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Bear Method Fail?
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Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Bear Method Fail? on 07/08/2009 20:59:58 MDT Print View

Hi Everyone - I'm kinda new here, been learning lots, and this is my first post. I've done some searching without finding the answer.

So I'm curious about first hand accounts on failures of methods for bear food protection. There are discussions ad nauseum about whether PCT is better, a canister is better, or something else. Basically, I've read a lot of people talking about what they trust, but not seeing much, if anything, about what has failed them (besides the obvious tie off of a line to the tree). I'm looking to avoid the 2 extra pounds for a canister if possible.

What I want to know is: has the PCT method ever failed you or someone you know? What about the canister method? Looking for first or second-hand accounts... I'm thinking that by learning about system failures, I can learn what really works and what to avoid.


Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
food storage on 07/08/2009 21:19:20 MDT Print View

Sometimes it isn't just a matter of what works - if you hike the Sierra Nevada through Yosemite or SEKI without a canister on the SIBBG approved list, you will incur a fine (up to 5000 dollars, depending) if a ranger happens along. One of my friends got caught and was escorted from the wilderness. The habituated bears will take bear bags by sending cubs up trees they can't climb. I haven't seen this happen, my group takes the approved canisters, but rangers have told plenty of stories at the permitting office.

There are more "required" zones than just the national parks, too, including Whitney.

Edited by lori999 on 07/08/2009 21:20:19 MDT.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Bear Method Fail? on 07/08/2009 21:25:30 MDT Print View

More it is being good at what method you choose to use and always doing it right.

Kind of like birth control really ;-)

Failure means something happened that either meant it wasn't done right or you met the bear from hell - even a canister can fail if the bear knows what it is doing....

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Bear Method Fail? on 07/08/2009 21:39:04 MDT Print View

OK - yeah so some places require it by law, but lots don't. I'm not looking to break the law, just lighten the load if possible.

i've heard of the cub up the tree method of beating a bag before, but only in relation to the counterbalance method, not the PCT method.

it's just that i've heard so many of the old ways that bears beat the old methods. But I haven't read or heard of someone saying "I did the PCT method properly, and it got beat." or "I had a canister opened or stolen by a bear."

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Bear Method Fail? on 07/08/2009 21:54:06 MDT Print View

I'd say this....most people don't want to admit to failures. I'd say I have been pretty lucky over the years - I have not lost food once to a bear. To a chipmunk once due to me leaving a bag out of sight.

But I always wonder when I'll have a failure.

As for the PCT method of bear bagging? Sure, it seems to work for many...but I'd also say go practice it many, many times at home. In cruddy trees, in the dark, in rain, with frozen hands.

Then you know your luck will be a lot better.

Kevin Sawchuk
(ksawchuk) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Northern California
Bear methods failure on 07/08/2009 21:54:13 MDT Print View

I've been backpacking in the Sierra since age five and hanging my own food since age 11. I've lost food three times in the past 32 years: once because I picked a dead branch late at night (bear broke it off) and twice because the branch was too small and the bear bent it and the food slipped off. I haven't lost food in the past 25 years.

However I consider myself an expert at picking a branch, hanging the food very high (I have an article coming out at BPL in the next month on bear hang technique) and tying it off far away and high on the tree. The PCT method is pretty good and simple.

Bears use a lot of techniques including cubs and chewing branches off to get to food--my closest food loss was in 2003 in Tuolumne Meadows when a bear used the moon to figure out which branch the food was on then started chewing on it. I scared the bear off.

Canisters are easy but heavy. I carry them when I must and it sure makes camping above timberline easier and worry free. Where canisters are optional a good hang plus odorproof bags are a powerful combination to keep bears at bay. We slept peacefully through the night undisturbed by bears in Bubbs Creek drainage then were told by a camper 1/3 mile down the trail that bears had been pounding on their metal food locker for several hours. I attribute this to the use of odorproof sacks.

The only reported canister failures are with the Bear Vault where a few bears have learned to stand on them sideways (which flexes the canister) then sticking a claw under the lid and ripping it off.

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: Bear methods failure on 07/08/2009 21:59:21 MDT Print View

Canisters have been cracked by it being rolled off a ledge/dropoff as well. If I remember right, a BV or two was gotten into due to the bear being able to remove the lid - due to the human owner flattening the plastic wedges (the wedges making it hard for some hands to remove the lid). This removed much of the "resistant" sadly!

Hence why they are referred to as being "resistant" and not animal proof by many places (NP's and the like) ;-)

Lori P
(lori999) - F

Locale: Central Valley
bears are pretty smart on 07/09/2009 08:43:26 MDT Print View

One of the reasons I'm promising myself a Bearikade for Christmas is all the failures of the Bear Vault - I'm even one version of the Bear Vault behind. Mine still has one tab instead of two. I love Yosemite and really want to explore Sequoia more, so there I am. Stuck with the can.

The only failures I've seen have been more about human error. It was a good thing our group was only out overnight a couple weeks back - first night out someone lost half their rope to a knot on a branch. If there had been a second night, they would have lost food, if not to bears then to mice, which set up camp in someone's boots and left "presents." I had the BV and didn't mind the weight much as I watched the guys trying to snag their properly hung (if a little higher than necessary) food bags.

I think properly hung bags would still be effective today, if not for the huge amounts of tourists flooding the wilderness with bags hung four feet from the ground or not hung at all. Bears are more teachable than people are, apparently. I doubt that you'll get many anecdotes of lost food here... the audience would have to be larger and made up of people who just go out and have a good time, and don't think about the smaller details, or even read the literature they're handed at the gates of national parks.

Last weekend my trekking poles were victim to marmots. They also licked all our pots, according to another camper who happened to be paying attention. I'm worrying more about the little critters now - are ants getting in through the threads of the Bear Vault a failure? :P

Edited by lori999 on 07/09/2009 08:45:09 MDT.

(drown) - F - MLife

Locale: Shenandoah
"Bear Method Fail?" on 07/09/2009 08:58:55 MDT Print View

I favor the Ursack. I hate hanging food. Always have. Ursacks are a good compromise for me. I'm willing to put up with the increased weight of a kevlar bag and odor proof sack.

Above treeline....well I live on the east coast so I regularly don't have to deal with that. I do have a bearikade and plan on using it where canisters are required by law and above treeline where bears are a problem.

Kier Selinsky
(Kieran) - F

Locale: Seattle, WA
Re: Bear Method Fail? on 07/09/2009 10:35:33 MDT Print View

great info folks! I hadn't thought of line snags nor, being an east-coaster, what to do when above the tree line. It sounds like both systems are valid, I just need to choose on a trip-by-trip basis (when I even have a choice not dictated by law).


Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Bear Method Fail? on 07/09/2009 14:13:01 MDT Print View

I haven't personally lost food using the PCT method... mostly because I use a canister :-) I have been with or near groups that lost food using the PCT method. The combination of strong jaws and acrobatic cubs can defeat any hanging method if the bears are sufficiently motivated and given enough time. That means being alert enough to know the bears are around and then getting up to defend your food and drive the bears away. Sometimes though, even noise and thrown rocks will not deter a bear. In these cases, the bear will eat your hung food.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
more on bear bagging on 01/10/2010 16:47:13 MST Print View

First of all, as has been stated, there are some places in National Parks and some related wilderness areas where there is no legal substitute for a canister. For ten years now, I've used one or the other brand of canister without fail when in those areas.

Prior to that period, I always did a proper "bear bag hang," and I led group trips for twenty years without fail. The technique was a counterbalance, mostly, but with a second rope. I always used the second rope, and its purpose was purely to pull down the first food bag from high. 1.You throw the rock with one rope end over the branch. 2.You tie the first food bag to the rock end of that first rope. 3.Pull on the other end of the rope to get it started. 4.Before that first food bag lifts off out of reach, you use the second rope. 5.Simply loop (no knot) the second rope around the top neck end of the first food bag, and leave both rope ends (of the second rope) dangling, or held by somebody. 6.Now, with the opposite end of the first rope, you hoist the first food bag high to the branch. The second rope ends are still dangling from the food bag. 7.From the hoisting end of the first rope, reach up as high as you can and make a slip knot loop and insert a mini-biner into the loop. 8.Clip your second food bag into the mini-biner. Then take the excess rope from that end and stuff it loosely into the top neck of that food bag, leaving two feet of rope exposed. 9.In that two feet, you tie a bowline and leave the loop exposed just barely below the bottom of that food bag. 10.Now go back to the second rope with dangling ends. Pull both ends simultaneously, and that end of food bag will descend, which elevates the second food bag. 11.Pull it until the two bags are level, approximately ten feet off the ground. 12.Then, with the dangling ends of the second rope, you pull carefully on only one end. It will pull around the food bag and fall off. Now you have no ropes dangling down with the exception of just a little bit of rope loop below one food bag. You're done.

In the morning, you grab a piece of tree branch and reach it up to snag the exposed bowline loop. That pulls the excess rope out of the food bag neck until you can grab the rope. You pull on that end until one food bag has descended within reach. You unclip it from the mini-biner, then use that rope end to lower the other food bag.
If you paid attention to this, you will notice that the branch needs to be more than double the ten feet, so figure on 25 feet. Notice that it takes a pretty good baseball throwing arm to chuck the rock and rope up over that.

If this sounds complicated, it is for about the first three practice sessions. Then it works fine. I never lost any group food to bears, especially the wily Yosemite black bears.

Aids: after dinner, tie your washed cook pots and pans around the trunk of the tree at a height of about 5 feet. In fact, tie any other metal sporks around them to be the noisemakers, so if the bear tries to climb the tree trunk, you should hear the metal. It helps if you sleep right at the base of the tree trunk.
Decoys: take an ordinary paper bag (empty) and tie it up with some nice bright cord, and hang it carelessly from the wrong tree. The bears will fart around with it to give you enough time to wake up and defend the correct tree. The park rangers can't cite you for that, since there is no food in that decoy bag.