Commentary: Bear disturbs last night in BWCAIt’s good to have a reminder now and then about what you are up against in the wild country.
Lots of thoughts come to mind when the nestling into a nylon tent is disturbed by a bear entering your camp. And so it was on the last night of my recent Boundary Waters trip.
Those final nights after long stays in the bush are relished. There was a perfect sunset, a stellar moon rise, and just enough embers left in the fire to make some tasty roasted marshmallows. It’s a time to take pride in making it through another trip with little plaint save for a bruise here and there and some itchy skin.
The bear acted on cue. We had made fun of our lacking bear rope tactics all trip. We usually could reach our food pack on our tiptoes once we strung it up, so it would never be out of reach for a bear. We didn’t care much, taking the advice from a seasoned guide in the BWCA: A bear is going to get your pack no matter what you do. Just make sure it’s far enough away from your camp.
After so many trips without a bear sighting, we probably became too sure of ourselves that last night. Our pack was too close to the tent.
One final glance from the sleeping bag at the rising moon – headlamp on, book in hand – assured me that our luck had run out. All I saw on the shoreline of Disappointment Lake was the striking silhouette of a black bear.
We yelled. We banged our paddles after snatching them from the canoe. This guy wasn’t leaving. He was close enough that we could hear his every move, and soon we heard the unmistakable sound of claws on canvass. Our food waste was the big ticket item in the pack. We had only one breakfast remaining on the trip, pancakes and some fruit.
We sweated about what we might tell the outfitter about our stupidity and the loss of a Duluth Pack. We knew any sleep in the tent was lost as long as just yards away was a bear who didn’t seem afraid at all of humans.
He popped our water bottle. He clamped down on our boiling pan (putting a hole in the metal, we later found). He ripped open the dried fruit, the garbage bag with apple cores and empty food packages.
We knew the rule of a bear in camp. Disembark. Hightail it out of there. But we were frozen, too close to the bear to make a run for it without being fully prepared.
Gathering our wits and thankfully getting a break as the bear dragged a tasty item farther into the woods, we made our run for it with nothing but our sleeping bags and a small rucksack. We left the tent open, in case the bear got curious. He wouldn’t have to rip his way in.
It was 10:30 p.m. and we paddled across the lake to another camp site. A spotty full moon helped, along with the adrenaline. We happily found the site and it was stocked with plenty of firewood.
We made a fire and discussed our next move. Then we tried to sleep under the stars with moquitoes and who-knows-what critters out there. A bear in camp makes all the senses heightened.
We fitfully slept on this warm night encased in our sleeping bags on the hard ground. In the morning we returned to Bear Camp. The pack was still on the rope, its contents spilled below. This bear wasn’t all that hungry, probably just having some curious fun. He left us some snacks intact.
We gathered our gear quickly and paddled back to the safe camp for the last pack of the trip.
The events became something to laugh about as we lumbered through the final portages. We chatted up other paddlers who had even more horrifying stories of running into bears. Seems a poor blueberry crop this year has them seeking out what canoeists are offering.
It’s good to have a reminder now and then about what you are up against in the wild country.
Mike is the editor of the News-Chronicle.