Backpacking will be a part of our world travel adventures in 2019. We dream of hiking El Camino Santiago in Spain and the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru. While these trails each have their own personality and beauty, taking a bush plane to the middle of nowhere to photograph brown bears is something else entirely. Brianna went to Alaska with 5 other photographers to get right in the heart of bear country hiking along the beach about 150 miles southwest of Anchorage.
This kind of trip takes adequate preparation from the backpacking gear to the knowledge needed to stay safe and survive. There are no cushy public bathrooms every mile or so like on Camino Santiago. You are really roughing it out in the wild, far from civilization, cell coverage, showers, restaurants, and other people. It is definitely not for everyone and we would advise going with a group that has done it before so you are properly prepared.
Many places in the world have incredible wildlife opportunities. We want to go to Africa for that very reason. Even there, we will likely seek out a guide who has a good understanding of the dangers and has all the precautions taken care of for us. Getting eaten on our world adventures is not how we want to go out. As such, here are some precautions to take with brown bears. Many of these apply to you even in National Parks in the mainland U.S., so they are good to know.
Precautions when hiking with brown bears
- Avoid hiking alone and stay close to your group
- Make a lot of noise to avoid startling a bear
- Avoid dead animals that could become a bear food source as they will be naturally attracted to the smell
- Be aware of your surroundings. Dense vegetation can increase your chances of surprising a bear.
- Store your food in a bear can away from camp at night
- Avoid wearing scented lotions, perfumes, deodorants, etc. Bears can smell 2,100 times better than humans, so it is best not to gain their curiosity. For perspective, they can smell a dead carcass from 20 miles away.
- Don’t ever run, as they can and will outrun you. Stand calmly and quietly leave the area if they don’t see you. If they do see you, slowly wave your arms up and down to identify yourself as human and never make eye contact. Talk, move your arms around, and leave the area if the bear goes back about his business.
- Stand your ground if the bear decides to approach you. Most bear charges are false charges and they will back off if you stand your ground. If it escalates and they attack, it is best to get in a fetal position, face down with your hands covering your neck. Black bears are different as they will come after you and your best defense is to fight back.
- Carry bear spray. If it comes down to it and you have no other choice, bear spray is a much better deterrent than bullets, which will only slow them down or kill them unnecessarily. It is kind of like a pepper spray that is for bears specifically. Find an EPA approved bear spray to take with you.
If the bears feel that you are a threat, you will become dinner for mama and her cubs. Male brown bears can weight anywhere between 500-900 pounds, with some as much as 1400 pounds. Females are smaller at 250-600 pounds. Just like the crocodiles in Costa Rica, you do not want to mess with them. Read more about the full adventure and see some amazing photos at LotsaSmilesPhoto.com.
Here is a somewhat cheesy video we put together to show the plane ride and bears with their cubs.
Have you ever backpacked in bear country? Let us know about your experience in the comments section.