Of Bears and Baboons – Ria

I think the bear-person relationship here is similar to the baboon-person relationship in the deep south of Cape Town. The residents know there are baboons and if they go into the mountains they sometimes see them at a distance, occasionally the baboons get brash and go into town to turn up bins or to sneak in through open doors stealing everything edible in sight. Residents or hikers know if you come face to face with the baboon it can be ugly and the baboon will win the fight, but the likelihood of a shoot-out is not really that high.

In summary, most hikers will tell you they haven’t seen a bear in years, where as the town people almost all tell you about problems with bears coming to plunder their bins. But even so, ALL hikers take the regulation about food-from-bears very seriously, we have not come across one single person not adhering to the rules (suppose nobody wants to see what happens if a 200-400kg bear fight you for your Snickers bar).

There are 2 options for food storage at night. The most popular (used by 80% of hikers) is to place the food in a bag and to hang the bag in a tree, in such a way that it is hanging 2meters off the ground, on a branch far enough away from the trunc for a bear to not be able to climb the tree and reach for the bag. This is done by tying the bag to a rope, chucking the rope over the branch, manouvering the bag up and securing it with some complex knot and stick combination. Some camp sites have a bear cable system which makes it easier – the bag can just be attached to the cable and a pully used to raise it high enough from the ground.

The second option is to use the bear vaults – I have posted pictures of our vaults filled with food before, so you know what it looks like. The cannister is made from a very strong material with a little clip preventing the lid to screw on or off. To overcome this you need to use your fingers and find the 2 magic spots on the lid where you have to press the lid hard to force it underneath the clip. The bear paws have the strength to press but not the ability to find the little press-me spots, nor fingers to press the magic spots. And without being able to open the lid the bears are basically screwed, as the locked vault is indestructible.

We asked the sales girl at REI (outdoor shop) whether we should use the bags or the vaults and without hesitation she said “definitely vaults”. She seemed so sure about this that we didn’t give the bags another thought. Now that we see most of the others out here use the bags we are wondering why she didn’t explain the pros and cons of the two options. But in the end we are happy with our vaults. They add weight to the backpacks which is a big negative, and they are chunky so take up lots of space in the backpack which is also not good. But it’s nice to have the food stored separately from everything else, and when the lids are locked securely one can use it as a chair (if it can’t be broken by a 400kg bear it can’t be broken by our now- decreasing weights) and in most areas (the Smoky Mountains being the exception) they don’t have to be hung in trees: one only needs to tuck them in somewhere like under a fallen tree (of which there are always 100s around, your chance of being hit by a falling tree must be 1000 times more likely than being confronted by a bear). The only thing to remember when tucking them away is that the bear’s paws can’t grab and pull, so they need to be placed in such a way that the action required to remove them from storage needs grab and pull (which a baboon can do but a bear can’t). If the bear gets hold of the vault you will be minus your food, even though he won’t be able to open the cannister, while trying to it will end up rolling down the mountain (cause it can’t roll up the mountain and nothing here is flat!)

Other than bear stuff, a quick summary of our day: walked 20km, total ascent 1140m, had Fanta, Coffee, Coke, Hamburgers and Pizza at a White Water Rafting Village we walked through (even with Hikers Hunger we couldn’t finish our food, these Americans see portion sizes different to us).

Starting to see some Appalachian flowers and hints of the promised green tunnel we are supposed to be walking through:

Thnx for all those sending me messages – nice to hear from you all!

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