And Then the Bear Had Me by the Head… Scary Bear Stories Part II

I took this photo of an Alaska Black Bear last week at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. When I was leading backpack trips in Alaska in the 80s, a black bear bit through a sleeping bag into a forrest service ranger's leg.

I took this photo of an Alaska Black Bear two weeks ago at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.

At the end of my last blog, I had backpacked 18 miles into Yosemite Valley to resupply the food bears had taken from me.

My intention was to stay in the Valley that night but it was a zoo, absolutely crawling with tourists. So one very tired Curt shouldered his pack and hiked five miles back over the 3000-foot cliffs into Little Yosemite Valley. I nodded off that night listening to backpackers yelling as bears methodically worked their campsites, wondering when my turn would come. It came all too soon.

I woke up to a bear emptying my backpack about five feet away from where I was sleeping. This brings me to another piece of Yosemite bear lore: always leave the pockets of your pack open. If you don’t, the bear will open them for you. It tends to be rather hard on backpacks.

Fortunately, my food was safely hanging from a cable and I had left my pack wide open. I watched with clinical interest as the bear shoved his head into the pack, pulled out an item, dropped it on the ground and then stuck his head back in the pack. By then I had enough and suggested rather loudly that the bear go elsewhere. After one more foray, he did. The only damage I suffered was bear slobber, all over everything. My old Basset Hound, Socrates, the world champion of slobberers, would have been jealous.

The next night I was leaving my camp for an evening walk when I met a bear coming to visit. I bent over and picked up a rock and he took off like a dog. And thus my summer went. By the time I had led two back-to-back hundred-mile trips into Yosemite, I had my fill of bears and they had had their fill of Trekker food. Fortunately, no more of it was mine. I considered myself an expert food hanger and bear chaser.

It was almost my demise.

At the end of the second Trek, my friend Jean, her sister Mary and her husband Tim joined me at Tuolumne Meadows to hike the John Muir Trail. We spent the night at the Tuolumne campground. I had eaten backpacking meals for two weeks so it was time for grilled steaks, a little bourbon and several cans of beer before hitting the trail again.

As the night progressed, I was feeling no pain and had lots of liquid bravery. So it wasn’t surprising when a bear came to visit our neighbors from Iowa, I was prepared to do battle. They had left their cooler out on the picnic table as an open invitation and the bear was leisurely opening it. The Iowans were hiding out in their camper, making nary a peep.

“HEY BEAR,” I yelled as I strode across the road, “GET OUT OF HERE!”

Well, Mr. Bear had found himself a cache of fresh food and wasn’t about to leave. He turned around, stood up on his hind legs, raised his front legs over his head and said “GRRRROWL!” He was one big fellow. Stone cold sobriety was instantaneous.

“OK bear, it’s all yours,” I mumbled as I scurried back across the road to my own camp and safety. “Eat all of the Iowan food you want. Heck, eat the Iowans.”

By this time though, 20 flashlights were shining down on the bear. Campers are packed into Tuolumne Meadows like tenement housing in a barrio and all of the neighbors were wondering if they were next. Thus disturbed, Mr. Bear went grumbling off over the hill, more than a little pissed to have his fine feast disturbed. You could almost make out in his growling, “I’ll be back.”

Of course the Iowans left their cooler out on the table. No way were they budging from their camper. I pictured them driving nonstop back to Des Moines the next day.

Finally things settled down. After another bourbon or two, we crawled into our sleeping bags. Tim and Mary disappeared in the security of their truck and Jean and I crashed on the ground.

Not surprising, there came a time when Jean had to visit the restroom. Beer will do that. Equally unsurprising the bourbon helped me sleep right through her getting up. But I did hear her come back. Except it wasn’t Jean I heard through my alcohol-induced grogginess; it was the bear coming back for revenge.

“GET OUT OF HERE!” I screamed with all of the passion I had used when I had awakened with the bear standing on me. Jean not knowing what to do grabbed me by the head and said, “Curt, it’s all right, it’s only me!” This was undoubtedly the right thing for her to do, except now the bear had me by the head. As you might imagine, my yells increased in volume geometrically.

Picture 20 flashlights shining down on this happy little domestic scene. If Mr. Bear had any thoughts of revisiting our area that night, he gave us wide berth afterwards.

NEXT BLOG: Back to Kodiak and our float plane trip over the island.

19 comments on “And Then the Bear Had Me by the Head… Scary Bear Stories Part II

    • The bears of Yosemite are legendary but bear attacks are rare. The problem started with people feeding the bears. I think the bears then developed a college in the backcountry on how to get the food when people stopped feeding them. The new light way bear barrels that backpackers carry today are helping solve the problem. –Curt

  1. Curt still has bear dreams…grin. I learned very quickly from his story not to wake him by touching his head! I am still working on the best strategy to wake him under these circumstances, however:))

  2. I just love your description of the bears methodically working their campsites. It evokes visions of bear committees sitting around a table, saying, “OK, who’s got the 11 to 7 tonight?” They haven’t unionized, have they?

    I guess the moral of this story might be, “If you can’t fend ’em off with brute strength, just annoy the heck out of them.” It’s not the worst approach in the world.

    • I like bears. I know I am guilty of anthropomorphizing, but they seem so human at times. And they are definitely clever. When the limbs you have hung your food on are too thin for moms to climb, they have been known to send their cubs up to bite through the ropes. –Curt

  3. Pingback: The Bear at the Bus Stop | GALLIVANCE

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