The Bear Truth-Adventures While Camping

“There’s a bear right behind you,” smiled Mike.

Naturally I didn’t believe him. Earlier in the day one of our friends had recited a similar line while telling of his personal experience with a bear while camping.
Now I was sitting with my back to the forest, facing the tree lined shore of the Yosemite River. Taking a hint from his wide grin that wouldn’t level out, I turned around and found that a large mother bear had moved onto the end of the long flat boulder we were using as a campsite.

As employees of Yosemite National Park Mike and I went camping often and usually on a whim. We didn’t plan our trip nor did we get permits to camp at the designated sites. Hey, we were (young and stupid) employees of the park who knew better but didn’t care.

On this day we were drinking, etc, with our friends when Kelly told us his experience with bears while camping. “My friend told me to look over my shoulder at the bear behind me and I just laughed,” Kelly said, “And you should have seen the surprise on my face when I found out he wasn’t lying!” We all had a good laugh at this and suddenly Mike turned to me and said, “Let’s go hiking up to the Falls.”

With backpacks filled with food, beer and sleeping bags off we went, laughing at Kelly’s story and joking about what we would do in his shoes.

Once we reached the falls, we chose to camp off the trail and found a large flat rock overlooking the river.
After setting up camp, we started celebrating our arrival which may have impeded our judgment. Actually there may have been no judgment to begin with once all the details are given.

First off, we didn’t store our food in our tent. Instead we bagged it up and threw it in the bushes about 30 feet away. Included in the bag was all of our food and small propane containers for our single burner, portable stove. Not the smartest move but intelligence had eluded us after the second beer and joint.

As we sat and peered into the dust lit forest, we made out the shape of a larger bear and two small ones. We watched as they passed parallel to our camp and in the direction of our “hidden “food. Once I resumed breathing I turned to Mike and whispered, “I hope they don’t get too social.”

We lost sight of them as dust paired with their natural color. Our need to know where they might be was answered by a roar from the food area. Not a loud roar, mind you, which made us think that a cub was the source. Not hearing any movement for a few minutes, we felt that the family had feasted and moved on.

We sat down to relive our experience over a few more beers when Mike described our situation to me.

Turning around I realized that Mike was not joking. On the edge or our rock, mama bear had taken up a position of observation. Calm yet scared, we slowly retread to the opposite edge of our campsite, overlooking the river.

“If she moves any closer we jump,” Mike whispered. It was about a five foot drop to the river shore. Nodding I kept my focus on Mamma feeling like I was in a dream and amazed at what was unfolding.

I then found out this was not a dream and we jumped.

We retreated along the shore a few feet so that we could look up at our campsite and feel somewhat safe. Looking up we could see Mama looking down letting us know who was boss.

Hiding behind a large rock we were able to view mama’s shadow on a large rock via the full moons light. As long as the shadow stayed where it was so did we. Our conversation was half worry and half laughing since we couldn’t believe this was happening in addition to recalling Kelly’s story of earlier in the day.

When the shadow hadn’t moved for some time we decided to sneak a peak. Maybe she was taking a nap or taking care of our camping gear for us.
Slowly, we peered over the edge of the rock and the source of the shadow was still there-right where we had left it. Our backpacks were lying on top of each other and made an effective replica of a bear’s shadow. Combined with our beer and fear, the shadow had looked to us like the real deal. We agreed that was a good thing. What if we came back too soon? Anything to rationalize our actions.

We gathered our sleeping bags and decided the best place to sleep was on an incline somewhere below our camping area since bears had a tough time going downhill with all that weight they carried.

Making our way to a steep incline, Mike wedged himself into a group of roots and I used one to brace my feet. We laughed about our new campsite.

Drifting off to sleep I marveled at all the stars in the sky. More stars then blackness. Waking up with it still dark, I noticed a change in the scenery with new star formations taking the place of the previous group. Maybe this whole experience happened for a reason I thought. Anything to rationalize our actions.

When it was light we made our way to pick-up our gear joking about what we would do if the family was still there. Pretty simple actually-surrender our equipment and figure we needed to get new equipment anyway-Anything to-oh you know the story.
Once back at camp we got an education in what happened beyond our vision and how skillful bears are. Locating our small propane containers, we noticed two teeth marks that had punctured the container. That was the source of the growl we heard. Someone was not a happy camper. Next to our backpacks were the remains of our instant oatmeal packets. They were neatly opened with the tops carefully torn open. Not ripped or shredded. Amazing to see. Part of the education that resulted from our actions. Got to validate things somehow no matter how dumb we were.

We cleaned up the mess we helped create and walked down the path to civilization. We couldn’t wait to tell everyone our story marveling at how funny it was and yet how stupid Mike and I were.

A definite lesson in what not to do when one goes hiking.

We were very lucky to have escaped the wrath of a mama bear and realized that Mother Nature is the boss in her house and an outsider had better follow the rules or be prepared for the consequences.
c-D. Seyfried2006

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