Yosemite bears are after your food, and they are getting smarter every generation. Thankfully, there is almost no risk of injury from a bear (the only death in Yosemite caused by wildlife that I am aware of was caused by a deer), but the wrong kind of bear encounter can certainly end or delay your hike.
In the past few years the park service has observed bear behavior that has changed some of their recommendations regarding how to use your bear canister.
First, bears can differentiate an open canister from a closed one, and are willing to “attack” the canister with some enthusiasm. The worst area for this kind of activity is Little Yosemite Valley, where several hikers have lost food when they left their canisters unlocked while they cooked. I try to be a good steward of the wilderness when I hike, but I have to admit there have been times when I’ve walked away from an open canister. The solution is simple: only have your canister open when you are pulling stuff out or putting things in. (If you carry a Bearikade, like I do, this is a bit of hassle because it isn’t the easiest to get open and closed, especially in the cold. Bite the bullet and secure the latches — all three of them!)
Second, at least one bear in Yosemite has learned that if you roll a secure canister off a high enough cliff, a piñata-like surprise will await below. The park service is now recommending that when you situate your canister for the night it be put “in an area that is difficult for a bear to roll or bat it away and within viewing distance of your camping area.” They also suggest you place “noisy objects on top of your canister to help alert you if an animal is attempting to move it.” They propose using a cook pot.
The park service is less forthcoming on what you should do if the bear shows up and makes enough noise to wake you. I might do some yelling and throw some small rocks, but I’m not about to get into a wrestling match with a hungry ursine over a Mountain House meal (well, unless it’s the fettuccine alfredo). I have had a bear attempt to get into a canister while I slept, but I had placed it in a depression surrounded by boulders and smaller rocks, and it lost interest pretty quickly. (It was almost empty, and it sounded like a toddler banging on a snare-drum.)
I have no data to back this up, but I suspect that about a third to half of all thru-hikers will see a bear somewhere on the JMT, and that most of those encounters will take place within Yosemite National Park. Counterintuitively, the less wild the area, the more likely you will spot a bear. The best way to take care of them — and you — is to make sure your food, and your canister, is properly stored.
Good hiking, Ray
My husband and I were a “bear incident” at Sunrise Creek in Yosemite. Dang bear was able to open the first tab on our Bear Vault, and was working very hard on the second tab but it had gotten jammed with grit and thankfully wasn’t opened all the way. The teeth and claw marks were ALL right by the 2 tabs, and a few along the bottom for leverage, I’m sure. That bear knew exactly what it was doing, and how to do it. Rangers were surprised when we reported it and showed them photos and the claw/tooth markings on the Bear Vault.
Thanks for the comment, Andrea. Glad it all turned out okay!
In the 1980s, before bear canisters, my friend and I lost a stuff sack full of food to a bear in Kings Canyon National Park. We’d made noise with an air horn but the bear ignored us, took the sack a short distance away, sat down and began to eat from it. This was in daylight. Another hiker, having heard our air horn, came rushing down the trail and, standing beside me, began throwing rocks at the bear. The bear stood up and bluff charged him. I got a good look at the bear’s face while he was hurtling toward us. I’ll never forget it. Whatever you do, don’t throw rocks at a bear AFTER he gets your food…
Good advice, Gail! You probably don’t want the food after the bear drooled all over it anyway.
Do you recommend the extra effort to haul the canister in a UrSack? On my NOBO trip thus year I’m thinking of trying that.
I do not, Mark. The canisters have a terrific record and it is very likely that a bear will never see yours. I would do as the park service suggests within Yosemite and not worry about it elsewhere; just follow the normal routine. Good luck!
I heard a ranger talk about the bear regulations while at Tuolumne Meadows. Aside from the 85% reduction in bear/human incidents and associated property damage, the rules have taught the bears they are unlikely to get food, and they are noticeable less aggressive about pursuing food. In fact, there is a degree of timidity – and i was surprised when the ranger said it was okay to throw a pine cone or small rock at the hind quarters to chase them off. Normally you would think they wouldn’t say something like that, but maybe she was going off the record with that remark. But she said they are easy to chase off with banging pots, etc. these days. And this was at the regular campfire talk in the campground.
Thanks, Steve. Very interesting comment regarding the Ranger.
Rangers will say run them off. Not a good idea to also leave your pack (with canister inside) while wandering around looking for a campsite. I see many packs left unattended & a bear will find it too and drag it off or tear it apart looking for what is smelling. I do like reflective tape on my canister so I can find it at night or in the morning if it gets rolled. Funny thing is canisters are not allowed in Yellowstone as the griz will just tear them apart. You are required to hang your food there. We use a canister & hang our food and sometimes put our SPOT inside.
The reason why it’s okay to hang for grizzlies is that they have straight claws and can’t climb trees worth a dang, besides they are too heavy to hang from their claws. Black bears have curved claws and aren’t so heavy, so they can climb pretty well.
We hung our food for both blackies and griz in Yellowstone. Climbing a tree to get away from any bear is a myth if they are hungry enough. A Jellystone ranger actually told us that their bears were probably more stupid than the smaller Yosemite bears. Another piece of advice is to never have a campfire. That will attract any bear to your campsite and your canister.
I actually had a discussion with a ranger about this, when I was picking up an overnite permit in November. He said they had just changed the instructions they were giving people, and they were telling everyone, (it was November, so there were far fewer people). Here is what he told us:
1. Canister closed at all times unless you are actually taking food off.
2. Surrounded by deadfall or rocks, to prevent easy rolling.
3. Stored 10-30 feet from your tent. (obviously this doesn’t apply in LYV where there are lockers)
I specifically asked about the 10-30 feet away from the tent, because this was different from what I was told previous years. He specifically stated that with this new “rolling off the cliff” ability, the purpose of the 10-30 feet is so you are woken up, so you can chase the bear away. He said they now WANT us to chase the bear off, using noise first, and then throwing pine cones or something small if yelling doesn’t work. He explained that it will only take a single season for other bears to learn the “rolling off” technique, so they are trying to prevent that from happening, and with a bear, the best way to prevent behavior, is to remove the reward. He said that if everyone chases the bears off, they will learn quickly. I then specifically asked if attaching a bell would be ok, (I sleep like a rock, and doubt I would be woken up) and he thought that was a great idea, as long as there was a way to silence it while it was in my pack while hiking.
Bear Vaults are not allowed in the Adirondack High Peaks region in New York because the bears Break into them by chewing on the tab. The manufacturer has added a second tab to their product to make it twice as hard for them to break into. I don’t know how successful they are after this modification.
The tabs are for the user to ensure the lid is closed completely. You hear two clicks now instead of one. BearVault also made the threads deeper as bears were popping the lid off in the Sierras. A red label on top is indication that you have the latest design. I added a ADT security sticker as an extra precaution 🙂 If you want the space but not the weight the Bearikade is it but it cost mega bucks, pure cubic dollars.