Da Bears...Well We Think Just One

 

This isn’t quite as funny after watching Backcountry, but here’s the story of our unintentional invitation to a hungry black bear.

Our camping spot was in the Lone Pine Unit of the Cherokee State Wildlife Area. We set up our tent just off of a cattle trail that was atop the ridge. It was, as we would later be thankful for, just downhill and upwind from the trail.

As daylight faded, we watched the cattle make their nightly procession. We didn’t build a fire, and we were in the bags pretty much as soon as darkness fell.

I had taken my usual precautions of moving our food and hygiene items away from camp in a sealed dry-sack. I had found a small tree well away from our area in which to hang them.

It turns out what seemed to only be a slight slope was enough to regularly displace my slick bag on a slick pad on a slick tent floor. I was rather restless throughout the early part of the night often having to slide myself back up from the foot of the tent.

It was during one of these restless periods that I first heard the sound that was going to be much more of a stimulant than was a sliding sleeping bag. I heard grunts and snorts up on the cattle path. At first they were distant, but there was no doubt about their source and no doubt they were getting closer as the bear moved east to west on the path.

I have always been less afraid of black bears, especially compared to their bigger and browner relatives, but we were told this was the time of year that the bears are quite aggressive as they fatten up for their yearly hiatus. The grunts got closer until they were directly above us on the ridge. But thankfully being downhill and upwind seemed to keep us unnoticed. The grunts slowly faded as did my fear.

I started to relax, and eventually fell back asleep.

It wouldn’t last, however. And during another period of sleeplessness, I heard the approaching sound of familiar snorts and growls, this time coming from the west. My apprehension reappeared along with those noises.

My apprehension soon morphed into a paralyzing fright as I realized that not all food was safely away from camp. After the day’s first big climb, we had stopped at a small grocer in Red Feather Lakes. Salty Fritos and bean dip seemed to be just the thing for our craving. With only about half the bag of Fritos consumed, I decided to pack them for easy access in our backpack which was only being used for carry tent poles and Kristin’s pad. And…after removing those poles and pad at camp, guess where that backpack was. Yep, in the tent right by our heads.

From that point forward, the bear was no longer just grunting and snorting. It was, in my mind, expressing its frustration at smelling hints of corn chips but not being able to pinpoint them. Fritooooossssss…. Friiiiittttttoooossssss…. Frrrreeeeeeeeetttttttooooooosssssss!!!! The bear’s passage from west to east seemed like an eternity.

Tracks on the path the next morning confirmed two things. (1) This was no small bear. (2) It probably would have wanted more than just our chips.