Bear Activity in the Adirondacks


Original Post
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

A story and some advice for climbers who do a lot of camping in the Adirondacks...

Two weeks ago while backpacking with friends, a mother bear waltzed into camp near the Boquet River Lean-to, and after an hour and a half of yelling, and recovering a stolen pack, we had finally packed off and away from the area. We moved two miles north, and saw no disturbance and thought that was the last we would see of her as our itinerary took us away from the Dix Mountain Wilderness. We were glad, as she had been continuously attempted to steal packs and rip our bear hangs down without even recognizing our presence until we sprayed her with mace. That worked for five or ten minutes until she would come back.

A week later, we were climbing at the Upper Beer Walls. A nearby boy scout troop or summer camp was climbing too, at the Fast and Furious area of the Lower Beer Walls nearby, and started making a lot of noise. That same bear and her two cubs had apparently hiked out of the Boquet River Valley, likely through the notch between Noonmark and Round, and into Chapel Pond Canyon, and was now stealing packs again. We helped deter her and after the encounter and the bear scampering off, we broke down our climbs and returned to our camp, deciding to leave the area. When we got back to our camp at Chapel Pond about an hour after we ran into bear, we found her and her two cubs walking around our site, having just stole the contents of our hang (most of our food was in canisters since we had them, so no worries. We lost toothpaste and sunblock more than anything). We scared her off, and she retreated and checked out the enpty sites nearby. She skirted us a few times and we kept her away from afar and soon we presume she retreated back into the Canyon, and we decided to move on.

So let this be a reminder that bear encounters are not limited to hikers and backpackers. This year, with dry conditions, bears are having to seek unnatural sources of food causing unnatural encounters with humans. It could also keep them to stay awake longer before hibernation as they seek adequate food supply for the winter, so keep your head up into October and November even.

Bears are cute but we should not be friendly with them. If you are not familiar with other black bear safety tips then here's a few (add on or amend if I am incorrect):
-Never throw food
-do not approach them, turn hour back on them, back away and especially run. Stand your ground. Circling is a decent tactic if you must move, but being stationery is best.
-make yourself as large as possible. Keep your pack on, stand in a group
-make noise. Shout, bang poles or pots or hexes together, whatever you can.
-never get in between a mother and her cubs. If being accosted by a lone bear, it could potentially be a mother with cubs hiding in the trees nearby, perhaps in the direction the mother appeared from (from our experience). Look out for other bears and cubs in an encounter
-mace the bear only if it is being aggressive/intimidating, especially if it is threatening (growling moving fast towards you). EDIT- a bear standing in bind legs is not being aggressive, it is simply attempting to get a better view - thanks! Mace is extremely effective, but try to evacuate as soon as it's sprayed, it can be an actually become an attractant for bears after it settles, I've heard (it has a pepper-like scent). It also disperses on a very wide range and inevitably some will start blowing back (I haven't been tear gassed but it seemed a lot like that). Don't spray into the wind either on that note.
-if attacked, fight back. Playing dead is not a tactic which works on black bears. They may decide to eat you.
-follow bear camping regulations- hang your food 10ft off the ground and 4 ft from a tree (double check this, varies sometimes), and use canisters where required, and/or were bear activity is notable
-cook away from your tents as far and conveniently as possible (200ft is a good recommendation but not always practical). Do not stash food or smellables in/near your tent (toothpaste and brushes, sun tan lotion, used pots, old wrappers and snacks, etc. Our bear had a little bit of everything and knew which packs to look in). Bears have even been known to get in occupied lean-tos, attracted by shirts with oil and grease sprayed onto them from cooking.
-stashing food in your car in the Adirondacks is fine, but make sure the car is locked and windows shut. I saw a picture of a car's interior ravaged at the Loj by a bear this summer- they had food inside the vehicle and the bear smelled it, I believe. In Yosemite, bears regularly break into cars for snacks, let's avoid that here...

Stay safe! You are probably gonna die from that anchor setup you posted about but you'll probably be fine with a bear.

Kevin Heckeler · · Upstate New York · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,411

It should be noted that there's been one or two instances of BLACK bear attacks (deaths to humans) in the last hundred years. [for those unaware, we only have black bears in the East/Northeast]

They're fearful of us, and their only interest is in the food we have. Being confident, standing tall, not backing away and waving your arms to make yourself look even bigger are keys to pushing them off. Banging pots and pans, not so much (at least not any more - they've learned it's just banging of pots and pans, something to ignore).

I also read recently that black bear mothers are much less likely to get deadly protective of their cubs. While I wouldn't want to invite ANY aggression from a mother bear, it seems this rule only applies to brown/grizzly. Most of the time she will just order them into the trees if she feels they may be in danger.

The best bear repellent are bear cans.

Thanks for the post Nolan!

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Did you use real bear spray or human mace?

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

Most deaths are the result of selfies nowadays (edit- let's not limit that to bears alone). I would disagree with black bears are fearful of us. Most are, one where I go to school takes a dead sprint at the sound of a person. Our consensus after seeing this bear walk within 10 ft of us a few times was that she was comfortable around humans from exposure, and potentially feeding, and had no fear of people. Obviously the usual tactics are less effective since they have figured out that we won't bother them if they just grab good and go, except where mace is involved.

Cans are the best way to avoid encounters, hands down.

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

Nick- bear mace of course. Human mace is illegal in NY, I think, besides it has less range, spread and is less potent

Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Thought that stuff was called bear spray not mace? Just wondering how well it worked? spent most of the summer in bear country out west and the bear spray was a great psycological comfort.

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582
Nick Goldsmith wrote:Thought that stuff was called bear spray not mace? Just wondering how well it worked? spent most of the summer in bear country out west and the bear spray was a great psycological comfort.
Same thing yeah. I think its strictly speaking Bear Counter Attack and Deterrent or something if you want to be technical. It sprayed a gray cloud accurately at a range of 20-30 ft, and the bear would immediately turn and run off, we heard it hacking a few times and saw it licking its nose afterwards. Only need a fraction of a second's worth of spray for it to work. Even the lingering traces of it in the air were enough to cause varying reactions in us, mostly tearing up and some coughing, so with the thought of getting it directly sprayed in our eyes, mouth and nose would probably have us on the ground uncontrollably crying and coughing. Bears have a sense of smell something like 150% times greater than ours IIRC, so it must have been extremely unpleasant to say the least. It also lingers with them, we could smell her coming a few times when the mace started wafting in the air again.

EDIT- to reiterate its potency, some of it got on the tent, and even after washing it out, the occupants (luckily I wasn't one) would still sometimes start coughing randomly for a few days after
Nick Goldsmith · · Pomfret VT · Joined Aug 2009 · Points: 440

Bear spray was marketed very agressivly arround yellowstone. You could rent it for $9.00 a day at kiosks in the park. we bought ours in the wall mart in Cody after reading the posters advetising bear spray displayed on main street. A great comfort while hikeing up garnet canyon a 2:00am as well as helping us feel warm a fuzzy sleeping in sketchy truck stops..

Bill Kirby · · Baltimore Maryland · Joined Jul 2012 · Points: 480

Aren't bear canisters mandatory in the Dix Wilderness? I have scratches on my can from bears encountered Mt Colden Outpost. I let the bear play around with the can until he/she gave up. Didn't have to mace the bear but I used a can.

When I've been in grizzly or Brown Bear land. I carry a S&W 500 or AR-15 Beowolf or nothing. Mace is a fucking joke to a brown or grizzly bear.

I was at Chapel Pond yesterday. I worry for the bears' life in today's crowded Adirondacks.

Kevin Heckeler · · Upstate New York · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,411
Bill Kirby wrote: Aren't bear canisters mandatory in the Dix Wilderness
I believe only in the eastern high peaks. But they should be mandatory in more places/zones within the Park, especially Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Kevin Heckeler · · Upstate New York · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,411
Nolan Huther wrote:I would disagree with black bears are fearful of us.
You're alive, so she feared you enough to not make you dinner. Realistically, a 200+ pound black bear could kill a human. The fact they don't run when trying to get our food is more out of habituation and hunger, not instinct. Her instincts tell her to stay away from us/be leery of us. I fear dying in a car crash (instinct), but I still drive a car (necessity).
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582
Bill Kirby wrote: Aren't bear canisters mandatory in the Dix Wilderness? I have scratches on my can from bears encountered Mt Colden Outpost. I let the bear play around with the can until he/she gave up. Didn't have to mace the bear but I used a can. When I've been in grizzly or Brown Bear land. I carry a S&W 500 or AR-15 Beowolf or nothing. Mace is a fucking joke to a brown or grizzly bear. I was at Chapel Pond yesterday. I worry for the bears' life in today's crowded Adirondacks.
Like Kevin said, they are not required in the Dix, but I would recommend them. As for your incident, I wouldn't have maced her either but with the growing bear problems in the Adirondacks I do wonder if it's better to do so to reinforce the instinct that you don't mess with humans or their stuff. It probably didn't decide one day it was OK to be around humans, it was probably an accumulation of low level encoutners without any consequences that build up to being more accustomed to dealing with humans.

I can see having a weapon like that for extended periods of time or if I lived out in that country, especially where they outnumber the human population or Alaskan expeditions, but for an overnighter or very short backpacking trip where there's less exposure or sparser populations I think I'd fine with bear spray. It's been well documented that grizzlies and brown bears are affected by spray in the same way black bears are, even mountain lion attacks have been stopped by bear spray. It's not mosquito repellent repellent we're talking about. Bear spray is a nonlethal way to discourage a small number of attacks, and if you leave immediately, you're problem will probably go away. Thankfully that's not something we have to worry about here!

I do hope that bear isn't shot, but relocation could be realistic if this behavior continues or worsens. What's worse is that the cubs are learning from the mother
Eric G. · · Saratoga Springs, NY · Joined Apr 2012 · Points: 70
Bill Kirby wrote: When I've been in grizzly or Brown Bear land. I carry a S&W 500 or AR-15 Beowolf or nothing.
Pics of you backpacking with an AR-15?
Max Koenig · · Athens, GA · Joined Mar 2013 · Points: 10
Bill Kirby wrote:Mace is a fucking joke to a brown or grizzly bear.
I tend to think of it as de-incentivizing the food reward of messing with you/your stuff. If the bear feels it isn't worth the trouble to mess with you they'll move on. In areas with a high prevalence of human/bear interactions, many bears know what bear spray is and will get out of there as soon as they hear the aerosol. On the other hand, a wildlife ranger in Denali once told me that he has seen them licking it off each other...

I've heard of people carrying white kitchen trash bags in their pocket. Pull it out and shake it around if you see a bear. Such an unnatural sound/color can supposedly freak them out.

Nolan Huther wrote:-mace the bear only if it is being aggressive/intimidating, especially if it is threatening (growling moving fast towards you, standing on its hind legs).
This is actually a pretty common misconception. Both black and grizzly bears will stand on their hind legs in order to get a better view of their surroundings and this is not typically an aggressive stance.
Source

Save the bears, use bear cans!
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582
Max Koenig wrote: I tend to think of it as de-incentivizing the food reward of messing with you/your stuff. If the bear feels it isn't worth the trouble to mess with you they'll move on. In areas with a high prevalence of human/bear interactions, many bears know what bear spray is and will get out of there as soon as they hear the aerosol. On the other hand, a wildlife ranger in Denali once told me that he has seen them licking it off each other... I've heard of people carrying white kitchen trash bags in their pocket. Pull it out and shake it around if you see a bear. Such an unnatural sound/color can supposedly freak them out. This is actually a pretty common misconception. Both black and grizzly bears will stand on their hind legs in order to get a better view of their surroundings and this is not typically an aggressive stance. Source Save the bears, use bear cans!
Interesting, will remember this information...
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582
Kevin Heckeler wrote: You're alive, so she feared you enough to not make you dinner. Realistically, a 200+ pound black bear could kill a human. The fact they don't run when trying to get our food is more out of habituation and hunger, not instinct. Her instincts tell her to stay away from us/be leery of us. I fear dying in a car crash (instinct), but I still drive a car (necessity).
I would refer you to the rest of the post you quoted from me, where I say most are fearful, and that I am making exception to this bear. Of course it is entirely true what you said. Our consensus after seeing this bear was that she wasn't acting in any particular way towards us other than nonchalance, and that she acted as if it wasn't there. She even started opening a pack in front of us instead of running off with it first (until we maced her). One person in our group has been backpacking and climbing out West and in Alaska for over a decade and had encounters with grizzlies and brown bears often, and never had to mace (or shoot) them. It was his assertion that this bear had the least fear of humans (edit- or the most suppression of fear) he had seen. It behaved almost like a cat than a bear from the time we were in its presence. An alarming change in behavior, very unnatural.
Kevin Heckeler · · Upstate New York · Joined Jul 2010 · Points: 1,411
Nolan Huther wrote: I would refer you to the rest of the post you quoted from me, where I say most are fearful, and that I am making exception to this bear. Of course it is entirely true what you said. Our consensus after seeing this bear was that she wasn't acting in any particular way towards us other than nonchalance, and that she acted as if it wasn't there. She even started opening a pack in front of us instead of running off with it first (until we maced her). One person in our group has been backpacking and climbing out West and in Alaska for over a decade and had encounters with grizzlies and brown bears often, and never had to mace (or shoot) them. It was his assertion that this bear had the least fear of humans (edit- or the most suppression of fear) he had seen. It behaved almost like a cat than a bear from the time we were in its presence. An alarming change in behavior, very unnatural.
Exception noted. :-D
Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

PSA- also, she was probably 180 pounds with a small frame for a mother, so she definitely didn't have much weight to throw around. Either she is very lean from lack of food or perhaps a naturally small specimen, but exceptionally intelligent. Watch out for her and her two cubs, and if you see her leave. She will keep coming back...

Rick Blair · · Denver · Joined Oct 2007 · Points: 268

Nolan, were you using the Pacific Coast Trail bear hang technique?

http://theultimatehang.com/2013/03/hanging-a-bear-bag-the-pct-method/

backpacker.com/view/photos/...

Andrewww · · Concord, NH · Joined Mar 2014 · Points: 620

Mother with 2 cubs? Saw her right up near the Beer wall area a week ago. we were cooking breakfast at the pullout and she walked into the middle of the road and we had to shoo her away so there wasn't an accident.

Nolan Huther · · Clarkson University · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 582

Rick- you've never been on the east coast have you... ;) trees like that are hard to come by in spruce thickets. Though we did find one tree growing horizontally off a hillside and we had 10-30ft clearance on all sides at one point. Too bad the bear didn't visit that night... No we were using, as we most often did, a suspension style strung up from 2 trees to form am "M" shape. We had the requisite 10 ft ground clearance and 4 ft from the branch, but she managed to get it anyway, the bags were torn open but the hang was intact. Next time we'll be more cautious.

Andrew- that's the one by the sounds of it. It was last Tuesday

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

Post a Reply

Log In to Reply