Hello! I have never hiked on the Whitney Trail before, and I have a question regarding food out on the trail. I understand I will be issued a "Bear Bag" for my food. What I'm not sure of is what the requirements are. Does every single edible item have to be carried in the bag while on the trail, or are things such as energy bars that are still sealed OK to be carried in pockets, so that they are handy to grab while hiking. I usually carry a "fanny pack" rotated to the front, so that I can just unzip it, grab something, and eat on the move. I guess another question is how large is the bag? In other words can it just be stuffed into a pants pocket for easy access. I am trying not to have to take my pack off to get to the Bear Bag every time I get the munchies. Thanks in advance for clarifying this for me....
There are few things that people worry about as much as bears. This is understandable, but unfounded. In Ca, we only have the Black Bear, there are no Grizzlies.
Black Bears are animals that are historically prey animals, like deer. Their first instinct is to run, unlike Grizzlies, which is to charge.
They have absolutely no interest in humans, ONLY our food. While we are asleep, the may creep up in an attempt to "grab and run", but they are not going to jump on a hiker to get that power bar in your pocket.
There is no recorded death by a Black Bear in Ca.
Many people fear that bears will sense they are afraid and attack. However, most people who see bears close-up ARE afraid-and are NOT attacked.
There are many misconceptions of Black Bears, and confusion with Grizzlies.
The best source of scientific information is the North American Bear Center:
Loc: Orange County, CA
I'll add two things to the great comments already offered. Your food will be in greatest danger when you are in the parking lot at the portal. 90% of bear snatch and run jobs occur there. Don't put your pack down for a minute without your eyes being on the bag and you being within a few feet. Once you are on the trail, the chances of a bear encounter go down dramatically. Bears are smart. Why go all the way up to where the food is spread out when there are so many juicy backpacks all in one place at the portal.
That does not mean that your food is safe once on the trail, however. Once you get to trail camp in particular, your food is in constant danger from marmots.
These guys will chew through your tent, your pack and jacket pockets--anything. If you leave anything smelly on the ground at trail camp, leave your pockets open. I usually hang my smelly stuff from a rope at trail camp as these critters don't climb ropes.
Your food will be in greatest danger when you are in the parking lot at the portal. 90% of bear snatch and run jobs occur there. Don't put your pack down for a minute without your eyes being on the bag and you being within a few feet.
I think the percentage is even higher. Has ANYONE reported losing anything to a bear while on the Mt Whitney Trail?
Brent forgot to mention that nearly all the bear snatch-and-runs are in the dark, too. The bears lurk in the shadows while day hikers are getting ready to hike early in the morning. Their packs are loaded with food for the hike; they lay their pack on a table and walk back to the car. Bear runs in and grabs and runs.
Bears are easily seen, and run off, during the day. At night, they are practically invisible.
The problem is worse in Whitney Portal than in Yosemite.
I did the research on bear deaths in CA a couple of years ago. There have been three: 1. Grizzly attack in the 1870s 2. Asian Brown bear attack at the San Diego Zoo 3. Captive Movie Grizzly near Big Bear
I didn't know in my heart that Black Bears were really not a threat until I actually encountered one (in West Virginia). I didn't need to do anything to get the bear to retreat other than to walk in its general direction.
the black bear's flee and climb instinct, especially around humans, is the main reason it is still found in California today. The grizzly's more aggressive nature is also the reason it is not found in California today.
Here's the latest news in the back and forth battle to allow Ursack use in NP wilderness. Inyo NF jurisdiction has different regulations, but similar approach. As discussed above, I agree the marmots are much more of a risk to your food on the trail than bears. These sacks are bullet proof and effective for bear paws and bear teeth, but the company admits rodents can chew through them with their smaller sharper teeth. So you risk ruining the expensive sack and losing food to these evil geniuses. Not sure how you could hang one at Trail Camp in a way that would keep marmots off. Outpost Camp has trees so an Ursack could work there - if its allowed. Carrying a 2 or 2-1/2 lb canister for an overnighter is contrary to ultralight philosophy, but the alternatives aren't very good for this location.
February 20, 2012, [From Ursack.com]
Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon (SEKI) responded to our December letter (below). Those Parks have, until further notice, turned over the testing of Ursack to the Interagency Grizzly Bear Committee (IGBC). If the IGBC certifies Ursack as "bear resistant," it will be allowed in Yosemite and SEKI. However, IGBC has no authority to formally approve containers such as Ursack. Such approval will be periodically reviewed.
Ursack has contacted the IGBC, which informed us that the testing protocol for fabric containers is not finalized and therefore IGBC is not yet ready to accept Ursack for testing. Ursack is, of course, eager to get testing underway. We cannot predict when that will happen.
There is some reason for optimism. Part of the IGBC test for hard sided containers has for years involved giving containers to grizzlies at the Wolf and Grizzly Discovery Center in West Yellowstone. Ursack informally provided a S29 AllWhite Hybrid (i.e. with aluminum liner) to the Grizzly Discovery Center in September 2011, and it survived a two hour bout with a grizzly. We assume that, generally smaller, black bears are less able to compromise bear resistant containers.
For now,we hope that the IGBC can promptly come up with a fair test for Ursack, and arrange for testing well before this summer.
Hey Tom, There is an effort to reintroduce Grizzlies to California. It hasn't done well, but I'm not against the conversation. As a note, a Grey Wolf entered California a few weeks back, the first Grey Wolf in California since the last one was killed in our state in 1924. It had been tracked via GPS for a while in Oregon and crossed the border into California.
as a note, I did some research on Black Bears an Grizzlies a couple of years ago, and I think (though I would need to research it again to confirm) there have been more Black Bear attacks in North America than Grizzlies. I'm sure the reason would be human proximity and a higher number of Black Bears. But again, that's just my memory, so if I get a chance, I'll look at it again. The key word there is "attacks", not deaths.
"Turtles, Frogs & other Environmental Sculpture"
Loc: Orange County, CA
Originally Posted By: SierraNevada
Not sure how you could hang one at Trail Camp in a way that would keep marmots off. Outpost Camp has trees so an Ursack could work there - if its allowed.
At trail camp, you have many large boulders with overhanging ledges. I tie a line off of the overhang to a heavy rock up above. This wouldn't stop a squirrel, but you won't find any of them at Trail Camp. The Marmots can't climb down the ropes. Last year, we were in a pretty sheltered spot with lots of tall rocks around us, but none of them overhanging. Here was my solution.
Broadly speaking, black bears in the US are nowhere near as aggressive as browns, and shouldn't cause great concern when encountered - just a healthy respect and a wide berth. There are only a few areas in the country still populated with browns, mostly along the Canadian border and in the Yellowstone area. Canada/Alaska still has a ton of browns, along with some very big and much more aggressive blacks. Bergmann's Rule, which states that similar warm-blooded animals grow larger the further from the equator they're found, could have the bear as it's poster child.
Present day, the only hotspots of real black bear viciousness in the US (away from the Canadian border) are found in the Southwest (AZ, UT, NM, CO) and in the Great Smokies in Tennessee. Several attacks and fatalities have occured in the Smokies over the past 20 years, which is generally blamed on the bears having lost their fear of humans due to the hordes of people that visit the park annually (by far, the most visited national park in the system). I've always wondered why the results of bear/human interaction in the Smokies have been so different than in Sierra clusters (Yosemite, Mammoth, Whitney Portal), where bears and people mingle almost as thickly. Cali bears with a laid-back Cali attitude?
Loc: Corner of Jack Benny and Roche...
All the noobs get wound up of bears. I've been been going into the California wilderness for 16 years, during that time I have seen 5 bears...3 in the wilderness and 2 in town and campground. One in Whitney Portal, another in June Lake dumpster diving, two in Ice House Canyon and one a 1/4 mile above Onion Valley Campground....and I don't think I'm atypical to the low side.
The issue concerning food in the Sierra is the small critters...marmots and chippies. They are the only varmints who have ever taken any of my wonders of modern science.
My ratio is a bit higher - 2 in the space of a year. One (over and over again) at the Portal last July, and another dumpster-diving in a Mammoth condo garage the previous summer. The one in Mammoth was an extremely close encounter. The condo's dumpster room was right next to the elevator and I had no clue the bear was there. When I pressed the call button for the elevator the "ding" startled the bear and he hightailed it out of the dumpster, brushing by me as he scooted out. I didn't even realize it was a bear till he got about a dozen yards away and turned to look at me accusingly. But that type of thing isn't at all unusual in Mammoth.
Agree wholeheartedly on the smaller critters being the biggest threats to your backcountry peace of mind. Marmots and mice have been the biggest culprits for me. My favorite trekking poles no longer have padded wriststraps due to a marmot. During a climb of Cathedral Peak last year I had balanced the poles on the very top of a bush at the base of the mountain before we roped up and started ascending. When we returned a few hours later I found that a damned marmot had somehow gotten the poles off the bush and chewed away the sweaty (salty) padding around the wriststraps. I had left my hiking boots around the same bush after changing into rock shoes, but he left those alone. I guess they were too unappetizing even for a marmot.
As Joe alluded to above, mice wrecked our camp at Consultation Lake during the same week. While we were up on the mountain mice located our ziplok trash bag, invaded it, and chewed everything in it into teeny-tiny bits. When we returned that evening our camp looked like it had snowed every possible color.
When I was camping in Death Valley a few months prior to that with my buddy John (catpappy), he somehow left a package of cookies in his tent while we were away hiking. When we came back he found a neatly-chewed mouse hole in his 'spensive Black Diamond single-wall tent, along with a mess on his tent floor.
Guard against the bears, but keep your sights on the smaller critters - they'll cause the most trouble.
I don't know much about bear/food incidents on the Whitney trail but, overall, incidents are declining -- definitely in Sequoia Kings, less sure about Yosemite. The reason is most everyone's carrying canisters and they work. Definitely a pain to carry but incidents have gone from hundreds per summer in the Charlotte area in the 80s to none reported in the last couple of years (note that's just one area of Kings).
The standard work on bear attacks is Stephen Herrero's "Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance." I can't quite remember, but believe he (or others he interviewed) theorized that black bear attacks occurred when the black bears were more wild. So the danger would seem to be in the period when human activity is spreading into their areas. There might be better theories now because I'm not sure that explains it all.
There have been a handful of bear injuries on people in Yosemite and Sequoia Kings. They've all occurred when food is present and being disputed.Several with people sleeping with their food in a tent or right by their side. In extreme cases when bears become dependent on human food, there have been bears who will follow people down the trail getting them to drop their packs. I've actually seen this happen, but haven't heard of a case since the 90s.
I've actually got an old slide after a guy chased a bear around a tree trying to get his food sack back in Little Yosemite Valley in 1973. You can sorta imagine the Larson cartoon as it unfolded. Kid (18 or so) chases bear. Bear runs then thinks, "hey, wait. I'm a 250 lb. bear. I've got teeth. I've got claws! Grrrrrr!" So he stops, turns around and swipes the guy twice across the chest. Then scurried off into the woods. Fortunately the claws barely broke the skin but left some photogenic red claw marks.
The original poster asked about sealed food and I'm not sure that was addressed. ALL food needs to be secured in a canister -- cans, foil wrapped, whatever. Bears aren't dumb.
That's all partly to say that even though bears seem no longer a problem in many parts of the Sierra, once canister use drops below some magic level, they'll be back... .
None of the views expressed here in any way represent those of the unidentified agency that I work for or, often, reality. It's just me, fired up by coffee and powerful prose.