Many of you showed your concern over a report of a man’s death yesterday. If you read those articles, you should know that I didn’t share the man’s name and not from where he’s from. But come on folks … not only did I NOT walk on the moon, I wasn’t even born in 1969.
The other story that some of you confused me with is about a pour soul killed by a grizzly bear this weekend. The Anchorage Daily News ran a front page story on it, and it was quite blunt about their opinion of the hiker.
The attack took place in Denali National Park, the most popular national park in Alaska and the home of Mt McKinley (or Mt Denali) the tallest mountain in North America. It was the first death by bear mauling in the 90 year history of the park, extraordinary because there are 400,000 annual visitors to the 9 million acre park. The man killed was back country hiking, which is basically random hiking off the grid, and had received training & signed a waver stating he understood what to do if he came across a bear.
The park rangers found out that the man was taking pictures of the bear from 50 ft away on a digital camera, and the time stamps showed he was doing so for at least 8 minutes. The bear seemed to be quietly grazing in the photos, but obviously something happened. The rangers found the bear that killed him and put the bear down, it was acting in a “predatory” manner and was a threat to any and all park visitors until it was put down.
Now, I may make jokes about bears and I may be an idiot, but there is a limit to my stupidity — I take bears pretty seriously. Bear behavior can be split into 6 moods, ranging from docile (or not wanting to bother you) to predatory (or sees you as dinner). There are three types of bears up here – picked out easily by color. The man was killed by a Grizzly, which can be thrown in with all the brown bears up here; they can easily go from docile to predatory on little notice if you aren’t careful. Most of the bears around Anchorage are Black Bears, who are smaller and nearly always docile if you don’t get in the way of something they want. The real scarey ones, almost never seen around Anchorage but would be around the North Slope, are the white Polar Bears – they are predators, and should always be assumed to be predatory.
While I only bought bear spray and a bear whistle yesterday, I have been “bear aware” since I landed in Alaska. I read the warning signs and listen to those who have had confrontations with bears. Bears will attack creatures it thinks it can eat and wouldn’t eat them. If I come across a bear, I stand my ground, make myself look big, and keep talking to the bear. Of those six moods a bear can be in (from docile to predatory), five of them can be diffused if you keep your senses about you and use your brains. All of them can cause an attack if you just turn and run.
It may not be sensitive of me to point fingers at a dead man, but the man could be alive now if he followed the basic fundamentals of dealing with a bear. When one sees a bear, the smart thing to do is back away slowly at a diagonal and keep talking to the bear. The worst thing to do is stick around. The time stamps showed he took pictures for 8 minutes, and while that doesn’t sound like much you probably finished reading this in far less than 8 minutes. When you see a bear, you don’t sit around for 8 minutes taking pictures of a predatory animal … you leave.
With the news of the grizzly attack fresh on my mind, I went to South Anchorage and put in a four mile hike in bear country this morning. I hiked as a concern hiker should, aware and alert, but hiked none the less. Bears are a risk of hiking, as are Moose, as are foxes, as is a slip & fall, as is Poison Ivy or Devil’s Club, as is dehydration, hypothermia, and exhaustion. I didn’t see a bear, but I cut my hike way short because the rain was harder than I expected and my back-up socks were going to be no match for the mud on the decline – I turned back because that was the smart thing to do.
Hiking is dangerous, but not deadly. Hiking only becomes deadly when you don’t know the risk or choose to ignore the risk. But I still hike, because nothing is more exhilarating or ever changing or refreshing that I can do.