Fear of Bears?

QUESTION:
I love following THE HIKING LADY! My hubby and I moved to the Northwest from Alabama last summer! I love to hike and am looking forward to hiking many trails in the Olympics this summer.
Problem is…I have a tremendous FEAR…PHOBIA…of BEARS!!! The thought of hiking a trail…and rounding the trail to a bear…is a tremendous fear that hinders my adventurous spirit! Do you have any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Teresa

Bainbridge Island, WA

ANSWER:

Bear Joke
Hi Teresa, let’s help figure out a way to get you out on the trails and not be fearful of bears!

As long as you are careful, there really is no reason to be fearful of bears – they are just as scared of humans as we are of them. Black bears hardly ever have attacked humans. Grizzly bears are now extinct in the lower 48 states except for Yellowstone National Park, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and Washington state. (For detailed information on the specifics of the six ecosystems where they live, please check out the Fish and Wildlife Service website). Bainbridge Island is not one of those ecosystems.

The best thing to do is make some noise on the trail so any bears can hear you coming – clap your hands, talk to your fellow hikers, or carry a bear bell. A friend in Montana claps her hands around corners when she trail runs in the spring in summer to let bears know she’s coming.

Here’s a good article from National Geographic discussing grizzly locations in the U.S.:

Grizzly territory, National Geographic
Grizzly territory, National Geographic

There are a few products that may provide you some comfort on trail in bear country:
Bear Bell

  • Bear Bells. A friend of mine in Southern California (a grizzly bear free place, but there are black bears) uses a bear bell when she hikes the local mountain bikers to let mountain bikers know she’s there. You could use a bear bell to announce yourself to any bears in the area.
  • Bear Spray. A lot of people carry bear spray with them to offer them peace of mind in the chance that they do encounter a bear. While I haven’t used it, people I know that have say it is effective and recommend carrying it, especially in places like northern Montana and Alaska where you’d possibly encounter grizzlies. Bear SprayIt shoots 12-30 feet, so you can be safely away from the bear.

    Just know that it is powerful, and you should take careful aim and use both hands because the bottle recoils like a gun when you use it. Carrying a bottle of bear spray in your hand or on your waist should provide you a tremendous amount of confidence when you hike.

  • Whistles. I always hike with my Fox40 Sharx whistle, and have it with me for emergencies. While I would not recommend using it every time you turn a corner (your fellow hikers on the trail will think you’re in danger), if you do encounter a bear the noise would likely scare it off.

If you’re backpacking in bear areas, be sure to put ALL of your food and personal care items (toothpaste, chapstick, etc) into a bear canister at night, and keep it 100 feet away from your tent.

Lastly, if you still can’t overcome the fear, how about hiking in the winter? Bears hibernate all winter, so you can strap on a pair of snowshoes and hike all winter long bear-free 🙂

Hope this helps overcome your fear of bears. Have fun hiking the Olympic Mountains! Happy trails!

Hiking Lady

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4 comments

  1. Hiking Lady says:

    Excellent point Hannah. I included a link above to the Fish and Wildlife Service with details on the locations where Grizzlies are known to live in the lower 48 states. You are correct, Montana, Idaho, and Washington have grizzlies in parts of each of those respective states. In the Bitterroot region of central Idaho/Western Montana, no grizzlies were seen for 60 years until a black bear hunter accidentally killed a grizzly in September 2007. Oregon still does not have any grizzlies. Unless you head to Yellowstone or Alaska, it will be highly unlikely to spot a grizzly in the wild.

  2. Hannah Monroe says:

    Grizzlies are definetly not extinct in the contiguous states. They can be found in the north western states- Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon. There are multiple reportings and sightings to prove this.

  3. Hiking Lady says:

    Thanks Thomas! Yes – there are black bears in So. California, just no grizzlies. A couple of years ago I saw fresh bear paw prints on a hike to Mt. Baldy in Southern California 🙂

  4. Thomas says:

    Under the “fear of bears” you made a note that seems like you were say that Southern Cal is bear free? Not so at all. many bears roam the Southern Cal mountains. You might have meant just where she lives.

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