When you enter Yosemite, a ranger gives you a map and some other papers. One of the papers is bright yellow with bold letters: "This is active bear country!" Sometimes you'll see a large grey tube on the side of a road with a sign that says "bear trap." (a picture.) At each campsite they provide bear lockers to store your food. If you happen to leave a cooler lying around outside of a bear locker, the park rangers will confiscate it. (I found that out the hard way on my first trip to Yosemite.) These are the motions you go through when camping at Yosemite, and it's just part of the routine. Even though these bear signs and warnings are all around, it wasn't the first thing on my mind when going for a hike...until now.

The Snow Creek Trail is on the North end of the valley, and is the steepest ascent to the high country. We didn't see anyone else on the trail. (Even hiking the length of the valley to Yosemite Falls once above this initial climb, we only saw two backpackers.) The first part of the trail is switchback after switchback after switchback. About 2/3rds of the way up, with Preston in the lead, he yelled down to Chief and me, "Bear!" We all froze.

I could hear the bear rustling in the bushes, but I couldn't see it. I tried to remember everything I had casually read about what to do when you see a bear. A fuzzy algorithm appeared: if (grizzly) {play dead?} elseif (black bear) {make a lot of noise?} I couldn't remember which went with which. I calmly yelled up anyway, "What kind is it?" Preston yelled down, "It's a brown bear." That didn't help too much. Then I worked out another algorithm: startled bear = bad. I yelled up again, "Does it know we're here?" Chief said, "I think so." I was looking for an escape route, and trying to figure out the best way to go. Should I run uphill? Down the trail? We all stayed frozen. Then I had a good look at the bear as it made its way across Chief's path. I yelled up, "It's coming down Chief!" He stayed still and got an even better look at the bear as it crossed the trail about eight feet away from him. The bear made its way down across the switchbacks and through the bushes.

We regrouped a ways up the trail and tried to remember what we were supposed to do. My adrenaline was flowing, and I wasn't so cool under the pressure. I think Preston, on the other hand, got a close-up picture of the bear. With the flash!

After seeing the size of a bear, and being with one in an uncontrolled environment, I'll read those bear warnings and safety tips with a heightened awareness.
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Note: The California grizzly bear has been extinct for quite a few years.
Thanks, AJoe, that makes figuring out what to do easier. Though it's sad that California's state symbol is no longer with us.

I remember sitting at a picnic table with a group of guys at a Scout camp pretty late at night. Anyway, after making numerous Bear!! jokes, someone yelled Bear!, and there was a relatively enormous black bear staring at us, maybe 8 feet away. We made an awful lot of noise, banging anything we could, yelling..the bear just sorta stared at us, and when it decided we weren't interesting, it ambled off into the woods. At age 14 or whatever it was, it scared the crap out of me. For the next few years while hiking, I was hyper-vigilant when it came to bears.
Hi! You're reading a single post on a weblog by Paul Bausch where I share recommended links, my photos, and occasional thoughts.

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