You are far more likely to be maimed or killed in an auto accident while driving to the trailhead than from the charge of a marauding bear while recreating. The fear of bear attack far outstrips the reality. Such attacks are rare and the causes of most attacks, when they happen, are often preventable. In a typical year we can expect between 3 - 5 attacks. In the 15 years from 1985 to 2000 there were just 10 deaths attributed to bears in British Columbia. Annually in excess of 200 people die on BC roads. That's more than 3000 fatalities for the same time period. Incidentally, statistics show those using public transportation have a greatly reduced risk of traffic accident.

Bears Live Here, Not You: Show a little respect.   

Since bears are more than happy to avoid contact with humans, accidental confrontations should be a primary concern. On the trail staying alert, scrutinizing the trail that lays ahead of you and traveling in a group of four or more will usually be enough to avoid stumbling upon a bear. With the wind at your back most bears should be forewarned of your approach, giving them ample time to vanish into the forest. A head wind on the other hand will eliminate a bear's most important sense. A particularly blustery wind could also hamper a bear's ability to hear your approach. That leaves sight, touch and taste and bears are the original Mr. Magoo. Under these conditions or when fresh bear sign is evident assist the bear by making noise.

Metallic noise is not found in nature and is thought by some to be the best. Gabbing and gaffawing among your companions runs a close second. Liven up the chatter with a few bear mauling anecdotes. That ought to add a shrill, excited edge to the conversation. Keep the group together by placing the slowest person in the lead. Even just stumbling through the bush, a group of four or five makes appreciably more noise than groups of one or two strung out all along the trail. Be extra alert also when hiking early in the morning or late in the afternoon when most creatures are more active. Huckleberry or salal berry patches too are a great place to break out the noise makers.

Everyone knows that a sow with cubs could spell trouble particularly if the she-bear perceives a threat to her offspring. A bear guarding a kill or a scavaged bag of bones can also be a particularly lethal situation. If you ever see the carcass of an animal do not stop to investigate. Clear out immediately or you too could be dead meat.

No Trace Camping is not just an aesthetic, it is a safety measure. Food should be hung where no bear can reach it. Your camp cooking area and utensils must be kept spotless and refrain from slipping a few granola bars under your pillow for a midnight snack or the snack might be on you.

Upon meeting a bear never turn and run. The eyes of bears, like those of most predators, are cued in to movement. Run and so will the bear, right after you. Talk to the bear in calm, reassuring tones while backing away from the situation. A bear may rear up on its hind legs, not as a prelude to attack but, to sniff the air and get a better sense of what kind of oddballs confront it.

Even if the bear decides to charge stay cool. Chances are the bear is bluffing, such behavior is common in bear society. Keep backing away and keep up to chatter. If it is a grizzly confronting you, back towards a stout, climbable tree as these bears are not good climbers. By remaining calm you may avoid making one of two very unsavory choices: fighting or playing dead.

In the event of a full-blown attack which option you choose will depend on the kind of bear is involved. If a black bear attacks that obviously has cubs or a meat cache then the bear may be satisfied if it can eliminate the threat. In such a situation playing dead is preferable to fighting back as the latter will only serve to antagonize the bear. If the black bear is obviously old or injured or otherwise motivated by hunger then fight for your life as this bear views you as a food source.

Grizzly bears are simply too big and powerful to fight off and they know it. If climbing a tree is out of the question, play dead. Keep your backpack on and lay face down on the ground, spread-eagled, hands clasped behind your neck for additional protection. Brace your legs to avoid being flipped over but if flipped, roll with the momentum and try to land face down again to protect vulnerable parts such as abdomen and throat. If the bear manages to move you onto your side assume the fetal position, hands still clasped behind the neck with elbows and knees protecting chest and belly. Otherwise do not move until well after the bear has decamped, then clear out in the opposite direction.

Wearing bear bells in the backcountry may be a good idea but in those areas frequented by hikers, bears may come to associate the sound with food. Particularly in areas frequented by those overlooking the commandments of no-trace camping, a standard-issue ding-a-ling may come to be regarded as a dinner bell. Try a bell with a tone different from those purchased from outdoor stores.

An increasingly common practice among bearanoid rookies is to squirt a defensive circle of pepper spray around their tent. Field research, however, has shown that far from being a deterrent, such a practice can actually draw bears to the site. In some cases bears have been seen rolling on the pepper-scented ground like a catnip-crazed feline.

The End

You’re all fleeced up in Patagonia. You’ve donned Gore-Tex gaiters and those low-top Hi-Tec’s. Hoist up that high-tech Lowe pack and, damn, you look good. You look the part. But do you look your very best?

What about personal grooming for the rugged outdoors man or woman? Uncommonly tough males may want to limber up each morning with a vigorous rub down using a cedar bark sponge soaked in octopus broth. That should get the old blood moving. Or so thought coastal native groups who used this very treatment on young sons to ensure they grew up dauntless. Those who practice no trace camping may even be tempted to drink the bath water.

And what about for the ladies? Stand aside Oil of Olay: native herbalism offers more support than a cosmetics counter. Want soft, supple skin while out in the elements? Simple. Concoct a skin cream out of deer belly fat and cottonwood resin. Melt the two ingredients together and pour into a hollow bull kelp bulb. Once it sets, peel away the kelp and smear it on: Voila! Eternal youth.

A similar mixture of deer fat and hemlock resin makes for a quick and dandy sun screen. Who needs pink zinc anyhow? Since those prehistoric-looking horsetails contain silica they make for a perfectly eco-friendly manicure. Native women on Vancouver Island are said to have added a little salmon slime for lubrication to buff fingernails to a gleaming lustre.

To keep dandruff, mites and other pests at bay, boil a little cow parsnip with chokecherry, red willow branches (and eye of newt if you have it.) This traditional scalp rinsing solution is even said to prevent grey hair.

When that little visitor arrives on the trail finely pounded red cedar bark, tree lichen and spagnum moss can all be used for feminine protection.

And for fresh backcountry breath try chewing on the rhizomes or roots of the common licorice fern. Or, in its place, the resin of hemlock trees is reputed to make a fine chewing gum. Like Trident, it has no added sugar.

The End

Notable Quotes

...the best thing about BC Car-Free is that it challenges the assumption that you have to have a vehicle to escape the city.

-- Briana Doyle; MOMENTUM Magazine