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?
Bainbridge Island, WA
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.:
- 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. It 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!
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