Thursday, December 31, 2015

Investigating Ursus Part 2 (T.o.P. for Christmas)

Have a Happy New Year! This will be the last blog entry of the year, but I hope to get back to a few things I want to discuss in early 2016!

In part one in the previous blog I covered what I thought was important about the issue of bear attacks. A lot more can be said since whole books have been written on the subject. My concern is how the media and other people portray these animals as if they are always looking for humans to eat and always ready for the attack. Today I am going to go over my most recent bear encounter.

I've talked about bears in the past on this blog. I'd say in the past 10 years or so I have seen a bear almost every year in the High Sierra. What typically happens is they see me and then they go away quickly. I have lots of stories of me near a bear, and I would just happen to not have my camera along. Those stories are fun, but I'm going to go right to this one.

On this day I had just gotten home from a morning hike. I was resting in a chair looking toward the screen door. It was very quiet. Then I heard a quick sound like someone walking up just outside the door. Then looking through the screen door I saw the side face of a dog without the body just pausing there. I thought, "Oh someone is outside, but why are they letting there dog up here." The the "dog" moved in front of the door into the front of the porch. I realized it was a black bear. Surprised, I scrambled upstairs to get my camcorder. When I got back I hit the record button, and that is what you see that starts the video.

When the bear was in front of the door I wanted to test it to see what I was dealing with. So, I made a few noises and then said what I said to see how it would react (and partly to humor the viewer). As you see in the video the bear showed a sign of fear there which I knew was a good thing. It was associating a human's voice with danger. I knew that I could probably scare it off with my voice so that's why I kept very quiet throughout the rest of the video.

This is hard to describe without you knowing the area, but I will try. What you don't see in this video is it went behind my place then crossed down to some neighbors homes. My neighbor on the other side saw it as it headed down a different road. Meanwhile, I got my camera. Then, I went down that road, and I had thought I lost it. Eventually, it came back and was on my property again. That's where the video continues.

You see it knocking away that tree stump to get to the grubs and any other tasty things in it. That is a rather common thing for a bear to do in its search for food. It spent some time there doing that. It then ended up at another neighbors home that had the bird feeder hanging from the wire.

At this point I should mention I already knew about it being afraid of human voices, but I was curious about how close it would get to me. I found out it would allow me to get with about 15-20 feet, and it would start to groan if I was closer. I took that as its way of telling me that it didn't like me closer than that safety distance. I had experienced that type of groan before so I kind of knew. It was fine with me hanging out with it, but nothing closer than that. It wasn't really watching me that much. The pictures are only some of the few instances that it glanced at me.

It then made three attempts to get what was inside that bird feeder. Originally, it kept swinging at it, then would drop down, eat what had come out of it on the ground, and then get back up and try again. I was just about to leave because I thought I had spent enough time with the animal. So I started walking back, and looked back at different angle. That was the final shot where it actually got good leverage on the bird feeder to take it down. I left right after that final video take.

After I thought about it, I felt kind of bad for my neighbor that I kind of let it trash their bird feeder like that. I could have scared it off. Had it been doing something to the actual home or trashing something really valuable then I might have acted. The issue though in my mind was even if I had scared it off it probably would have come back eventually when I was not around.

I was just glad the circumstances worked out for this time to get some pictures and video of this animal. Deer, squirrels, chipmunks, and Steller's Jays are very common animals around there. Bears are little less common, but are around. We usually see trash knocked over at some of the local campgrounds. I was laughing because last month the snow was on the ground, and there were fresh bear tracks all over the place that I didn't think they would be during November. I was up high in the back country on Thanksgiving Day a few years ago. My brother and I heard that groaning sound I mentioned earlier in the distance. That I understand, but wandering around when you would think it is hibernating is something I didn't expect.

You do hear stories about black bears in December:

Black Bear Rides for 65 Miles

New Jersey Boy Scout Leader Attacked by Bear

My video:
Investigating Ursus

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Investigating Ursus Part 1 (T.o.P. for Christmas)

I’m going to split this one up. Today I just wanted to cover some background about bears (Ursidae) with the emphasis on the American Black Bear (Ursus americanus). Tomorrow I will go more into detail about my encounter on the video. I’ll show some of the pictures I took of my black bear in each though.

This blog entry will be somewhat incomplete and I will add on to it as time goes by or re-edit it altogether. After I had this bear encounter last August I read a bunch of books and articles about bears. Some of my notes are away right now so I can’t quote everything that I was originally going to do. So, this is one of those that I will come back to over time.

To start this, the point I have to make time and again and will make in another blog in the future is that nature does not play by rules. Whenever I go on hikes or encounter a wild animal like this there is a calculated risk involved. While bears are beautiful creatures they are part of “nature’s war” in that their instincts are that of one trying to survive. Under certain circumstances tragedies can happen. 99% of the time things can go right, but that less than 1% of the time is what makes news stories.

That less than 1% of the time is what I want to spend my time on here. There is a lot of junk out there in the news that would make you think we should be afraid of bears and they are ready to attack humans at any moment. There was an article that came out, not too long after I had my bear encounter this year, about a woman hiking in Connecticut, and a bear came up to her leg to sniff her. It was like, “Oh my goodness, she was risking her life by doing that!”

It is actually a really rare thing for a bear to attack. It is possible and it does happen, but not to the extent you see in movies or hear being talked about in the media. I can’t speak for the people that live in densely human populated eastern parts of the U.S. that are in black bear territory, but the bears I have encountered in the High Sierra are rather shy and timid individuals.

A study done Stephen Herrero examined 59 reported black bear attacks that resulted in 63 deaths over 110 years. Most of those attacks were by lone male bears that exhibited predatory behavior. A good portion of those attacks were in Canada and Alaska where humans are less populated in those areas.

Here is the thing with me, I’m more at peace observing bears than I am driving in traffic. Especially when I see people looking at their cell phones in their car at stop lights or while the car is moving. Now if I were constantly in bear territory and encountering more bears my risk of being attacked might increase. As it is, my chances of injury or death is better by dying by another human than by bear attack. Again, bear attacks are possible, but possible doesn’t mean probable or likely when I encounter one. There is a certain level of perspective or context needs to be understood when talking about bear attacks.

One issue that comes up in the study and one that I didn't completely realize until recent years is that black bear mothers typically don’t defend their cubs by attacking humans. That is something a grizzly bear would do, but not black bears. Black bear mothers like to send their cubs up a tree and then have them come down when the coast is clear.

The distinction between how a grizzly bear and black bear respond is important because they don’t behave in the same ways. People tend to confuse the two. A black bear might be aggressive and actually do a short charge at you, but that is typically a case of trying to get you to go away and not an attack. It is more defensive than in attack mode. Sometimes you hear people say don’t run from a bear. Well, you might find out that the black bear was running away from you too. On the other hand, grizzly bear defensive behavior is different and can lead to fatal attacks. In the literature, it’s the lone stealthy predatory black bear that will attempt to ambush that is the real concern.

Most bears avoid humans and really are concerned about scavenging for food. That ends up being the real issue because they typically go through trash and are willing to take what we might consider extraordinary risks to get at some food source. I've heard many tales of attempts or successes of breaking into a home or vehicle being broken into at a trail head by a bear. This is why it is important to be sure everything is packed up in a container that they can’t get into.

The final thing I should mention here is what I said above I would say slightly differently to younger people and little kids. Younger people should be taught a healthy fear of ALL wild animals.  

My video:

I’ll list more book resources and links at a later time. Anything by Stephen Herrero is worth reading or watching. Really, there is a lot out there on bears and all you need to do is Google "bears" or "black bears" and you get a lot of things.

This is a good article to read:

Short article on Predatory black bears:

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Curse of Hoffman Part 3 (T.o.P. for Christmas)

(GPS: N37 50.800 W119 30.640)

I consider Mt. Hoffman the easiest mountain hike in the High Sierra. It only takes me about an hour and half to get to the summit. I could probably do it a lot faster too. That's why I didn't mind trying to come back to do it, but I'll get to that later. 

From the summit I looked toward the east:
Then I panned to my left and looked down to see this nice looking lake way below:
There was a nice drop off here. Looking up above to the northeast I had this view:
I wonder how often humans have been to those small lakes. Looking toward the north and then west:
Continuing to the west:
Finally, looking more toward the southwest to Half-Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Clouds Rest on the left side:
So as you can see, the smoke really does cause havoc on the views. Not only has this been an issue with Hoffman, but I also did Clouds Rest a few years ago and had the same problem. I was somewhat fortunate not to have this problem when I did Mt. Conness a few years ago.

Each year I did this hike I kept telling myself I would come back the following year to get better pictures and video. I'm now to the point that I've lost my enthusiasm in doing this hike again any time soon. It's not difficult to do, but it always feels like I am not accomplishing anything. I would say that if the "curse" is ever lifted I will give an update, but I don't even feel like saying something like that right now.

Time to move on to other things.

The Curse of Hoffman (Youtube)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Curse of Hoffman Part 2 (T.o.P. for Christmas Series)

The reason I wanted to do this hike is Mt. Hoffman is at the center of Yosemite and almost 11,000 ft. in elevation. So, in theory, the summit should give you the best views of the complete park. That is unless you are "cursed" every time you try to hike it.
The final ascent to the summit is some work, but not too difficult. A lot of blocks of rocks that need to be scrambled over. I climbed up most of the right side of the picture and then ended just left of center. I came back down over the left side of the picture.
The local guardian.
Resting up. Half-Dome can be seen on the left, but the rock formation on right is known as "The Thumb".
The antenna at the summit is interesting at first glance, but ends up being annoying. AFAIK, it is used for radio communication. There is some equipment that goes with it at the summit. What is annoying about it is I couldn't really do my typical video pan without walking around it. I like to stay in the same place and rotate. I couldn't really do that here unless I wanted that antenna in the way. So, I had to move around it.
At the top looking down. You can see the final trail leading to the summit. Of course, my "curse" really comes into play here. Let me just say the views were a lot worse last year than this year.

To be concluded...

The Curse of Hoffman (Youtube)

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The Curse of Hoffman Part 1 (T.o.P. for Christmas Series)

(GPS: N37 50.405 W119 30.045)

If you watched the video you heard me talk about why I feel "cursed" in doing this hike. It seems like every year that I have tried to do this hike something would go wrong. You might remember me mentioning the time Yosemite was on fire years ago, and I was irritated about that. That was the first time I intended to do this hike. Last year I got to the top, but the conditions were so bad due to smoke that I didn't even bother mentioning it on here. This year I did it, and the conditions were slightly better, but still smoke in the air to obstruct views. I decided to do a write up this time just because I am sick of trying to convince myself that I need to wait until next year to do it again.

The GPS coordinates are for the parking at the trail head. I'm going to skip the beginning of the hike. It is in the video, and it is rather tame. It is about 1.2 miles on a forested trail and a gradual 500 ft. elevation change to get to May Lake. The above picture is a composite panorama of May Lake. It is a destination for many overnight backpackers because there is a camping area just for that. The pack horses that can be seen in the video help bring in whatever is needed for those people.

After May Lake the trail starts to get a little more intense as one gains elevation quicker. One has to scramble up the following:

The goal is to get to where all those trees are, and then turn around and look back at May Lake:

At this point you can see in the background what I feared. Earlier that morning I could not see that much haze in the distance while driving in. Up to the day I attempted this hike the smoke from another fire in California had not reached the area. Slightly disappointed I went on. The area at this point levels out some to a nice meadow. The trail continues, but at this point I followed another trail off to my right. Regardless of the trail, one needs to start heading up the side of the mountain at this point. There are points I could not always find a trail each time I have been here, but it doesn't matter since you are just heading straight up here:

That isn't the top of the mountain there. The area one has to head to is beyond the bushy tree on the left. It is a bit of a slog here, but not too difficult for an altitude hiker. After this is accomplished one can finally see the final destination. For most of the hike you don't even see Mt. Hoffman. In the distance there is an antenna coming out of the rocks at the top. That is the final goal:

Looking over to my left I saw Half-Dome and where Yosemite Valley would be in the distance. The haze would be the constant sight from now on. At this point I could smell the smoke in the air. I had been through a lot worse the year before, but it was still annoying.
I'll continue this one tomorrow.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Tricks or Presents for Christmas

Merry Christmas!

These are the new videos.

Tricks or Presents #1: The Dead Don't Dream

Tricks or Presents #2: The Curse of Hoffman

Tricks or Presents #3: Investigating Ursus

Due to family commitments and just not wanting to overwork myself right now I'll going to keep this one short. I'll be doing more blogs on the 2nd and 3rd videos over the next few days. The first one I have already covered in the past, and the video links to that one in the description so I am going to skip that.

Enjoy the holidays!