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SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

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SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby pschlais » Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:51 am

Hi all,

I am planning on doing a day hike up the Alta Peak Trail in SEKI in a few weekends. I have done some hiking in black bear territory (Cascades), but never in the Sierras since I just moved into the area. I have done a lot of searching on this forum and the internet about the frequency of bear sightings in the Sierras, but I haven't found a very good answer. So my question is, if a solo hiker is alert and actively taking precautions to avoid an encounter, how often will the hiker spot or run into a bear on the trail? Or, for those who have done extensive hiking in SEKI and the Sierras, how often do you usually see a bear? I don't know if the time of day makes a huge difference, but I am planning on hiking from roughly 7 AM to mid afternoon.

I have a hunch that sightings/encounters are not too frequent, but I am preparing as if I will run into a bear regardless, just to be safe. However, I would like to be an informed hiker and know how likely that actually is.

Also, I have been reading a lot about the problem bears in the Sierra NP's. Does that sort of behavior bleed past the campsites and parking lots into the backcountry as well, or are the bears you would run into on the trail more apprehensive and skittish around humans?

Thanks,
Paul
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby mrchad9 » Thu Jul 11, 2013 6:58 am

Paul... I've seen 11 bears in the Sierra so far this year, 9 of them in SEKI. Still... There have been periods where I have gone 2 years without seeing one, so you have no way of knowing. Most anything you get here is anecdotal and not very indicative of your actual chances of seeing one.

That said, you should be lucky to see one. They aren't out to hurt you. If you spot one, stand your ground, yet don't try to pet it, and you'll be fine. They won't be aggressive. The problems arise with food left in vehicles or available in camps either in the campgrounds or backcountry. Store your food outside your car and go on a dayhike and there is nothing to be concerned about.

Really... you have nothing to worry about.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby pschlais » Thu Jul 11, 2013 7:20 am

Thanks for the reply. I thought it shouldn't be a problem but wanted to make sure I wasn't making bad assumptions. Ignorance about what you'll encounter can get you in deep trouble in a hurry.

I also wanted to ask the question simply out of curiosity, since I am originally from the Midwest and these types of landscapes just don't exist there. It gives me a better sense of what I can expect to see as I continue hiking/backpacking for years to come.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby sharperblue » Thu Jul 11, 2013 4:45 pm

You really should rest at ease concerning bears in California; aside from not following proper food storage protocol, you'll have no problems with the black bears here; just yell at 'em and shoo them away if you have a direct encounter in your camp or on the trail; they're quite timid (usual caveats: don't mess with cubs etc etc) - be more careful of rattlesnakes in SEKI
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby Sierra Ledge Rat » Thu Jul 11, 2013 11:24 pm

Once I spent 13 weeks hiking throughout SEKI and did not see any bears.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby coldfoot » Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:02 am

Typically, they'll only be interested in your backcountry permit and bear canister, and for a day hike you won't need either, so don't worry about them.

Oh, you said bears. It's not a big deal unless you hang out by a lot of unprotected garbage cans or attractive nuisances. Black bears are predators of garbage cans, but not of humans, and understand this. Of course you wouldn't want to do anything dumb like mess with a cub or try to take food away from a bear once he has it, but just by asking the question you're ahead of 98% of everybody, and even they don't usually have bad encounters.

Now car-eating marmots, those are dangerous, but they may only be a problem in Mineral King.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby ROL » Fri Jul 12, 2013 1:18 am

coldfoot wrote:Now car-eating marmots, those are dangerous, but they may only be a problem in Mineral King.


Also, the trekking pole, handle eating, subspecies in Miter Basin:
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby sierraman » Fri Jul 12, 2013 2:16 am

Your probability of encountering a bear is a function of altitude. As you ascend from 5,000 feet your chances of running into a bear decrease exponentially every 1,000 feet of elevation gain. In 40 years I've seen lots of bears (however only 1 outside a national park) but I've never encountered a bear above 8,000 feet. I know bears go above 8,000 feet from droppings and other signs, but they must not linger at those altitudes or the sightings would be more numerous. BTW, every bear I've ever encountered has run off like a scalded pole cat once it became aware of my presence.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby thegib » Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:36 am

I agree with the elevation thing on a general basis. There's simply less food above 11000'. But it's no absolute rule. Bear and I crossed paths at Bishop Pass (12000'). What's your highest encounter?
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby mrchad9 » Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:55 am

Mine is 9600 feet en route to Taboose Pass about 4-6 years ago.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby sierraman » Fri Jul 12, 2013 4:09 pm

Curiously, the highest elevation I ever sighted a bear was also on the Taboose Pass trail, at about 8,000 feet. That was also the only time I've ever seen a bear in National Forest land where hunting is allowed.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby RickF » Fri Jul 12, 2013 4:54 pm

I found skeletal remains of a large bear on the east side approach to Sheppard's Pass, above the Pothole, I'd guess about 11,000'.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby ROL » Fri Jul 12, 2013 5:06 pm

The last backcountry bear I saw was a huge cinamon colored black swimming across one of the upper Dusy Basin Lakes, in 2003. I reported it to a ranger when he stopped me on the trail out - to check my bear cannister :cry: .

An old Sierra Club mentor once told me many years ago that he would not eat the ripe currants because there wasn't enough food for the bears in the Sierra.
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby SJD » Sat Jul 13, 2013 12:14 am

There are plenty of bears around the Wolverton and Lodgepole trail head areas on the west side; mostly hanging around the people infested areas looking for food. I went up Alta in March and was surprised to see a bear about two miles up the trail so early in the season.

Lodgepole trash sniffer -
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Re: SEKI Bear Sighting/Encounter Frequency

Postby boyblue » Sat Jul 13, 2013 2:27 am

I went from 1977 to 1988 without seeing a single bear, then started seeing several almost every year.

My wife thought this one was soooo cute. It was the first time she'd ever seen a bear in the wild. She told me that she wished she could scratch it behind its ears and rub it's 'wittle' tummy.
019.jpg
Bubbs Creek Bear
019.jpg (925.49 KiB) Viewed 1011 times


Fast forward about 4 years. Tuolumne Meadows campground. 10pm. We were sitting across from each other at the picnic table sipping beer and slapping mosquitoes. Directly behind her easily within arms reach, was the bear box. We left it ajar to make it more convenient to grab snacks, drinks, etc. We felt safe with this arrangement since, as I said, it was easily within arms reach. After all, just how brazen are these bears, anyway? Well, pretty brazen it turned out.

I saw some movement at the periphery of our lantern, and before I could say, "Whoa!", there was a large bear right behind my smiling wife- its paw rummaging inside the bear box. I calmly told my wife to come around to my side of the table. She looked at me, saw my concern and began to slide down the bench. Meanwhile the bear found something (hamburger buns, it turned out) and ran off into the dark. I rushed around the table and slammed the door of the bear box shut and stood there somewhat shaken. Less than a minute later, the bear was back for more. We had a couple of aluminum pots and lids on top of the box drying out from being washed. I grabbed a lid and threw one to my wife and we began banging away making a racket trying the scare it off, but it wasn't budging. I stood my ground next to the bear box slamming away with the pot lid and really started to become concerned about the aggressiveness of this bear. The other nearby campers saw our plight and they also began to bang pots and pans all around us. Finally, the bear slowly turned around and ambled off into the dark once more.

At one point during the encounter, I saw the flash of a camera. A nearby camper had taken its picture. He was from Denmark (that wouldn't have been you, would it, Ejnar?) and I gave him my Email address asking him to someday send me a copy. Several months later he did!
Bear in Tolumne Meadows.jpg
I was just out of view to the left pounding away with a pot lid.
Bear in Tolumne Meadows.jpg (134.64 KiB) Viewed 1011 times

We reported the incident to the ranger who said this particular bear had a cub it was trying to feed and had become too used to people (maybe like us :( ) in the area and was already slated for relocating. We learned the hard way a very valuable lesson: ALWAYS KEEP THE BEAR BOX CLOSED! Even if you're sitting on it with your legs dangling down in front of the door. :roll: My son has heard this story countless times and is certainly sick of it. But he always keeps that bear box closed.

Since then, from time to time I do like to tease my wife about the time she missed her golden opportunity to scratch a bear behind the ears and to rub its 'wittle' tummy. :)
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