WV > ME / WV > GA
My True Life Bear Story
On June 10, 2002 -- after 3 days of whining that I hadn't seen a bear in New Jersey, I got up close and personal with a large, juvenile black bear about 10 miles into New York State.
A Suspiciously Blurry Photo
It was about 2:30 in the afternoon, I had crossed 14 rough miles in about 6 1/2 hours of hiking and was down to my last 10 oz. of water when I came to trail leading to a spring and shelter about 0.2 mi. off the AT. So I hiked to the spring and decided to head on and check out the shelter about another 150 yards further on.
It was a newer shelter, built within the last five years, and set up on a hill about 50 feet above the spring. I was admiring this setting when a black head popped out the front of the structure and (what I later estimated to be a 4 - 5 ft. tall juvenile) bear jogged down the steps from the platform sniffing for food.
I was still at the base of the hill looking up. He turned and considered me for a moment and returned to looking for food dropped by previous residents of the shelter. I snapped a quick photo (picture at right) and decided to retreat to the spring to give him some room.
Although the water at the spring was more or less gushing directly from the ground, it was collecting in a standing pool. As such, I decided to treat. So I dropped my pack, sucked down the last of my water and mixed two batches of chlorine dioxide.
I don't know why I looked up, but I did and at that moment the bear was about 30 feet away barreling down the trail right at me. I quickly collected my hiking poles, took an aggressive posture and began yelling at the bear to go away while loudly smacking the poles together.
He didn't even slow down.
When he was perhaps 10 feet away, I determined that he was headed more certainly for my pack than me and was set to start shredding it in about 10 seconds. With the bear now about 4 feet away I grabbed the pack and stepped suddenly aside. He wheeled with me and kept coming.
Somewhere in all of this I had registered my trash bag was in the back mesh of my pack and that this was likely the most imediate food odor. I grabbed it from the pack and, with the bear now almost on me, managed to throw the bag behind him.
He took the bait and instantly turned to go for the trash. As he began tearing into the ziplock, I managed to slip behind him and start back up towards the AT.
I'm not certain how I knew he was still behind me. I may have turned and looked, but I can't remember. I do remember not wanting to break into a full run (although my panic must have been pretty obvious at this point). When I finally made it to the AT I began back the direction I had come figuring I knew the terrain (some high rocks not too far back) and that I was most likely to encounter support heading south.
Almost imediately I noticed a familiar pack by the trailside.
"Piper!" My friend Piper was taking a break somewhere nearby just off the trail.
"Piper!" I called again, "a very aggressive bear is following. Get your pack and get moving."
"What." Piper stepped bemusedly from the trees.
"Your pack. Put on your pack. A very aggressive..." I began again pointing back to the side trail where the bear decided to illustrate my point by suddenly emerging.
Following my same initial approach Piper struck an aggressive pose in the center of the trail and began yelling at the bear while loudly beating his hiking poles together.
The bear did not even blink.
Piper quickly collected his pack and followed in my wake with the bear now less than 20 feet behind.
Coming around the next bend, I almost trampled two hikers (Evergreen and Snap) I had shared campsites with a couple of times in the previous week.
"Dudes!" I repeated my warning about the bear.
They stared blankly for a moment, understanding but not registering my words. Then Piper came around the corner with the bear now all but nipping at his heels. They grew wide eyed and quickly joined the urgent migration south.
Discussing the situation as we fled we drew the general conclusion that the bear was "whacked in the head" but would not likely stand up to four hikers unless he was "really whacked in the head". Coming around another bend to the first high rock, we quickly mounted and formed a perimeter, beating our sticks and began shouting in unison.
The bear at last broke off the chase (my guess is from boredom rather than fear). We gave him five minutes and then began tentatively back up the trail.
My water bottles were still by the spring. I skipped the treatment and guzzled half a quart more or less right from the spring.
Looking back on it, it is pretty clear to me that the bear had been given snacks more than once, most likely by day hikers, and had come to see people as a quick and easy source of snack food. In addition, the bear had clearly come to associate the shelter with sloppy cooking and clean up -- the next morning another hiker saw what we guessed to be the mother (and what he described as the biggest black bear he had ever seen) sitting on a ledge above the shelter avidly awaiting our departure.
This is really unfortunate for the bears, as they are almost certain to be eventually labeled as aggressive and be deported (if not outright destroyed) and a real problem for hikers trying to use the shelter (not to mention the only reliable water source in a twenty mile stretch).