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Country: United States
Begins: Mar 13, 2011
Date: Mon, Jun 20th, 2011
Trip Distance: 6.4
Entry Visits: 2,262
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Yes Virginia, there are bear at Bearfence Shelter!
Let me begin by saying that yes, I'm still alive, no the bear didn't throw me from my hammock, and yes, the following is absolutely true..
The story starts I suppose on arriving at the Bearfence shelter. Bearfence is located in about the middle of the Shenandoah's for the AT hiker. I was hiking with Hot Drinks that day and we had stopped about a mile before arriving at Bearfence at the Lewis Mountain Campground store. The store has camp showers and laundry available as well as resupplies, so we took advantage of all three. I guess we spent about an hour or so there before moving on to the shelter. The shelter is located a short distance from the trail down a steep, rocky path. Before reaching the shelter, there are tent sites located on the side of the hill. Since Hot Drinks and I both hammock, we chose a couple of tent sites. We arrived there about 6pm.
It takes me about 30 minutes to set up camp, so at about 6:30, I grabbed my food bag and headed down to the shelter to cook dinner. I bought a pack of hot dogs and bottle of brown mustard at the camp store, so I was really looking forward to roasting some weinies over the fire. There was a pretty good size crowd there that night - ended up being about 15 of us all total. The mood was verging on raucous - there was plenty of beer to go around (remember, we were less than a mile from the camp store), and a couple of the guys had even carried out a couple of t-bone steaks! I busted out the hot dogs, ate 2 of them, and put the other 4 up for grabs. They were gone in about 2 minutes.
Just so happens there was a ridge runner there that night too. The ridge runners move throughout the park on the trails, just pretty much as "eyes on the ground" for the park rangers. Well, about an hour into the partying Midnight (the ridgerunners trail name) got up and ran toward his tent which was set up on the opposite side of the shelter as the other tent sites. He saw a bear, and was yelling at it - screaming really - for it to get out. The bear ran off, but Midnight never did return to the shelter that night.
Dusk began to fall, and I decided to call it a night. I walked back up the hill and toward my site. As I approached, even though it was much darker in the woods, I could tell that my tarp was not hanging properly. Not hanging the way I had left it. As I got closer I noticed a large gash - really a set of gashed spaced about a claw's width apart. My heart sank as I realized that a bear had done some damage.
I walked around the other side of the tarp and saw an even larger hole. Clearly, this was a bear that had never used a tarp before. You see, the tarp is open at both the head and foot end of the hammock; there was no need for him to try a side entry! As I lifted the tarp up off the hammock, I saw more of his handiwork. He had made a paw-sized gash in the netting of them hammock, directly over the 'shelf' area. Directly over the area where I had left a quart-size ziplock baggie that served as my repair/first-aid/toiletrie bag.
Hot Drinks was approaching his hammock and I called over for him to take a look. Bismark, another hiker was set up in his hammock nearby and heard me say 'bear'. Well, between the three of us, we gathered up what was left of my things. The bear had taken the contents of the baggie and spread them over a 10 foot area; about 15 feet from my hammock. It was the Dr. Bonners peppermint scented soap that caught his attention.
It wasn't for a couple of minutes that Hot Drinks said, "is that your pack laying out there?". Yes, Mr. Bear had grabbed my pack from under the hammock and dragged it into the woods about 20 feet away. I was so upset over my tarp and hammock damage that I hadn't even noticed that my pack was missing. My pack cover was shredded, and he managed to put some good size bite marks on the outside of the pack. How do I know they were bite and not claw marks? Because he left his bear slobber all over my pack!
As devistated as I was, I gathered my things, and my thoughts, and immeadiately decided I wasn't going to stay in the hammock that night. Bear ALWAYS come back to the scene of the crime! Thankfully, the group in the shelter was kind enough to make room for me. The shelter was more than full even before I squeezed in, but about an hour after I got in, I heard a loud shout from the top of the hill. I couldn't make out the words, but I didn't have to - I knew the bear had returned.
Laying awake that night, I needed to formulate a plan. Clearly, I needed to somehow replace/repair my gear. There was no phone signal at the shelter, so I wasn't able to reach my husband until after a six mile hike to the next park wayside. Even then, it was spotty and I needed to give him direction as to what the plan was going to be. My tarp could be repaired. I was pretty sure Brian (from Outdoor Equipment Supplier) could cut out the damaged areas and simply bond in new fabric. The hammock was going to be more of a problem. While I was pretty sure the netting could be replaced, I knew that was a more invovled project.
My husband was able to send off emails to both Brian and Brandon (from Warbonnet Hammocks), and after a couple of emails and a phone call, I had the issues resolved. Brian can fix the tarp. My son is sending me a back-up tarp to Harpers Ferry, where at that time I'll send this tarp off to Brian. The repair of the hammock is not as economically feasible, but Brandon gave me a great deal on a new one. When I return home this fall, I'll take my time and see if I can make the netting repairs myself.
In terms of the damage to my gear, it's all part of the territory. I left something in my hammock that enticed this bear; the damage is my fault. What I found out though later is that the park has had a problem with this bear in the past. His ear is tagged - he's been relocated once before and now it's evident that he's returned. Another hiker (the one that shouted out that night) identified the bear, and yet another hiker got pictures of the little guy when he walked into camp the next day. He was a cute little bugger - an adolescent that's simply trying to carve out a territory for himself, and has found people to be a source of food.
I'm not sure what will become of the bear; I've heard he could be relocated once again. I've heard that the shelter may be closed. I've heard that the park will take a "wait and see" approach.
Two days after the incident, I ran into a hiker I had met a few days before Bearfence. She asked me how I was; said she heard I had been thrown from my hammock by a bear. I suppose stories become more and more embellished as they get passed along. I'm fine. My gear is basically fine; right now I'm stuffing my raingear into the gaping hole of my hammock netting to keep the bugs out at night. More importantly - I think the bear will be fine.Bottom line - leave nothing inside your tent or hammock with a scent that could remotely entice a wild animal. They can, and will help themselves given the opportunity. Happy Trails!
Sherry's Excellent Adventure - AT In 2011
I do not intend to tip-toe through life, only to arrive safely at death!
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