next two hours, all we heard was the chorus of pots and pans banging as she made a clockwise rotation around Marcy Dam and likely scored better than with our site.
— Jim Freeman

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.


One Response

  1. drdirt says:

    One of our favorite paddles is up the Miami river out of Lewey Lake, including climbing over many beaver dams and rounding all the ampersands. Last year we rounded a bend and came upon a black bear eating fruit from a 10 foot tree on the shoreline. As my wife fumbled for her camera, the bear snarled in annoyance at us and climbed down and into the bushes. For a minute or two, the bear would shake the bushes and peer out at us, so we left her in peace and paddled away. On the return down the river, I put the string of fish inside my kayak when we approached where the bear was so she wouldn’t be tempted to steal my dinner. Alas, she was gone, but that memory tops most of our bear encounters.