Bears, big evil hairy monsters! At least, that’s what a lot of people think when we mention the Appalachian Trail. I think some imagine us encountering a slew of drooling, teeth bearing killing machines while we peacefully hike along. Mom, I’m totally kidding 😉
But really, I am. Bears aren’t all that scary. I mean it. The only type of bear we will encounter along the trail are black bears. And the good news is that black bears are less aggressive and much smaller than grizzly bears. In fact, the most trouble people have on the trail is the bears interest in their food (darn omnivores). Eric and I have looked into how you avoid this type of intrusive bear behavior. A common way to deter bears from your food is a ‘bear bag’. You throw any food you have into a protective bag which is attached to a thin rope. Then you essentially throw the rope over a branch and anchor the other end so that the bag is hoisted above the ground and well out the way of the bears grasp. Interestingly, the branch should be no bigger than your forearm. This is because the bear will climb the tree and mosey on over to your bag if the branch looks strong enough.
As far as bear interactions, I’ve read some pretty hilarious blog posts. For example, one gentlemen witnessed a black bear run away from a woman who was about 120 pounds soaking wet. In general, they leave you alone and with a touch of common sense, they really leave you alone.
Of course, we don’t want to wander around the woods for 6 months without knowing what to do in that rare case a bear gets curious. The following excerpt is from The National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/grsm/naturescience/black-bears.htm.
What do I do if I See a Bear?
If you see a bear remain watchful. Do not approach it. If your presence causes the bear to change its behavior (stops feeding, changes its travel direction, watches you, etc.) you’re too close. Being too close may promote aggressive behavior from the bear such as running toward you, making loud noises, or swatting the ground. The bear is demanding more space. Don’t run, but slowly back away, watching the bear. Try to increase the distance between you and the bear. The bear will probably do the same.
If a bear persistently follows or approaches you, without vocalizing, or paw swatting, try changing your direction. If the bear continues to follow you, stand your ground. If the bear gets closer, talk loudly or shout at it. Act aggressively and try to intimidate the bear. Act together as a group if you have companions. Make yourselves look as large as possible (for example, move to higher ground). Throw non-food objects such as rocks at the bear. Use a deterrent such as a stout stick. Don’t run and don’t turn away from the bear. Don’t leave food for the bear; this encourages further problems.
Most injuries from black bear attacks are minor and result from a bear attempting to get at people’s food. If the bear’s behavior indicates that it is after your food and you’re physically attacked, separate yourself from the food and slowly back away.
If the bear shows no interest in your food and you’re physically attacked, fight back aggressively with any available object–the bear may consider you as prey! Help protect others, report all bear incidents to a park ranger immediately. Above all, keep your distance from bears!