The Bear

While camped 20 miles north of Muir Pass near the San Joaquin River we were woken up at night by a bear.

This is the bear. It was a pretty big one. To get a sense of scale, that's George's cook pot next to the bear's left foot.

When hiking through bear country, we decided not to tie our food up in the trees because bears in California are too smart for that method. And if they get your food out of the tree, they won't know it is necessarily your food, and will defend it more. Also, there is a chance they could steal your food without you even waking up. Instead, we went with the "sleep next to your food" method. That way, if the bear tries to steal your food, you will most definitely wake up, and the bear will know it is stealing. Also, we were hiking in a group of four people, so a bear fronting on our campsite would have to have very large balls.

Well, on this particular night, George awakens too see a giant shadow (with large balls) looming over him. He crawls away and wakes the rest of us up....

We stood staring at the bear for a long time scared to move. You can see how close we were to it in this un-cropped version of the previous picture:

After I took this picture and the flash went off I was pretty sure the bear was going to flip out and maul me. But eventually we stopped being afraid of the bear and instead became angry at it. The bear thought he owned the place. But we were thru hikers, the trail was our home, our territory. We yelled and swore at the bear. We banged cookpots together (the books said bears are afraid of metal noises) but the bear was not afraid of us at all- this was definitely not its first time approaching hikers. Finally we took up a somewhat more aggressive offense. We threw pine cones and small rocks, but the bear was still was unphased.

Finally some rapid fire rocks persuaded the bear to step back a bit. We advanced and managed to chase it up a nearby cliff:

Previous picture blown up:

With George's foodbag swinging from its mouth, the bear climbed gracefully and was absolutely silent. We couldn't just go back to sleep with the bear sixty feet away watching us from the cliff. It would probably come for more food. Our flashlights were all out of batteries so other than a dark shadow and pair of glowing eyes we could only see the bear for an instant when the camera's flash went off.

The bear started to eat again, mocking us from his perch on the cliff. We started throwing bigger rocks. It wasn't easy to hit the bear when it was standing way up on the cliff, but Noah finally got it between the eyes with a big rock (by big I mean cantaloupe size, we weren't messing around with pebbles anymore). There was a dull thud and at first the bear didn't move. Then he picked up the foodbag, scaled the rest of the cliff and disappeared. It was difficult to have a sense of time when being stared down by a bear, but I'd guess the whole event lasted 20 to 30 minutes. The bear really didn't want to leave.

It was pretty funny the next day when George collected the remains of his food and found his honey jar, one of those plastic bear shaped honey containers, ripped open and licked clean.