Trail and Camping Safety in British Columbia

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The most obvious trail hazards in the forests are slips and falls. Around the south coast of B.C. with its considerable rainfall, the water table is fairly high. Thus the trees tend not to drive their roots deeply. Combined with soil erosion due to heavier pedestrian traffic and the run-off along slopes, the upper root systems of many trees become exposed. In wet weather this becomes a definite problem along the trails. The probability of falling after slipping on wet roots is high; not unlike striding onto a hunk of ice. For this reason, it is preferable to hike along non-gravelled, woodland trails when conditions are dry i.e. no precipitation for at least the three previous days.

Insects can be pesky, especially around lakes and streams where they breed more abundantly. Bugs, flies, and mosquitoes are most bothersome in the spring but are present everywhere to some degree until the cold sets in. Because human sweat contains a natural repellant, hikers should not shower or bathe prior to hitting the trail as this washes away some of their built-in body protection. But they should also supplement nature with a proven insect SPRAY repellent. Rub-on solutions and creams can be harmful since the palms and fingers receive a concentrated dose --- a toxicity that may rub off on bread and other food eaten later on. To avoid insect bites, keep moving; do not stop to rest until you have reached an area that is mainly rocky and away from trees, brush and other ground cover. Insects are less troublesome on windy days; even a gentle breeze will help keep the mosquitoes at bay.

While an abundance of fauna exists in the B.C. forests at lower and sub-alpine elevations, larger species like moose, elk, deer, cougar and bear are not frequently seen near developed trails. These animals tend to avoid homo sapiens. But along the less-frequented routes, there is always some risk of running into a bear or cougar. Cougar attacks are rare; but the odds against one can be further reduced by carefully scanning any bluffs or overhanging rock faces from which a cougar could spring. It is unwise to bring dogs on hikes where cougars have been sighted. A stalking cougar may view fido as today's lunch.

In B.C. the black bear is ubiquitous -- except within the city limits of larger centres. Grizzlies have a less-extensive range. No grizzlies have ever been spotted around Greater Vancouver and until only recently, none were ever seen on Vancouver Island (there was a confirmed sighting in late 2008 at the northern end of the island). The closest documented sighting of a grizzly bear to Vancouver was more than 40 miles away. Black bears are normally quite timid and tend to retreat when humans encroach on their territory. The larger grizzlies are less-intimidated but they too, prefer avoiding people. Adult bears of both sub-species have been known to attack after being surprised by intruders or when humans have wandered too close to their cubs. While not as aggressive as a grizzly, black bears are to be respected. If angered, they are fully capable of killing a grown man with a single, lightning-quick swipe of their paw.

Rule 1 : Never try to approach a bear for any reason

You may venture too close and threaten its safety or that of its young.

Rule 2 : Never try to run away from a bear in open terrain

They may deem your flight as an invitation to pursue -- and be sure you will be quickly caught (they can sprint close to 40 mph over short distances). Instead, slowly withdraw and try to make yourself appear larger by extending arms and elbows upward and outward. Some bear experts recommend talking; consensus is split on whether or not to make loud noise. The best policy perhaps, is not to raise one's voice if the bear is minding its own business and seems unperturbed by your presence.

Rule 3 : Do not try to climb a tree to escape a black bear.

Black bears are excellent climbers. Many believe that the grizzly is incapable of tree-climbing. WRONG!! They are quite adept at it up to three or four years of age. A few older grizzlies remain able to make their way up trees. If you do choose to scramble up a tree to avoid a grizzly, make sure it is a solid, larger-trunked tree (a grizzly can sometimes knock down a small tree or shake you down from your perch). If you are able to get up such a tree, go as high as possible on branches that will support your full weight. Be prepared to stay there for hours.

Rule 4 : Do not wear perfumes or scented deodorants on hikes or when camping.

They act as magnets to a bear's highly-developed sense of smell. Menstruating women should not hike or camp in wilderness areas known to support bear populations. Bears can pick up the smell of blood from a considerable distance.

Rule 5 : Do not bring highly-seasoned or aromatic foods on a camping trip (e.g. bacon, fish, processed meat).

Once such food is detected, a bear will become determined to consume it. Freeze-dried foods prove safer. Never leave any food in a tent overnight. Secure it in a sealed, insulated container and store it in the trunk (boot) of a vehicle; or rope plastic bags of food between trees high off the ground, some distance away from the campsite.

Rule 6 : Do not rely on firearms for protection against bears.

Small arms such as pistols are illegal to carry in Canada without a special permit; and no firearms of any kind (including hunting bows) are permitted in Provincial or National parks. It would take a near-perfect shot from a large-calibre rifle or shotgun into a highly-vulnerable area to stop a grizzly e.g. its open mouth. Bullets are known to bounce off the angular skulls of grizzlies. The only lawful protection is bear spray (a type of mace).

* * *

An experienced hiker was cornered by a grizzly at the edge of a steep mountain cliff. Sensing the end, he fell desperately to his knees and cried out to God, " Lord, please make him a Christian bear!!!" Immediately after he concluded this plea, the bear ceased its growling, shuffled closer to the prostrated hiker, then it too fell on its forepaws and uttered, " Dear Lord, I thank thee for this which I am now about to receive...."

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