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Bear Spray in The Winds?
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Brent Mahan
(thenerb)

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
Bear Spray in The Winds? on 05/28/2013 13:30:08 MDT Print View

Hi everyone. Heading to The Winds for a solo backpacking journey from 8/17 -> 8/30. I will be carrying all of my food for the whole trip from the start (no resupply points) and due to the already massive weight on my back, I think I've decided on using two Ursacks and bear-bagging my food. Previously considered a Bearikade Expedition, but I probably need slightly more volume than it would hold, and those aren't even approved for use in The Winds anyway. Two Ursacks (with liners) would be much lighter, compress, and would be useful for me back home here in New England too.

Now to the real question, as far as additional bear safety goes should I carry bear spray? Is it worth the weight? Clearly it would be worth it if I encounter an aggressive bear, but I realize the chances of this seem to be quite low in most of the areas I will be going.

My route is not final yet, but I will probably go in at Sweetwater and end in Green River (so I'll be doing the full range). I will stay close to the divide, and will probably sleep most nights around 10,000-11,000ft. I tend to prefer camping as far away from anyone else as I can and am usually completely alone. That being said, bear spray would provide a bit of piece of mind at night since no one would hear my yells if a grizz sneaks up on my bivy, but do I need that piece of mind?

Thanks for everyone's feedback. Love this community.

- Brent

Ethan Hazzard-Watkins
(ethanhw) - F

Locale: Vermont
re: bear spray on 05/28/2013 14:51:32 MDT Print View

Hi Brent,

I've been in the Winds both of the last two summers, mostly near the divide in the northern part of the range. It is an amazing place - you'll love it. I highly recommend the off-trail routes near the divide east of the Green River - the Tourist Creek valley, Baker Lake, Bear Basin, etc. The terrain is really fun to navigate and spectacular to hike through.

As for the bear situation: you should double-check with the rangers but I'm pretty sure bear canisters (or Ursacks) are not required. Bears are active in the Winds but not nearly as much as in the Sierras or the Adirondacks. We carried bear spray on both trips, and I think it's probably a good idea despite the weight and inconvenience. We kept it at the ready below timber line and in more well-traveled areas, and then packed it away above timber line and in the more remote areas.

I would also suggest getting some odor-proof food bags (OPSack or similar) and packing your food in those, inside a durable stuff sack. Then you can hang your food below timber line, and keep it close above timber line, where marmots and picas are probably the more immediate threat. We also put bells on our packs in forested areas to help avoid startling a bear along the trail.

We never saw a bear or signs of bears on either trip. Hopefully you won't either. Have a great time!

Ethan

John Klinepeter
(johnzotk) - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies, USA
Bear Spray on 05/28/2013 17:49:58 MDT Print View

Brent,
I have spent multiple nights backpacking in the Wind River Mtns. each of the last ~12 years and I have never seen a bear or bear scat. There are reports of sightings in guide books and a few years ago there was a map(USFS?) of sightings on the web. During a recent search I was unable to find the map but my (poor) memory tells me that the greater number of sightings was in the northern portions of the range. On the other hand, the only metal food storage lockers I am aware of are in the southern part of the range, on Big Sandy Lake.
I have carried bear spray every year, except last year, when my two companions were so "armed".
It appears that you have the food storage issue under control but you might want to consult this: http://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fsbdev7_004263.pdf
The Winds are super! Have a great time.
John

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
I definitely wouldn't carry bear spray in the Wind River Range... on 05/28/2013 17:58:21 MDT Print View

unless I knew there was a problem bear on my route. Life is 100% fatal. Bears in the Wind River Range would be right near the bottom of the things I'd worry about. I don't know of a single fatal bear attack in the history of that range. Could it happen? Sure. Would I be worried about being the first victim ever? No. FWIW I've spent quite a bit of time in the Winds and have lived in grizzly country for decades. There ARE places I'd carry bear spray or a gun, but those are in the highest risk areas, like along salmon streams loaded with bears or areas with known bear problems.

If I were to add a gadget that isn't necessarily a "must" it would be something like a SPOT device which would be much more likely to save a life.

This being Backpackinglight, I think it's important to consider that people pack for their fears. A rational evaluation of risk is going to maximize our safety and comfort.

If anyone wants to carry bear spray they are fully within their rights. Some people find they sleep better with bear spray and that's worth something in itself. And reasonable people can come to different conclusions on risk analysis.

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Two different Issues on 05/28/2013 18:06:22 MDT Print View

"During a recent search I was unable to find the map but my (poor) memory tells me that the greater number of sightings was in the northern portions of the range. On the other hand, the only metal food storage lockers I am aware of are in the southern part of the range, on Big Sandy Lake."

Two different bears I believe. From what I've heard grizzlies are in the northern Winds but not so much down south. In the south there are some more aggressive black bears. I've heard Big Sandy Lake is the most used TH into the Winds so it would make sense that there would be some problems there.

John Klinepeter
(johnzotk) - MLife

Locale: Northern Rockies, USA
Carry bear spray or not? on 05/28/2013 19:41:46 MDT Print View

Perhaps the best advice I can give is to note that it is very rare to see anybody packing bear spray. I am one of the few who does, probably just a habit or momentum from frequenting the Glacier Park area and having been bluff-charged in GNP a few years ago. Of course there are many more bears in GNP. I'm a slow learner!

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Bear Spray on 05/28/2013 21:04:30 MDT Print View

Take it. However unlikely it is that you'll see a bear, if you do (1) you'll wish you had it and (2) the consequences might be disastrous. Worth a few ounces. And yes, I've backpacked in the Winds and seen bears.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
Re: Bear Spray in The Winds? on 05/28/2013 22:44:06 MDT Print View

sure :

and it's not just for bears. it works the trick on multiple drunks as well. (you should always be able to talk/charm your way out of a single)
my neighbor and his friend were on the back side of the winds and got attacked by a throng of drunk indians. they cut the friend's throat and he died. my neighbor got left for dead, but stuffed clothing in his wounds and eventually walked out.
the police did the usual thing as per crimes on/near reservations.

if they had been thoughtfully equipped (or in a different place ... ) they's be fine today.
only 10.6 oz for the big can. but it's your choice.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
Bear Spray in The Winds? on 05/28/2013 23:22:27 MDT Print View

I haven't run into any bears because I've avoided those areas, but I'm told that food-raiding black bears are common in the Big Sandy Lake and Cirque of the Towers areas, in the trails from Dickensen Park and at the Golden Lakes. It's folks who don't properly store their food (on the theory that "Wind Rivers bears aren't a problem") who are responsible for this.

It's only in the past few years that grizz have been spotted in the area from Green River Lakes south. I believe it was in 2011 that a grizz forced temporary closure of the Green River Lakes campground, thanks to some idiot's leaving their cooler on the picnic table. (The campground does have bear lockers at each site.) Grizz have now been spotted all over in the Winds. And yes, they do go above timberline, in search of whitebark pine seeds. The bark beetles' getting into the whitebark pine forces the grizz to range farther in search of food. It's not pleasant to contemplate what the bears' reaction to continued diminution of their normal late summer food sources will be. I might take spray the next time around, as well as a canister. At least the canister makes a great seat and laundry tub!

Interestingly, the two approved food storage methods in the Winds are either an IGBC-approved container or a food-hanging method that would make anyone with knowledge of Yosemite bears ROTFL. Look up the Food Storage order on the Bridger-Teton NF or Shoshone NF websites.

I have the same problem--I have a Bearikade and Ursacks, neither of which are legal. However, my son has a Bear Vault so I can always trade with him.

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/28/2013 23:27:16 MDT.

Ethan Hazzard-Watkins
(ethanhw) - F

Locale: Vermont
Re: bears on 05/29/2013 16:33:36 MDT Print View

Also, this is my favorite advice Re: bears..."If a grizzly bear attacks you, play dead. If a bear starts to eat you, fight back."

Bear Sign

Eric Jahn-Clough
(ejcfree) - F - M

Locale: off grid
Re: Bear Spray in The Winds? on 05/29/2013 17:19:15 MDT Print View

Brent,
This last summer was the first time I've found any bear sign in The Winds. So it only took about 130 nights. Still no sighting or ever even talking to someone who said they have seen any there. Maybe I'll see one this year.
For me bear spray is an issue of philosophy. Am I in fear? No. Am I in a stance of conflict? No. Do I want a "weapon" at my side? No. Am I cautious and prudent in my travel and food hang? I like to think so. Am I prepared to potentially pay a big price for this? Sure.
What are you comfortable with?

bear print
bear print at Grave Lake inlet

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife

Locale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
More on bear spray on 05/29/2013 19:12:06 MDT Print View

Actually, if a grizz attacks your tent (highly unlikely unless you have food inside and haven't already been attacked by mice or marmots), the bear spray won't do much good--you'll be so busy reacting to its effects in the closed tent that you probably won't even notice what the bear is doing to you! The spray is basically for the situation in which you come around a corner and meet a grizz face-to-face, should the bear do more than bluff-charge you. Just hope the bear doesn't charge from upwind!

I'd just hang my food (lots of big boulders above timberline you can use), except that I have shoulder arthritis and, even when young, never could hit the side of a barn even when inside it. That's why I will probably take a canister next time. In the past, I've used Ursacks in the Winds, but they aren't legal unless you hang them.

Edited by hikinggranny on 05/29/2013 20:25:47 MDT.

Brent Mahan
(thenerb)

Locale: Southern New Hampshire
Thanks everyone on 05/31/2013 09:50:41 MDT Print View

Thanks everyone for the great and insightful feedback.

Nice to hear from many of you with vast experience in The Winds.

Based on the feedback, seems like carrying bear spray probably isn't necessary based on the low risk of bear encounter. That being said, my wife isn't exactly one to make decisions based solely on the numerical or known risk factor, and I think it may be a done deal with her that I carry it. She is already not pleased with my decision to use an Ursack/bear bag instead of a canister. Can't win all discussions, right?

So I'll probably carry a canister of spray. Will give me some peace of mind in the bivy at night too, I suppose.

As a side note, does anyone make a lightweight holster for a bear spray can that can be attached to a shoulder strap? Don't want to use the bulky/heavy canvas ones that often come with the spray unless I have to.

At some point in the next month or two I'll post a detailed itinerary of my WR South->North traverse. Can't wait to get out there.

- Brent

Luke Schmidt
(Cameron) - MLife

Locale: The WOODS
Re Thanks Everyone on 05/31/2013 11:08:09 MDT Print View

UDAP spray usually comes with a stretchy elastic holster. You don't even need the retention strap on top. The can is secure but it comes out fast if you need it.

Normally I attach the holster to my belt or pack with a piece of string or a light carabiner. On the front of my pack straps is a good place. There I can keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn't get smashed or the safety doesn't come off.

peter vacco
(fluff@inreach.com) - M

Locale: no. california
Re: Thanks everyone on 05/31/2013 11:33:25 MDT Print View

"As a side note, does anyone make a lightweight holster for a bear spray can that can be attached to a shoulder strap? "

as Luke says, the shoulder strp is the preffered place of choice.
does anybody make a mounting system ? sure.. and it's going to be You.

one can easily make a pair of velcro straps (velcro one-wrap) that will affix the bottle high on the shoulder strap.
the height is to allow one to pull the safety and deploy using their teeth if necessary in a bad spot.
if you line your velcro with "tool drawer liner" , which is very sticky, there is a much smaller chance of losing the bottle when crawling thru brush.

bear bottle warnings :

the top/valve of bear spray cans is a complex bit of self threading plastic. i have had this device fall off (in the tent), and it can be nerve wracking to replace it in the field, knowing that any moment you could be getting sound douche in the face. also the knowledge that the item you have been trusting as your sole close range protection is proven falable is not reassuring. in canada. alone. at night.

moral : inspect your valve for integrity and tightness prior to departure, and while wearing face protection.

Kerry Wilson
(mntnflyr4fun) - F

Locale: North of Eugene, South of Portland
Pepper Spray on 07/08/2014 22:50:29 MDT Print View

The National Park Rangers are advising hikers in Glacier National Park and other Rocky Mountain parks to be alert for bears and take extra precautions to avoid an encounter.
They advise park visitors to wear bells on their clothes or packs so they make noise when hiking. The bell noise allows bears to hear them coming from a distance and not be startled by a hiker accidentally sneaking up on them. This might cause a bear to charge.
Visitors should also carry a pepper spray can just in case a bear is encountered. Spraying the pepper into the air will irritate the bear's sensitive nose and it will run away.
It is also a good idea to keep an eye out for fresh bear scat so you have an idea if bears are in the area. People should be able to recognize the difference between black bear and grizzly bear scat.
Black bear droppings are smaller and often contain berries, leaves, and possibly bits of fur. Grizzly bear droppings tend to contain small bells and smell of pepper.

I just couldn't help myself. :0)

BTW, I carry spray or a firearm whenever I am in remote areas, as much for the 2 legged rascals as the 4 legged. Here in the PNW, big cats, pot growers and meth heads are more of a threat than bears.

Edited by mntnflyr4fun on 07/08/2014 23:04:05 MDT.