Patricia’s Bear (as told by Patricia) – Mt. Rainier Wonderland Trail – Aug 2012 28 August 2012

On our way toward Eagles Roost as we started out on Section II, hikers coming the other way told us that the Park Service had closed the back-packing campground at Sunrise because an aggressive adolescent bear had become a problem. But that was still 5 days away for us, and except for Brian and Michele’s encounter, we saw no other bears. And there was no danger at our campsite at White River [public] Campground near Sunrise on the evening of Day 13…too much noise, too many people, too much smoke. (Linda and I did hear a sound on the trail that was likely a bear only about 30-45 minutes before we reached White River.)

The next day we were headed away from White River into another more remote part of the Wonderland Trail towards Summerland. Just a few miles from the trailhead, this part of the Trail is a popular one with day-hikers. Even though we were hiking away from the largest crowds there were still lots of people on the trail. We had hiked several miles. Brian and Michelle, as usual, were out ahead and had stopped at a crashing waterfall to wait for Linda, Kate and I. When we caught up we couldn’t agree that it was time for lunch so Brian and Michelle went on and the three of us decided to eat. Let’s see, tuna or salmon sandwiches? Salmon. It was a lovely lunch with a lovely view; after lunch we headed up towards Summerland. Linda and Kate were chatting together so I went on ahead.

About a mile up the trail I came to a beautiful stream and waterfall, the perfect place to wash out my socks. I had just two pairs of socks. Each day I would put on one pair and rinse out the pair I had worn the day before in one of the many streams we passed along the way. I would then pull them through a couple of loops on the outside of my backpack and let them dry for the next day.

I dropped my pack next to the trail and stepped on a rock next to the stream to rinse my socks out. I went back to my pack (maybe 10 feet away, max) and was pulling my socks through the loops when I heard a loud crunching sound. I looked up and saw a bear crossing the trail on the other side of the stream heading down into the woods below – maybe 40-50 feet away. Thank God, I thought, he is heading away from me. Just then he raised his head, looked directly at me and took a deep sniff. Oh no, I thought, he has smelled my salmon lunch.

Do I put my pack on and head out or do I move away from my pack just in case he decides to see if he can locate the salmon? The bear has decided to cross the stream to the side I am on. I decide to cross the stream to the other side. I leave my backpack.

As I get to the other side of the stream I turn to see if I can see the bear. He pops up over the edge of the hill and makes a beeline toward my backpack. I yell. “Go away bear!!” The bear ignores me.

The bear starts ripping my backpack apart. I am calm, but worried. I am alone. I am worried about the people coming up the trail who would come around the curve in the trail and find themselves in the middle of a bear’s lunch (like Linda and Kate). Is he destroying my pack? Will he rip my sleeping bag – or our tent? Will I be able to continue the hike? I yell. “Go away bear!!”

I few moments later three hikers come around the trail from above. I am relieved I am no longer alone. “There is a bear. He is destroying my backpack.” We don’t have a clue what to do. We yell. “Go away bear!!”

One of the hikers picks up a big rock. Another says “You won’t be able to hit him with that.” He says “I know, I am just picking it up in case he decides to come this direction.” We try to figure out what we will do if he comes this direction. We decide we will get off the trail and let him go by. We yell. “Go away bear!!”

I see someone come round the bend on the other side of the creek. I yell “Get back! There is a bear!” They disappear around the curve. The four of us on the other side of the creek try to decide what to do. We yell. “Go away bear!!”

All of a sudden we see someone on the other side rushing the bear. The guy with the rock says quietly. “O man, don’t do that. Oh…you are a park ranger…do what ever you want!” The ranger startles the bear enough that he moves away – but only a few yards.

The ranger comes over to check on us and to find out what happened. I ask him if I have done the right thing, leaving my pack and moving away. He doesn’t exactly say yes, but he doesn’t exactly say no. “It is hard to know what to do sometimes. Bears are unpredictable. Do you have any bear spray on you?” No one has bear spray.

“We are doing the right thing now,” he says. We are all going to stick together, make ourselves look really big and yell at the bear. By this time there are about ten people who have gathered. The bear is just a few yards away. We all attempt to look big and on the ranger’s count of three we yell. “Go away bear!!” The bear wanders a few feet further away and circles around to the north a bit.

A few more hikers arrive – including Linda and Kate. At this point, inexplicably, I am no longer calm. I can’t think, my blood is racing. Linda helps pick up the bits and pieces of my torn pack, wash them out, and push the smelly things down inside her pack. The bear found the peanut butter in the top of my pack where I put our lunch fixings.

The ranger organizes the growing crowd. We yell together on the count of three. “Go away bear!!!” The bear moves around to the northwest. We yell again. “Go away bear!!!” The bear moves around to the west. The ranger asks again. “Does anyone have any bear spray?” No one does. Kate says quietly… “I will never hike again without my bear spray.”

The ranger asks everyone to pick up a rock and then instructs us to aim at the bear’s rump. “Bears have very sensitive olfactory systems and if they are injured in the snout they can die of starvation.” On the count of three we all throw rocks in the general direction of the bear’s rump and yell. “Go away bear!!” The bear moves back to the north.

I ask the ranger what I should do. He says that it is probably ok to keep on hiking up but he would understand if I wanted to get off the trail for a while. He also says that I probably don’t really smell any more of food than any other hiker on the trail. If we missed our camping spot at Summerland they would do what they could to accommodate changes to our trip but no guarantees. The bear has not done any damage to my pack except to chew up the top pocket – and eat at least two of Linda and my lunches. The bear is now on the downhill side of the trail. I am inclined to hike up and away from the bear….right this minute. I would like to get away from the bear but am worried that my peanut butter smell might be a bit of a problem. On the count of three we all throw rocks and yell. “Go away bear!!”

The bear moves back around to the east and comes a bit closer. More hikers have arrived. “Anyone have any bear spray?” Nope.

Finally, intimidated by about 25 people yelling and throwing rocks, the bear ambles off down the hill. I ask the ranger if he is hiking up the trail. “No, I am going to stay here and track this bear for a while. This is the event of the day.”

The last two hikers to arrive have bear spray. Their names are Jemma and Ben (a big bear of a man) – and Jemma has bear spray! Kate asks anxiously if they will hike with us to Summerland where we are all spending the night. They very kindly agree.

The ranger had asks us to tell those we encounter on the trail about the bear so we stop each group that went past us on our way up the hill and tell our story. One day-hiking group kindly offers their leftover lunch fixings (including a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, an apple, and cheese & crackers) to replace what the bear ate…so they are now part of this bear story!

Comment from Linda: This encounter left Patricia with SO much adrenalin that she literally raced up the mountain, chattering all the way and leaving me and the very gracious Ben trailing behind!