Quandary: How to bear-proof your campsite
Quandary, the old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to all questions about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Email your queries about Summit and the High Country to Quandary@summitdaily.com.
I came up for a camping trip, but have heard there’s a lot of bear activity right now. Is it safe?
I get it my lowland friend: You came here to experience nature, not wildlife. I’m sure you have visions of stellar sunrises and skipping rocks on the lake, but you also have to be aware that there are animals all around you; animals that live here year-round and know the area far better than you do. In short, camping is safe, if you’re smart.
Along with wildlife, and despite the rainy days in the forecast, you also need to know that Summit currently has a fire ban. If you have a campfire, make sure it is completely cold before you go out to find yourself, or my furry brethren.
When you do arrive and start to unpack the SkyMall catalog you call a campsite, be strategic. Bears don’t come to visit you because they are feeling neighborly. Nine times out of 10, it’s because you have inadvertently lured them in. Sometimes, however, you are just in the wrong place. Take a look for clues like game trails and scat piles around your site before deciding on the perfect place to pitch your summer home. This is more of an issue at disparate campsites, not campgrounds, but it never hurts to be vigilant — setting up a campsite twice is a pain, so make sure there’s no heaping ant hills or varmint holes under your tent either.
Once you’ve picked the perfect place, you can turn your focus to making sure your getaway is as unappealing to a bear as possible. You’ll want your lodging to be upwind from your food storage and cooking areas, and you’ll want some distance from your grub as well.
Think of food prep, storage and a sleeping area as the holy trinity of the camping world. Once you’ve pitched your tent, find a tree about a hundred yards away for hanging your food and your campfire should be about the same distance but in a different direction. Now don’t be obtuse — I’m not saying you have to break out the protractor, but a triangular campsite is a good idea.
If I lost you at “hang your food in a tree” let me go back. Storing your food off the ground just makes it that much harder for a bear to get and storing it in an odor-free, waterproof bag, makes it that much harder for them to find in the first place. Keep in mind, this is no Yogi you’re dealing with. Bears might not be smooth talkers, but they are very intelligent and resourceful. If your granola bars seem easier than foraging for their own meal, you will not only get a visit from a bear, but more than likely, he will be a repeat customer.
When you do toss your sustenance into the air, make sure it hangs at least 10-12 feet off the ground and 4-6 feet away from the trunk of a tree. The Pacific Crest Trail method is good for creating your bear hang, or there are other methods if you prefer to go all John McCain and be a maverick.
This year, the Dillon Ranger District has made proper food storage a requirement, meaning if you don’t hang your food or keep it in a locked car or bear-proof locker you could find yourself up to $5,000 poorer by the time you’ve finished chatting with the local rangers.
I know, you never liked doing chores as a kid, and you probably thought the great outdoors was the last place someone would be harping on you about cleanliness, but there you go thinking. If your campsite smells like a pizza delivery car, you are likely to end up looking like Snow White trying to clean her cottage with a brood of wild animals — except with less singing and potentially more biting. Odor-free is the way to be. Not only do you need to keep the area around your camp clean, but make sure you clean your cooking utensils every time you use them. If you are at a campground, there will be a bear-proof dumpster nearby, so consider it a nature walk and take your stinky garbage for a jaunt before someone else does.
If all else fails, and you do find yourself closer to a bear than you had ever wanted, be annoying. Not the I’m-not-touching-you variety of annoying, but more the loud, over-enthusiastic version. Wear bells, sing songs, bang pots, do what you have to do, but make your presence known. It’s also a good idea to keep bear spray nearby, and know how to use it before the moment of truth. Inadvertently spraying yourself is really just seasoning the meat. Keep an eye on the bear at all times and try to back away to a safe location, but don’t immediately resort to outrunning Grandma.
For more information on how to handle bear encounters, or better yet, how to avoid them, talk with the rangers at the Dillon Ranger District office in Silverthorne, or visit The Colorado Parks and Wildlife website at CPW.com.
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