If in Tajikistan was the extreme cold, in Tanzania the invisible malaria and in Patagonia the incessant wind, the challenge that awaited us in Alaska was to travel thousands of kilometers through a leafy and remote land of bears.
Blacks, Grizzlis or even Polar in the tundra and Arctic lands, no matter their kind, they are all strong, instinctive and skillful as well as incredibly versatile, excellent climbers, runners and swimmers, practically they only miss to fly. What could be our cards to play this game and get out of there alive?
The solution began to learn all about this animal totally unknown for us. So as we moved through California, Oregon, British Columbia and especially in Yukon, where people say there is a ratio of about 15 bears per person, our hosts and the people who we met along the road were telling us about their experiences with bears and they assure us that if we want to reach the Arctic Ocean we will also have to experience of that encounter at some point, but they also reached us how to proceed.
The locals are the best way to learn the precautions to avoid countering with the bears and how to react when this happens. It is a land of bears and here they establish the law, if you do not know and respect their rules you can already imagine the consequences. The best thing to do is to be prepared since most of the bear attacks happened because an inappropriate human behavior.
This is basically what you should keep in mind if you want to visit Alaska this summer:
1. BE EQUIPPED WITH SOME DISSUASIVE GEAR
Being armed with fire guns is part of the culture of the locals in this far North, so normal that even in many supermarkets next to vegetables or kitchen electronics you will find a section where you can buy semi-automatic weapons, or even small guns decorated with Hello Kitty (is not strange to meet a 14 years old kid who know how to use them). But for those of us who come from societies less used to fire guns, we have three other options:
- Air horn
- Flare bear banger
- Pepper Spray for bears
2. AVOID THE MEETING
- Choose open spaces
- Before to choose a place to camp check that there are no food remains or that bears haven´t passed around there (their excrement or trees marked for then)
- Use soaps without perfumes, keep a neutral odor because smell is the main sense for bears. Petrol, deodorants, toothpaste can attract them. Women during their period of mesntruación must take special care.
- Keep your food, garbage and even the clothes you used while cooking away from your tent, try to find an bear proof container or if you do not find it hang everything that can attract a bear by its smell with a rope to the top of a tree.
- Cook away from your tent and near a river.
- Wash all your kitchen gear with clear water from a river, for cutlery and dishes you can use river sand.
- Burns the remains of food.
WALKING IN THE FOREST
- Make noise while walking so as not to surprise a bear with your presence. Talk to your trekking mates, clap your hands or hook some bells to your backpack.
- Walk in groups
- Do not bring dogs if they are not trained for encounters with bears, they usually attract them with their smell or they can challenge them and when the bears become more aggressive the dogs run towards their owner attracting the bear.
3. IF YOU MEET THE BEAR
- Stay calm and watch how the bear reacts
- Do not run out, stay in your place in front of it but without looking directly into it eyes.
- Talk to him with a relaxed voice, let him know that you are a human. You can say phrases as if you had a conversation with him, for example: “Do not worry, our paths have crossed, I´m just walking around but I do not intend to bother you …” Then start slowly to walk away backwards. If the bear keeps following you, stand again.
- Bear female with puppies is usually the most dangerous situation, always avoid being located between a puppy and its mother. Practically rule number one.
- When the bear stands erect on two legs it does not mean that he is going to attack you, he just wants to recognize you, smell you better.
- If none of this works and the bear keeps moving towards you try to look bigger, raise your arms, get all the people you are with together, never run, make louder noises using the air horn or use the pepper spray.
- If you are inside the tent and you see that the bear is trying to get in, make a lot of noise, scream, hit cooking pan, try to scare him away.
4. IF THE BEAR ATTACKS YOU
- Do not run
- Do not climb a tree
- Play yourself dead, lie with your stomach to the floor, legs open and hands covering your neck.
- Trying to prevent the bear from turning you around. Do not make any noise or move until after the bear has left you alone and walk away enough.
The bears are much stronger and have much more skills than we humans but they are not serial killers. They are in their territory only concerned about eating the food they need to spend the winter, take care of their puppies, reproduction, enjoy the incredible scenery and in the case of the puppies to play and learn everything they need to live in this land. Are not these practically the same life goals that we have? You are their guest over there so act like a guest should do, respect your host and his rules and everything will be fine. Do not create an image of the bears as a monster of the woods and your enemy, and when you see them enjoy the harmony of this land and this magic moment.