Bear Scat: First Hike in Canada 2016 (Blog)


The sharp crack of a stick, a slight rustle, and imagined or real motion of black and shadow within a tangle of wood and brush (old autumn brown), triggered a panicked realization. I am defenseless against a bear. The worn path was already strewn with evidence that “ursus’" (ursula) was scavenging for energy food, an urgent activity right then in preparation for wintering in the central Canadian wilderness. It’s the first day of fall. Piles of scat strewn on the ground, large and small berry-packed droppings, carried signatures that were fresh -- bear paw tracks. I had noticed the rather large claw impressions just moments before the incident alongside the path and the panic it caused.

My expensive carbon-fiber walking stick could defend me, I was thinking then, perhaps because I recalled stories of hikers fending off bear attacks by punching the beast on the nose. But such reports are exceedingly rare. And how many failed nose-busting attempts simply never got reported at all, because ... well, you know! Cowardly, I scooted behind my hiking companion and friend, R, scolding him for failing to notice the signs and neglecting like myself to buy some “spray”. Nearly every Canadian trailhead is posted with brown and black bear warnings, admonishing hikers to carry the bear-mist gun, a relatively expensive item (at least C$50) it turns out, and proffering advice should man and beast collide in the backcountry.

This trail encircles Moon Lake, a fairly isolated pocket of dark water in Riding Mountain National Park, a wild geological anomaly in south central Manitoba, Canada. My traveling partner and I had only my fancy stick, a camera, and day packs with some crackers and a Snickers bar. Could a charging bear be bribed with 7-Eleven junk snacks? I had never heard of such a strategy working successfully and suspected that the tuck would get lost in the encounter, or be consumed by accident or after the fact.

The fall afternoon was partly gloomy but not uncomfortable for the season. Color from the trees and bushes fused perfectly to grant an almost ideal Canadian adventure in photo pastel solitude. No other humans were on the path. But the soggy areas exposed lots of animal tracks and predominant bear signs. Besides bears, moose and bison inhabit the area of this rather obscure park.

After pausing and considering, we decided to keep to our goal of circling the lake on the 9.2 kilometer trail. However, the anxiety never diminished because the bear indicators never disappeared over the entire distance. Clapping our hands and shouting challenges to the silent woods offered some reassurance that our presence would not go unnoticed if forest dwellers — friendly, fierce, or indifferent — were in the vicinity.

I was disconcerted though; our own noise seemed disruptive and out of place. Friend R would howl and whistle without warning from time to time, jangling my nerves even more.

The path drifted into deeper woods, away from the lake, for miles, leaving us guessing where actually we were and whether the end of the trail was really approaching. And the sky turned steadily gloomier until raindrops began to patter on the yellowing bushes and rocks. Our pace picked up but I was tired and my feet hurt. Although the distance of 5-6 miles walking is not that great, I had not practiced for this first outing in the North Canadian woods.

A half share of the chocolate bar sparked some enthusiasm until the end, however. No bear emerged, and in fact no wildlife at all appeared except for a few small unidentified birds. The clapping and elaborate noise of our passage ensured that the forest dwellers made themselves scarce.

The lay of the land was boggy, consisting of up and down elevation but nothing extreme. It was a windy afternoon and the coolness became more noticeable as the sky dimmed with clouds and then the light, intermittent rain began. The trail is marked "difficult" on the park's map and guide.

Later, I discovered the park also boasts one of the largest populations of black bears in North America.

This park — Riding Mountain National Park— sits atop the Manitoba Escarpment. Consisting of a protected area (1,146 sq mi), the forested parkland stands at significant altitude above the surrounding prairie farmland (up to 1,500 ft). It was designated a national park because three ecosystems converge here; grasslands, upland boreal and eastern deciduous forests hosting wolves, moose, elk, black bears, hundreds of bird species, countless insects and a captive bison herd. Access is via Highway 10 which passes through the townsite of Wasagaming, the only commercial place within park boundaries.

(Note: All signed images are those of the author and are available as canvas or brilliant metal prints (framed or unframed. The color calibration of a viewer's computer/mobile device will affect the quality of the photo's color and resolution).

#travel #bear #Canada #RidingMountainNationalPark #Autumn #Fall #Manitoba #bison

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